Don’t be lazy by assuming your recruitment problem is a skills gap – that’s the message from Emma Robinson, founder of Huddersfield-based executive headhunting firm, Red Diamond.

The statement comes as a recent ONS report on shortages in the labour market indicated that one in three businesses with 10+ employees have difficulties in filling vacancies.

Emma said: “The most common reasons for a sluggish uptake in roles were a low number of applications and a lack of qualified applicants,

“Of course, this is problematic, as it means that businesses are unable to meet the demands of customers – which has a knock-on effect on the economy and national productivity. But, for the most part, the problem does not come from a skills gap.

“Yes, unemployment rates are low, meaning there is a smaller pool of ‘readily available’ people to fill roles, but let’s not forget that most candidates – particularly from shopfloor to director level – come from previous employment and are not usually unemployed.

“Sitting back and waiting for candidates to knock on the door is not necessarily the best approach – after all, the best candidates may not even be actively looking for a new role. The problem usually derives from one of two issues – either an internal recruitment problem or a factor that’s out of your control, such as location.”

Another recent ONS report on shortages in the labour market indicated that there were 97,000 jobs vacancies in the manufacturing sector in January 2022 – up by 42,000 since 2019.

“If we look at manufacturing as an example, I can honestly tell you that the problem has always been the same. I’ve worked in the sector for 20 years and it usually comes down to the fact that the pay rate is lower than a competitor across the street; poor internal recruitment processes; bad reviews on GlassDoor; or thinking in the here and now rather than the future – as a handful of examples.”

Emma claims that businesses need to conduct an analysis of their processes if they are to tackle the problem.

“One of our manufacturing clients went through four financial directors in three years – they couldn’t seem to keep hold of them. As a result, they kept increasing the job salary.

“After analysis, we realised the problem was that the managing director had a financial background and didn’t give the FD much autonomy. The solution we proposed was to find a more junior FD, on a lower salary, meaning they could learn from the MD. It also saved the client approximately £20,000 per year.

“Another scenario was a manufacturer who knew that they were losing their staff to a builder across the road. The internal narrative was ‘they always come back, though.’

“We carried out an investigation and found that just one person had returned, and the competitor paid £1 more per hour. Our solution was to up their hourly rate by £2 per hour, which attracted higher quality of staff, and meant they didn’t need as many shop floor workers, saving them thousands per year.

“My advice? Don’t assume anything. Investigate why you are struggling to fill roles. Leave no stone unturned. Of course, the jobs market is competitive, but I don’t believe we can declare a skills shortage just because the right candidate hasn’t fallen into your lap.”

Red Diamond Executive works on behalf of multi-billion-pound companies around the world and firms closer to home including the likes of AW Hainsworth.