Claire Lane, National Employer Engagement Manager at Maximus UK.
The pandemic’s effects on the jobs market is becoming more obvious with each and every labour market report or statistic released. With the job retention scheme drawing to an end, labour market economists and the government will be preparing for another COVID-19 shockwave.
The most recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) only compounds the fears round employment. 695,000 fewer people in August were recorded on UK payrolls when compared to the start of the crisis in March 2020.
What does this mean for employers? With more job losses and fewer openings in sectors particularly disrupted by the pandemic, more people will be looking to change industry. These workers can offer other industries vital skills that have become increasingly important as the economy has changed before and during the pandemic.
Businesses need to be working hard to ensure they hire these high-quality workers. This means thinking creatively about the kind of skills your business needs and how you reach these potential employees. These employees will help businesses come at issues from different perspectives, helping to drive innovation, and in these changing times they could be vital to success.
Times are changing
Employers have always faced numerous barriers when hiring, but these have been removed by the pandemic, increasing the need to find people with ‘soft’ skills. Travel for work in some sectors has become less important with the rise in remote working. This presents significant benefits for certain groups. Access to work is likely to increase for people with disabilities, those with limited transport and parents with young children.
Before discussing the changing environment and how ‘soft’ skills can address business needs further, we should unpack what we mean by the term. From the outset their name is misleading. ‘Soft’ skills are by no means easy to develop and are increasingly held in high esteem by employers. Examples of these skills include calmness under pressure, confidence and communication. These are the sorts of skills that may seem straightforward but provide the backbone to the majority of jobs. Almost 40% of employers experiencing skills shortages listed customer handing skills as lacking among their usual applicants, according to a 2017 survey for the UK Government. A significant proportion also struggled to find employees to help lead and motivate a team.
COVID-19 didn’t instigate the move towards ‘soft’ skills. Technological advances such as automation and increased international competition were the original driving force behind the shift towards more human skills. These phenomena have made ‘soft’ skills a top priority for employers. Whether automation has made specialist skills less important, or whether increased competition means businesses need to become more agile and need to think differently and innovate to solve problems – hiring from other sectors is a proven method to remain competitive. COVID has of course accelerated these trends.
The pandemic has hit the retail and hospitality sectors hard. Long periods of forced closure have left businesses with no choice but to stop hiring or to lay off staff. Candidates have been forced to adapt and apply their skills elsewhere with vacancies in many parts of retail falling by more than half. Offsetting this drop, however, is a clear rise in the care and logistics sectors. Job adverts for roles in care has increased by more than 20% over the past six months and, from our experience on the programmes we operate, these roles are being offered to people with the right attitude to work, soft skills and ability to train on the job.
Utilising ‘soft’ skills
There’s a lot of support out there for businesses looking to hire from different backgrounds. Government backed schemes are a great way to help potential employees gain new skills in new sectors. These ultimately provide businesses with a great opportunity to improve their workforce. With funding through apprenticeship provision, Adult Education Budget and other lifelong learning programmes, businesses are able to look for skills such as attitude and willingness to work alongside the traditional skills they look for when hiring someone.
Businesses can’t do this on their own though, and potential employees need to be able to recognise their transferable skills and what these mean for applying to a new sector. It may mean looking outside their usual sectors or moving outside their confirm zone. Accessing advice and support through Jobcentre Plus or commissioned programmes will give people the opportunity to fully understand the skills they perhaps didn’t know they had and how these can help in the search for employment outside their industry.
Businesses should carefully examine how COVID has changed their hiring needs, or they will become less competitive to those more agile companies. This is an important way to make sure businesses take the correct steps to address these needs.