Finding new ways to attract and retain staff is key to unlocking the perennial issue of labour and skills shortages that are holding back East Midlands firms, business and education leaders heard.
Offering more flexibility and creating an inclusive workplace were some of the key themes discussed at East Midlands Chamber’s People and Skills Summit, held today (Thursday 7 July) at the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee Conference Centre.
More than 160 people representing organisations from across Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire attended the event, which explored the future of work and how local areas can take charge of skills needs for employers.
Many businesses are now finding their output has been significantly impacted by skills gaps, with the Chamber’s latest Quarterly Economic Survey finding that while two-thirds (66%) of East Midlands businesses attempted to recruit staff during the second quarter of this year, 80% of this cohort struggled to fill roles.
At the same time, the region’s 2.7% unemployment rate – second lowest in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics’ latest figures – as the economic inactivity rate has risen sharply during the pandemic largely in part due to more workers retiring early.
EDI in the workplace a crucial strand of retention strategies
Lucy Robinson, director of resources at East Midlands Chamber, said: “The perennial issue of maintaining a skilled workforce has intensified over recent quarters and our members’ difficulties in recruiting people exist across all roles – from highly skilled down to more entry-level jobs.
“With low unemployment figures, high levels of economically inactive individuals and record number of vacancies, the question of how we can best connect the East Midlands business community with those looking for opportunities to enter and grow in the workforce has never been more important.
“It perhaps begins with the job description and ensuring the demands we place on our employees, as well as the room for them to develop, is clear from the outset.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increased focus on the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agenda in workplaces but, rather than it being a nice addition to the benefits offered by employers, it’s fast becoming business-critical.
“This could be in the way we offer more flexibility – not just in location but working hours too – or in how we equip our teams with strong managers who understand how to harness an inclusive culture, often in a digital environment, where people can bring their best selves to work every day.
“While many businesses have recruitment and development strategies in place, not all have a retention strategy – meaning they risk counting the costs whenever someone leaves the organisation. So we would urge every business to begin talking about how they can keep hold of their very best talent.”
Creating a ‘common language’ between employers and educators
Chris Hobson, director of policy and external affairs at East Midlands Chamber, gave a presentation about the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) pilot, in which data has been collected from Leicestershire employers to create a collective intelligence skills observatory – a dashboard that can be used by employers and education providers to gain an understand of local skills availability.
He added: “Our work for the LSIP pilot, which could soon be rolled out nationally to establish a new approach to addressing business’ people needs, shows there is huge potential for creating a ‘common language’ in which firms and education providers understand what each other needs from learning programmes.
“But there are practical steps that businesses can take to begin plugging the skills gaps they have identified. By engaging with their local colleges, universities and training providers, they can start a dialogue about getting the right skills provision in place.
“For education providers, they should be focusing not only on the key strands of their curriculum, but also the enriching activities that equip students with the right mindsets for the demands of the modern-day workplace.”
The People and Skills Summit was hosted in partnership with Nottingham University Business School, Morningside Pharmaceuticals and Loughborough College.
It also featured talks from business, public sector and education leaders, including Panasonic’s former global head of talent and current ella forums chief executive Danny Kalman, as well as Jeb Samad, a Department for Education employer readiness manager who is supporting the rollout of T levels.
University of Nottingham associate professor Dr Jane Nolan, who specialises in organisational behaviour and HR management, explained how Denmark scores significantly better than the UK in the OECD Better Life Index because it has developed a culture over time in which long working hours are frowned upon and the living wage is almost universal.