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Remy Morland

Recruitment crisis? Here’s how to help fill staff vacancies

Many businesses in and around Swindon and Wiltshire are expanding and one of the biggest issues they face is driven by very low unemployment levels, as Remy Morland of HR Dept Swindon and Wiltshire explains.

Interest rates are going up, inflation is predicted to hit 11 per cent, and fuel prices are rising.

Faced with these problems, you could be forgiven for thinking all was doom and gloom in the business world.

But in fact, many businesses in and around Swindon and Wiltshire are expanding and one of the biggest issues they face is driven by very low unemployment levels.

The unemployment rate for February to April 2022 decreased by 0.2 per cent on the quarter to 3.8 per cent, and because the number of jobseekers is so low, businesses are finding it hard to recruit new staff to fill their vacancies.

So why do we have such low unemployment? This has largely been driven by Covid and Brexit.

The pandemic prompted people to rethink their plans, with the result that many left the workforce.

Mobility among staff also reduced, with workers opting to stay put rather than move on to new roles, favouring the security of their existing position. Following Brexit, fewer European workers have come to the UK to fill vacancies and Covid reduced itinerance among workers.

This high employment is across the majority of sectors, in both skilled and semi-skilled professions, and is causing a wage war to break out among businesses in Swindon and Wiltshire.

Some employers being ‘gazumped’ by other businesses which swoop in to offer higher wages.

One local company increased its hourly rates in order to compete with the new Amazon warehouse in Swindon, only to find their newly appointed staff still opted to go elsewhere, where wage rates were even higher.

Because there are fewer people looking for work, those who are have more bargaining power in terms of salary.

However, not all businesses are in a position to put up wages. We mentioned inflation and fuel prices. These are hitting companies as well as their staff, squeezing any contingency for a wage rise.

So what else can companies do to help attract new staff, and – equally importantly – hold on to their current employees, to discourage them from going elsewhere?

One option is to look at benefits offered. For example, you could increase holiday entitlement, whether that is across the board or by giving extra days for length of service.

There are other benefits which also may be affordable for employers. Some of our clients are introducing cycle to work schemes, where the cost of a bicycle comes out of a salary sacrifice scheme, bringing savings in Income Tax and National Insurance contributions for the employee.

Becoming more environmentally friendly can also attract staff. Some companies who are replacing their team’s company cars with hybrid or electric vehicles, which cuts their carbon footprint and also promotes their green credentials.

Flexible working is a big plus for jobseekers, particularly since the pandemic demonstrated it was possible for entire workforces to work from home.

This can be flexibility of hours and location – hybrid working, from home or in office, and choice over which hours are worked. The more flexible an employer can be, the more attractive the company will be to work for.

Training and investing in staff brings multiple benefits. It increases the skills of your current staff and makes them feel more valued. If you are an employer known for investing in learning and development, you will be more attractive to jobseekers.

Targeted training will also help with productivity, and you may need fewer staff to do more work. If you have training at the heart of your business, you are likely to be able to cross-train some of your staff so they can fill gaps, so reducing your need for external recruitment.

Finally, taking on apprentices can bring huge benefits. For smaller businesses, up to 95 per cent of the training costs can be covered by the Apprenticeship Levy, which only larger business pay into.

Filling those vacancies and attracting recruits isn’t solely about pay. The reasons people decide to join or stay with a company include the company’s ethics, their attitude to work/life balance and their environmental policies. So if you are an employer, and can’t afford to increase wages, you do have other options.

Remy Morland is head of HR consultancy at HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire. Visit www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon

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