Businesses need to take more notice of candidates from other industries

Why recruiting from other industries is now vital to stay competitive

The effects of the COVID-19 crisis on employment levels are now becoming clear, with the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) making for uncomfortable reading. According to the data released a couple of weeks ago, the UK economy had 730,000 fewer people on UK payrolls in July 2020 when compared with March 2020. As the job retention programme gradually winds down, these numbersare set to get much worse.

For employers, this means thinking differently about the way they recruit talent. Increased job losses mean that there are more high-quality workers seeking work in new sectors. As a business looking to remain competitive in a post-COVID world, you should be looking to attract workers by casting a wider net on the type of skills you are looking for.

The changing competitive climate

It is easy for HR professionals and hiring managers to overlook applications from candidates who have no prior experience in that sector, are geographically distant or whom the business will find it hard to accommodate, such as people with disabilities.

Yet before the pandemic hit, we were already witnessing a shift in focus towards more human, ‘soft’ skills, with less emphasis on sector-specific experience. More specialist tasks, particularly in manufacturing,are being automated as technology advances, pushing these ‘soft’ skills to the top of the agenda for employers. Also, the nature of competition has changed. Competition is no longer jus tlocalised; businesses now face challenges from global rivals who can deliver core services more cheaply. This means businesses need to benefit from a greater mix of talent to find innovative solutions to these problems. The COVID crisis is reinforcing this trend.

In addition, the COVID crisis has continued to increase the economy’s dependence on ‘soft’ skills. Such skills are, in fact, more meaningful than their name might suggest. Skills such as communication, confidence and calmness under pressure are often the hardest to develop, and bring huge value to employers, regardless of work background. In a 2017 survey for the UK Government, nearly 40% of employers experiencing skills shortages listed customer handing skills as lacking among their usual applicants. More than a third struggled to find staff who can manage and motivate a team.

The retail and hospitality sectors have been the hardest hit during this crisis. In some parts of retail, we have seen a 50% drop in the number of vacancies, leading numerous candidates to apply their skills in other sectors. Matching this with an increased demand in growth sectors such as logistics and care work, it’s clear that customer service and communication skills developed in the retail and hospitality sectors will be invaluable to these roles. We are already seeing a trend in this direction on the programmes we operate. In the last 6 months the number of roles advertised in care has increased by more than 20%, and some of these are being taken by people who have never previously considered a career in the health sector.

COVID has also meant that many of the barriers that reduced talent pools are gone. Geographical constraints for hiring have been taken away in some sectors, with office working becoming less important and travel for work no longer a requirement. This is particularly helpful for people with disabilities, or those facing a prohibitively long commute, transport challenges or unsuitable working environments.

The power of transferable skills

Businesses needn’t be nervous about hiring out of their comfort zone anymore. The government has several schemes to help people to retrain into new sectors and build the specialist skills required that businesses can take advantage of. Additional funding streams are available, including Adult Education Budget programmes and apprenticeship provision. This gives hiring managers the ability to hire someone based on their attitude to work and learning – as well as their ability to adapt to new surroundings. Hiring managers must also look carefully at how they advertise for new vacancies. Going forward, it will be essential to be less prescriptive in order to access the widest talent pool.

The onus isn’t just on businesses, however. Prospective employees should also be encouraged to recognise how their skills are transferable and how they can apply them to a new sector. Employment support and training programmes, usually available through a referral from Jobcentre Plus, can help people understand the skills they have and how applicable those skills could be in other sectors.

The businesses that will succeed and thrive through this crisis will be those that recognise and exploit these new opportunities. They’ll be the ones that have carefully examined how COVID has changed their needs and have taken steps to address them by hiring candidates with valuable transferable skills from different backgrounds, who offer fresh approaches to the problems the business faces and help to develop innovative solutions. Those that miss this opportunity are at risk of being outmatched by more innovative, diverse companies.