Why it’s time to reset candidate expectations


The Covid crisis has led to dislocated education and dislocated organisations. To avoid damaging skills gaps and to make use of the talent that’s still out there, businesses will need to rethink their recruitment strategies, argues Ben Town.

For years, the way we work has been evolving steadily but, as a result of prolonged Covid-19 lockdown periods, the pace of change has accelerated. Now, an unprecedented number of employees are accustomed to working from home, using remote technology and being based in more relaxed environments – formal office wear is a distant memory for many.

A lot depends on widening talent pools, investment in training and a more open approach to job specs.”

This has caused a sea change in employee expectations of their workplaces post-pandemic and companies are being urged to adopt a more flexible and agile approach to working from home, enhance their remote tech platforms, embrace a better work/life balance and reimagine their office spaces if they want to attract and retain precious talent.

But, should businesses also be adapting their approach to recruitment? Should they now be re-addressing their own expectations of future talent as a consequence the Covid crisis? The answer is a resounding yes – because, like everything else, the next generation of workers has been affected by the pandemic.

Recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) revealed that children across the UK were likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling as a result of the crisis. Ultimately, this could lead to a combined, long-term loss of earnings totalling around £350bn.

Similarly, the Covid-19 generation of higher education students are now facing another year of cancelled exams with many choosing to delay their university applications or shunning attending altogether. While this is troubling for universities, it also points to a likely decline in the numbers of skilled individuals entering the workforce in years to come.

To anticipate this inevitable skills gap, companies would be well-advised to spend time now reviewing and expanding their recruitment strategies, so they can still source the people they need to drive post-pandemic success.

Socially responsible businesses will also, no doubt, understand the important role they can play in ensuring that young people are not left behind or economically disadvantaged, as a consequence of the pandemic.

A lot depends on widening talent pools, investment in training and a more open approach to job specs.

Cast your net wider

With a smaller pool of qualified candidates to choose from, it becomes necessary to target untapped potential – finding capable individuals who are eager and willing to develop and hone the skills required for a role.

In order to reach these people, you should actively work to widen your talent pool, publicising roles to a broader variety of individuals and encouraging them to apply. Consider partnering with a larger range of colleges and learning institutions – moving away from the better-known universities – and get more involved with job fairs and other events aimed at non-graduates.

Apprenticeship schemes can also be a brilliant way to tap into a rich seam of enthusiastic, diverse talent that may otherwise have been overlooked.

Apprenticeship schemes can also be a brilliant way to tap into a rich seam of enthusiastic, diverse talent that may otherwise have been overlooked.”

If you use recruitment consultants, talk to them to ensure they understand your desire to reach out to a wider audience. Explain that you don’t want to focus your efforts simply on the most highly qualified or experienced candidates but are looking for promise, wherever it may emerge.

When it comes to advertising roles, businesses should think very carefully about the wording used. If not worded carefully, job adverts can be inadvertently off-putting to many candidates – especially those with limited experience. For example, certain language can create the impression that employers are exclusively interested in candidates from particular backgrounds. In order to avoid this, make use of proofing tools which can effectively identify words or phrases that may unintentionally discourage applicants from certain groups.

Nurture raw talent

Where candidates do not have the exact requirements for a role – investment in training and upskilling can help to bridge the gap, enabling you to nurture the specific talent you need to get ahead of the competition. Businesses should clear career pathways for candidates, so they can demonstrate exactly how they can progress in the organisation, harnessing raw talent and shaping rounded professionals.

If companies bring in candidates who are willing and able to adapt and learn, the investment in them is more likely to pay off. At the same time, providing them with a positive employee experience and embedding them in the culture of your business from the outset, will help to ensure the people being invested in are engaged and want to stay with you once they’re qualified.

Young non-graduates can also bring with them a raft of tech capability which may not be present elsewhere in the talent pool. They are more likely to have their finger on the pulse of the latest digital trends and will have been exposed to the most up to date technologies – a valuable asset for any company trying to excel in the digital age.

Flex your specs

Remember, candidates may have the foundations to develop well in a role, even if they don’t have the degree or experience to match. By making your job specification less rigid, you can appeal to those who potentially have what it takes but would be excluded by stricter requirements. Interestingly, it has been revealed that men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of a job specification, yet women will only apply if they meet 100% of them.

Young non-graduates can also bring with them a raft of tech capability which may not be present elsewhere in the talent pool.”

To tackle this, reviewing your current role specifications and working out exactly which skills or competencies are absolutely essential for the role, and which can be acquired on the job, should be made clear when advertising the opportunity. It is also important to explicitly state on adverts that applicants do not need to meet all of the listed criteria to be considered for the role.

At the heart of this new, post-pandemic approach to recruitment is a commitment from businesses to be more malleable when it comes to candidate qualifications. It’s not about being less selective but relies on digging deeper to identify and harness potential. The future of talent and the future of a generation may depend upon whether businesses are willing to embrace this change.

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