Four in five employers would hire for potential as skills shortage continues to bite, survey shows

Research also reveals majority of candidates would apply for roles they are underqualified for

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Four in five (80 per cent) employers would now consider hiring staff based on their potential, with the intention of upskilling them once hired, new research has revealed

The What Workers Want survey by recruitment firm Hays, which polled more than 5,000 workers, found more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of employers were concerned about skills shortages in their organisation, and that as a result, three in five (60 per cent) said they were providing learning resources to current employees to address their organisation’s skills shortage. 

In addition, three-quarters (74 per cent) of workers said they would consider applying for a role even if they don’t have the requisite skills.

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Joanne Caine, managing director of recruitment firm Cathedral Appointments, explained that not only did this focus on learning enable a company to increase its talent pipeline but it could also boost HR performance in other key areas.

She said: “Offering significant investment in upskilling and training is key to staff attraction and retention. By investing in your employees’ skills, you showcase a willingness to help them continuously advance, as well as ensure that they feel valued. It can also do wonders for your own business.”

Similarly, Dannielle Haig, business psychologist at DH Consulting, added that looking beyond the skills a candidate currently has is an important aspect of successful recruitment.

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“We should always be looking at the potential of future hires too, despite it being more difficult to measure as all good hiring staff and business psychologists will tell you that the past doesn’t predict the future when it comes to work,” she said.

However, only half (50 per cent) of professionals said they were satisfied with the learning resources their employer provided.

To enable recruits who are hired for their potential to do well, Kevin Avis, people partner at Circle Health Group, said that proper investment in learning and leadership was needed.

“To hire for potential and upskills, people need to be meaningfully coached, mentored, provided with helpful feedback and provided opportunities for challenging project-based work,” he explained.

HR and hiring managers also need to be aware of potential bias and problems with this approach to recruitment. “A risk of this approach is that ‘cultural fit’ may become an essential assessment to pass in the recruitment stage,” Avis added.

“Therefore, consideration to how ‘good’ cultural fit is defined, and more specifically by the bias of the business or hiring manager. Transparent and measurable success pathways are therefore critical to aid the success of others.

Furthermore, Michelle Hainsworth, managing director, talent lab and tech skilling at AMS, added that while hiring for potential makes sense in a skills crisis environment – figures from the Learning and Work Institute show that there is a shortfall of 2.5 million highly skilled workers in the UK – it does likely require an overhaul of current hiring methods and tools.

She said: “This [approach] is arguably more difficult to implement than a skills-based attraction programme, particularly for organisations that have historically focused on specific attributes rather than a broader overview of a candidate.

“Taking the time to really drill down into what this shift means for the business, and how it recruits and onboards new colleagues will increase the success of this move.

“Increasingly, organisations are needing to define the critical skills needed within teams, and identifying the gaps that exist in their organisations. This level of prioritisation and planning, will set them up for greater success in acquiring the talent they need.”

For Nelson Sivalingam, author and CEO of education firm HowNow, this should all form part of a move toward businesses becoming more learning-centric in their practices in order to better navigate a Vuca (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) landscape.

He added: “We're living in an era of exponential change. For companies to keep up, instead of hiring, their strategy must focus on building the organisational capability to learn and apply what they learn at speed. 

However, Lynsey Whitmarsh, CEO of Hemsley Fraser explained that if employers can become learning-centric, and start to hire for potential over skills, they can reformulate the business in a more effective way.

“The employees will have to invest in learning and development of that individual but this will allow the business to shape the skills in the way that is most beneficial to their business, instead of focusing on unlearning old practices or processes,” she said.