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Are foreign shores the answer to the skills shortage?

Posted: 31 March 2015

Earlier this week I watched a fascinating TED presentation by Rainer Strack, a senior partner and managing director at the Dusseldorf Office of Boston Consulting Group that looked at the looming skills shortage. Strack outlined how, unless significant changes are made, the UK – along with a number of other major economies – will supposedly have a significant shortfall of talent by 2030. Of course, that’s a long way off; the markets of today are drastically different to what they were in 2000.

How can we tackle the skills shortage before it become too severe?

Of course, this isn’t a new issue, we’ve been aware of skills shortages affecting growth in the UK for some time now. And firms aren’t just accepting this and moving on. The UK is home to some of the most advanced and innovative talent management programmes anywhere on earth and a variety of solutions have been offered to tackle the growing talent issue. For one thing, businesses have focused on looking to employ more women in order to boost both their headcount and diversity. We’ve also seen discussions over further raising the retirement age in order to reflect the fact that people are living considerably longer than they used to. While these solutions have had some success, particularly in the number of women operating in senior positions, they’re simply not getting the numbers of specialists in to meet the growing demand.

Are robots the answer?

I know what you’re thinking. We’ve all seen films like AI and I Robot and it seems almost inevitable that we might get a helping hand from technology in one way or another. However, the idea that robots or any kind of advanced programming can accurately replicate every side of complex, human roles is untrue. While there may be a number of fields that benefit from technological advances, on the larger scale, people are still desperately required. In fact, studies have consistently shown that technology creates more jobs than it destroys. The perfect example of this can be seen in the automobile industry. Strack outlined how in 1980, 10 percent of the overall cost of producing the average American car would stem from electronic technology. By 2014 this had risen to 30 percent; however there had been no substantial difference in the number of people involved in manufacturing the vehicle itself. So while technology may make the process cheaper and less prone to human error, it still does require people. And unless we see a significant change in the way we work or in the robotics field, it’s unlikely this trend will change any time soon.

Actually, the real solution to the looming talent crisis is much simpler.

Strack revealed the results of a survey by his employer, which questioned 200,000 professionals from 180 countries on their job seeking preferences. While the UK is suffering from a number of well-documented skills shortages, the talent markets in a number of emerging economies are thriving.  According to the research, 60 percent of skilled professionals from a range of markets want to work in a foreign country (70 percent for those aged 21-30) with the UK being their second most popular destination after the USA.  With so many talented specialists looking to operate in this country, it almost seems a waste for businesses not to seize hold of this opportunity and look to foreign shores. Of course, there will be challenges associated with relocating and embedding the individual into the company as well as obtaining them the legal requirements to work in the UK, but the benefits massively outweigh the negatives. For one thing, professionals who’ve relocated from half way around the world are considerably less likely to decide the job isn’t for them after a few weeks. Your organisation will also directly benefit from having a more diverse workforce and therefore more diverse ways of thinking and coming up with solutions.

With so much pressure already being placed on the UK talent market it seems baffling that more firms haven’t looked to develop more thorough and in depth international recruiting strategies. Waiting until 2030 will be too late, according to Strack anyway, and you can’t simply recruit from faraway countries on an ‘as-needed’ basis. Firms need to fully appreciate the value of the global talent markets and the skills that are held within them and look to seize upon this; otherwise they risk being significantly impacted by the skills shortage further down the line.

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