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Getting ahead in the battle to attract and retain top talent

St Pauls' Catherdral, London cityscape, tube

As a firm believer in the power of putting people first, I’m excited to write this monthly column for Business Leader, offering you a candid peek into the challenges and opportunities of recruitment strategies and robust talent planning.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of workforce solutions, or of being a chief executive. It was one of those serendipitous, sliding-door moments – after a stint travelling in my early 20s, I walked into a recruitment agency one day looking for a job and loved the industry so much I never left.

Since then, I’ve worked my way up. My passion for making work means more inspired a desire to take others on the journey with me so, four years ago, I took on Adecco’s most senior role in the UK and Ireland.

As you may have experienced yourself, they haven’t been the most straightforward years to run a company of any kind. Brexit, a pandemic, the Ukraine war, five prime ministers in six years, spiralling inflation and an approaching general election have given us plenty to think about.

We’ve seen a rollercoaster of political and economic uncertainty and even last year was undoubtedly a challenging time. Economic growth was nearly non-existent, primarily due to high inflation and consecutive interest rate rises. This took its toll on business confidence, leading to hiring freezes, an increased reliance on temporary staff and, sometimes, redundancies.

Nevertheless, there was unprecedented wage growth, as employers sought to address the cost-of-living crisis and talent scarcity. As the year ended, signs of a loosening in the labour market became evident with job vacancies dropping below a million for the first time since mid-2021. However, the market remained fairly resilient, with an increase in total employment of almost half a million jobs.

It’s been a mixed picture and one that has prompted more organisations to turn to their talent partners for guidance on hiring strategies. You can see why. Against such a backdrop, it’s difficult to anticipate workforce needs in the short or long term, and the natural reaction is often to delay hiring until things settle.

However, our most recent research suggests this could be a mistake. Almost half of the companies we surveyed are forecasting a headcount increase by 2025, pointing to increased competition when there is already a talent shortage and skills mismatch.

So where should you start? Key trends are emerging that are fundamentally shaping the labour landscape and that, crucially, employers have an element of control over. These include – but aren’t limited to – workforce readiness, upskilling and reskilling, flexible work arrangements, equality, diversity and inclusion policies, multi-generational workforces, digital and green skills, and the impact of AI.

I can’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but I can tell you that it’s important to understand how these different factors impact your business. Along with strong corporate values, a well-defined purpose and an ethos of genuinely putting people first, these are the aspects that employers who want to attract and retain top talent would do well to focus on, so I’ll be covering them in more detail in future.

The brightest minds are predicting a year of two halves in 2024. The lasting effects of low business confidence added to weak economic growth and continued wage inflation may well spread into the first few months, but there’s a potential turning point on the horizon, with lower inflation and subsequent interest rate cuts as early as April. 

A famous quote by Professor Peter Drucker comes to mind. Fifty years ago, he said, “The question that faces the strategic decision-maker is: ‘What do we have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow?’”  

For every business leader navigating the UK’s tough trading environment, it’s a question that’s as relevant today as it was then. While the complexities of talent management aren’t easy, they do become less difficult with insight, knowledge, and partnership. My goal is to give you a little of each.

Niki Turner-Harding is country head, UK and Ireland, at Adecco

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