How can businesses attract the right talent today....and tomorrow?

In the March/April issue of Business First magazine, Tina McKenzie shares her insight into the steps that employers can take to widen their talent pool.

Apr 8, 2016

According to research by Tech City UK, the number of digital technology businesses in Belfast grew by more than a third between 2010 and 2014, contributing £521m to our local economy. Luckily for Northern Ireland workers, this trend is set to continue.

With announcements in the last month from point-of-sale software firm Cayan and cybersecurity firm Alert Logic, we have seen a commitment to invest a total of £7m – between the two companies alone 133 jobs have been created.

The difficulty for many technology firms is finding the right candidates to fill the roles. Whilst Northern Ireland is undoubtedly good at attracting employers, with every announcement we need more people with the right skills to fill the increasing demand.

This is not so much an issue for large recruitment companies in the region. At Diamond Recruitment our reputation with IT jobseekers as the largest recruitment company in Northern Ireland puts us in a position where we can better match employers with candidates as IT jobs in Northern Ireland arise. However, smaller IT firms without recruitment resource can find it a struggle to attract the best candidates in a job market flooded with employers. 

Building relationships with a local recruitment firm is an obvious quick fix for companies looking for a solution today, but there is a larger risk tomorrow if Northern Ireland does not start thinking more strategically and long term by promoting more flexible work options and helping develop innovative digital skills training.

Flexible working solutions for a wider candidate pool

According to research conducted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), 46% of employees say they would like to have more flexible working arrangements with their employers. By providing this flexibility, employers are more able to attract candidates based on the skills they have rather than limiting themselves to the pool of candidates who can work the traditional 9-to-5, five days a week.

Whether it’s creating opportunities for two candidates to work 20 hours a week, giving employees the flexibility to work from home, or making other small accommodations based on someone’s ability to travel, employers can easily and quickly widen their pool of candidates.

Flexible working ensures recruiters and employers are focused on the skills necessary rather than whether someone’s commitments outside of work fit around the traditional work day.

This would also help our unemployment statistics in innovative ways, encouraging a more diverse workforce as those with work-limiting health conditions or caring responsibilities would find it easier to move out of economic inactivity and into a flexible work environment.

Working towards innovative digital skills training

In many cases, the private sector relies on schools and further/higher education institutions to provide relevant training so that school leavers and graduates have the skills employers want. Cooperation between both means many courses can be built around these needs, but with changes in digital technology happening quicker every year, any input provided at the beginning of someone’s course could be outdated by the time of graduation.

At face value, better public/private cooperation is a long term solution as candidates would not be available for many years, but innovative digital skills training does not need to be. For school leavers considering further or higher education, the years out of the ever changing labour market means we are starting to see highly gifted school leavers opting out of traditional routes and moving straight into employment with training provided while in work. Starting work with an employer that will provide the exact training necessary helps these young people succeed in the long-term whilst providing companies with the right employees today, rather than waiting years for a candidate to complete their qualification.

As youth training and apprenticeship options are re-evaluated in the coming year, Northern Ireland could be a trailblazer in developing innovative digital apprenticeships and skills programmes that allow employers to play a larger role in developing the highly skilled workforce we need.

Taking these steps may not be as easy as picking up the phone to a recruiter and getting a candidate’s CV today, but these are solutions looking to the medium to long-term. Doing this, we can stop the skills gap from widening, and we can ensure every new job announcement is met with the right person with the right skills.