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How untapped talent could help reduce the skills gap

22 Mar 2023

Hays’ Simon Winfield delves into the talent pools that often get missed by leaders and how it can help plug the current talent shortage.

Statistics show that there’s been an increase in people not working because they are suffering from a long-term illness, as well as a rise in people who aren’t able to work due to caring commitments.

This data alongside existing skills shortages across the labour market means employers are facing an unrelenting battle for talent.

There are of course simple tweaks to your attraction and retention strategies that can help make sure you will stand out as an employer of choice for professionals, yet there’s a long-term game in engaging with ‘untapped’ or ‘unexpected’ talent that leaders can no longer ignore.

What is untapped talent?

Untapped, unexpected or hidden talent describes a proportion of the workforce who might struggle to access work or who might face a number of barriers during application. This could include, but isn’t limited to, ex-service leavers, caregivers, individuals over 60, neurodivergent professionals or those with a criminal record.

Not only might this section of the workforce face barriers during a job application, it’s also likely that employers simply won’t come across them during ‘traditional’ searches for staff.

The term unexpected or hidden talent might suggest these people are actively choosing not to partake in the labour market – this is far from the case. In fact, leaders should be doing all they can to actively seek them out and ensure they aren’t left behind, subsequently supporting their long-term talent pipeline.

Why should leaders care about untapped talent?

Not only is supporting those who might struggle to access work the right thing to do, it’s crucially important for business. A 2021 report by Harvard Business School and Accenture found that businesses who purposefully hire hidden workers are likely to see a direct return on investment.

Organisations who did hire outside of their usual talent pool were 36pc less likely to face skills shortages compared to organisations who don’t seek out untapped talent.

The report also highlighted that untapped talent, once given the opportunity, will often outperform their peers across six criteria – attitude and work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement, attendance and innovation.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as taking ex-service leaders as an example, many have a wealth of transferable and in-demand skills that can benefit workplaces of all shapes and sizes such as organisation, reliability, timekeeping and a solution-focused work ethic.

When it comes to purposefully hiring those who could classify as untapped talent, there’s certainly room for improvement. In data from our Hays UK Salary and Recruiting Trends 2023 survey, while more than a third of employers said they are actively hiring apprentices and graduates, fewer than a fifth are actively hiring those over the age of 50 (19pc), only 13pc are actively hiring ex-service leavers and even less so are purposely hiring neurodivergent talent (9pc).

Not only does hiring from outside your usual talent pool make good business sense, but it’s more importantly allowing those who might need certain tweaks to the application process, or access to part-time work a chance to thrive in a skills short labour market.

How can employers access untapped talent?

Accessing and purposefully hiring untapped talent is a long-term game. It isn’t a quick fix to skills shortages and must be part of your wider DE&I strategy.

Instead, working with your hiring teams and senior leaders, it’s important to assess what skills you are lacking among your workforce as a starter. Then look to what area of the workforce you could make adjustments for to purposefully hire, and this may involve working with partner organisations who will be able to advise on adjustments to policies as well as tweaks to your hiring process.

In order for this happen, leaders need to understand the skills and talents available from all segments of the workforce – and acknowledge that diversity is a key point of competitive leverage for organisations to drive forward access for untapped talent.

By Simon Winfield

Simon Winfield is the managing director of Hays UK and Ireland. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays blog.

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