People and Change

The Struggle for Talent – how skills shortages are continuing to affect planned growth and project delivery

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Grant Thornton were involved in a significant workforce survey taken in the greater Dublin area, across five counties during the month of January 2022.

The results provide a good overview of workforce challenges and sentiment at the moment amongst employers, and could be equally applicable to the greater Belfast area and Northern Ireland.

Companies surveyed are preparing for growth on the back of existing skill shortages in their teams.  31% of respondents do not believe that their organisation has the talent needed to achieve their current objectives, and 63% described the skill shortages that they have experienced in the last year as extreme or moderate.

The impacts of these shortages are clearly called out in the survey findings, with 39% reporting that those skills shortages limit organisational productivity on an ongoing basis, directly impacting staff morale, increased stress for leaders, a reduced ability to deliver projects, and limiting the opportunities for productivity and innovation. Companies surveyed ranged from small and large SMEs to multinationals across over 14 sectors including pharma, med-tech, food/beverage, agri, IT, professional services, engineering, logistics, FMCG, manufacturing, construction, financial services and hotel-leisure.

Employers surveyed are concerned about the hiring challenges ahead, with a shortage of suitable candidates, competition from other employers, and rising salary costs quoted as their top three concerns. 63% of respondents reported that they intend to increase salaries in the next year, and this coupled with rising energy, transport, and material costs, will certainly raise some difficult challenges for organisations in managing their cost base.

Further findings from the survey showed that expectations and arrangements regarding how people work are changing.  The prolonged experience of remote and hybrid work has altered expectations. Individual preferences, along with the Irish government’s commitment to legislate employees' right to request remote work, means creating mutually productive and satisfying hybrid work arrangements will be a pertinent issue facing business leaders and HR professionals. 

Interestingly, the scale of workplace change is captured very clearly in this year’s survey; 78% of organisations offer remote working, and 81% of employees work remotely at least part of the time.  Furthermore, only 26% of respondents report they would be satisfied with a full-time return to the office, and 77% of organisations will offer some a form of remote working going forward.  The momentum is certainly on the side of ongoing, hybrid work arrangements. 

The survey indicates that the most common longer-term hybrid arrangements will facilitate remote working approximately 50% of the time.  The positive experience of remote work, along with the potential to scale up the training and supports, points to the potential of hybrid work to yield high employee engagement, alongside time efficient, productive working arrangements. 

With new models of working widely available, the increase in salary levels driven both by a rise in inflation and competition for a smaller pool of talent, the landscape for attracting and retaining people has certainly become a more complex one.   Skill shortages are a huge challenge for every sector and location. Most prevalent are the manufacturing, food, transportation, and tourism sectors.  There is also a challenge for SMEs to retain staff, with many leaving to join larger, multi-national corporations attracted by better pay, work conditions, cultural diversity, and a sustainable business model.

Employers need to work very hard to both attract and retain their people, right across the country and not just in the greater Dublin area.