With employment levels at a record high, and key industries reporting skills shortages, businesses across the country are struggling to find the right talent.
To navigate the impasse, business owners and HR teams need to be more creative in their recruitment. By being more inclusive in their hiring and accommodating in their working arrangements, employers can tap into rich pools of talent that have traditionally been overlooked.
Though not without their challenges, ex-offenders offer one such source of labour. As the Financial Times noted recently, despite their ability to plug staff shortfalls in a range of key sectors, prisoners often struggle to find work on release from prison.
Research by the Ministry of Justice found that only 17% of prison leavers are in full-time work a year after release. Separate research by the think-tank Onward found that a major driving factor is that only 1% of employers have initiatives and programmes in place to recruit ex-offenders.
There are early signs that attitudes are beginning to shift, however. Spurred on by Government support, employers in a range of industries from catering to customer service, engineering to retail, are beginning to forge links with prisons and become more open-minded in hiring former prisoners.
Despite this progress there is much still to be done.
Another group of jobseekers consistently overlooked by employers are those affected by mental illness. According to the NHS less than half (43%) of those with mental health problems are in employment, compared to 74% for the population as a whole.
Negative perceptions of mental illness among employers are a contributing factor.
A survey of 500 hiring managers conducted by the charity Rethink Mental Illness found that 83% worried that someone with a severe mental illness would not be able to cope with the demands of the job. Two-thirds (68%) were concerned that someone with a severe mental illness would not fit in with the rest of their team, while three-quarters (74%) suspected someone with a severe mental illness would need to take lots of time off.
In my spare time I run a mental health not-for-profit called Work to Recover. We help those recovering from mental illness secure employment. A key part of our work involves helping employers to change their preconceptions about hiring people with mental health difficulties: it’s not always the challenge that businesses assume.
Adjustments are usually common sense based, easy to implement and cost very little: such as taking a flexible approach to working hours or shift patterns, offering support in prioritising workload, making quiet areas available in the office, providing a dedicated parking space, and investing in a good Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
Seemingly small changes can make an enormous difference to both the person employed, and the employer.
Finally, businesses should consider filling skills gaps by employing older people. Analysis by the charity Rest Less revealed that those aged 50-64 are 33% more likely than any other age group to remain unemployed in the long term (over two years). This is set against a background of the state pension age rising: it will reach 66 next year and 67 between 2026 and 2028.
Older people are being condemned to an involuntary withdrawal from the labour market.
There is a strong business case for employing and investing in older people. Businesses can benefit hugely from employees who are known quantities: experienced hires with the benefit of years of real-world experience to draw on, rather than just theoretical study.
Older employees are also less likely to job-hop and often lack the temptation of their younger contemporaries to build a career swiftly by completing the obligatory three to five year stint in a job before moving on. Older workers also have less to prove and so can offer employers much needed workforce stability. Knowledge, motivation and dedication does not have a sell-by date.
If employers are struggling to hire, it makes practical and commercial sense to widen the metaphorical pool in which they are fishing. Potential rewards include a reduction in staff turnover, increased productivity and fewer long-term internal vacancies.
To your new employee, your company’s ‘yes’ might have been the first job offer they’ve had in an extremely long line of ‘no’s - and that trust and belief can foster a sense of respect and dedication among staff towards their employer that can be hard to find elsewhere. Ultimately, employing someone from a typically overlooked group not only solves the problem of finding talent in this tough market - it’s a truly meaningful hire.