Skills shortage continues to dominate market
If you are one of the 79% of NI-based employers who said they expect to hire additional staff in the next year then you will have found that this year's Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends report provides much food for thought.
The most documented theme for the recruitment industry in 2019 has been the ongoing shortage of niche skills in a number of sectors, particularly in IT.
Our report, which is based on responses from almost 31,500 employers and candidates working in a range of industries across the UK - including 937 in Northern Ireland - suggested that this narrative could change as we move into 2020.
In terms of the specialist skills most needed by employers, managerial and leadership skills (33%) have now knocked operations skills (32%) off the top spot, with projects and change management being the third highest in demand (23%).
Almost all of the professionals (96%) we interviewed said they believe they have the skills needed to fulfil their current role, but on the other side, over a quarter of employers (26%) did not think that their organisation currently has the talent needed to achieve its current objectives.
While the lack of certain skills such as coding languages in IT are well documented, the demand for what are often termed "softer skills" tell us there are attributes which are being more widely sought across the workforce.
Nearly 70% of employers identified communication and interpersonal skills as the most important skills they needed in their teams, followed by candidates who are adept in problem solving, who are flexible, who can adapt to situations and who can manage people well.
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Employees have already recognised the increase in demand for these talents and are reacting quickly.
Almost half say they are actively developing their communication and interpersonal skills to progress their careers.
Our survey found 43% are developing their problem-solving skills and a similar number are developing their ability to learn.
However only 3% of professionals say they are developing their flexibility and people management skills, much lower than the percentage of employers who seek them.
This year we saw salaries in Northern Ireland increase at a faster rate than the UK average, in part because employers are finding it hard to recruit people with the right skills.
The average salary in Northern Ireland increased 2.4%, above the average rise of 1.8% registered across the UK and up on the 2% jump locally in the same survey a year ago.
However, 81% of local employers said they had experienced some form of skills shortage within the past 12 months, against a UK average of 88%, with two thirds of employers surveyed saying the top recruitment challenge faced by their business is a shortage of suitable applicants.
Employers in 2020 will need competitive recruitment strategies to communicate with and attract candidates in harder to fill roles. With employee turnover expected to continue at similar levels to 2019, most employers plan to recruit both permanent and temporary staff in the coming months and although these hiring plans are more targeted compared to previous years - and we don't yet fully know the impact Brexit could have on the economy - it should be seen as positive that it is currently employers' intention to continue to replace leavers.
We know that hiring for leadership potential is already becoming a priority for ambitious companies as they grow.
With management and leadership skills proving especially difficult to find, it is imperative that those in charge of HR adapt their recruitment strategies to find professionals with the right skills. While having the right technical skills will always be important, soft skills such as people management and leadership are often much harder to learn and should be coveted when you find them in a prospective candidate.
- John Moore is managing director of recruitment firm Hays in Northern Ireland