The Rise Of The Dumbbell Workforce

Kirstie Kelly, 31 May 2016

There is no doubt that many HR professionals are worried about the impact of the skills gap in the UK on the recruitment of talent. Many have a shared concern that there will not be a sufficiently highly skilled workforce available in future to meet their future business needs.

With globalisation continuing to shape the mix of skills required across the UK workforce over the next decade, we are expecting to see growth in higher skills level occupations, for example managerial and professional roles. Similarly, we are seeing an increase in many less skilled, lower-paid occupations, such as caring and personal services.

By contrast, blue collar and administrative jobs are in decline which is probably a reflection of recent structural and technological changes in the economy. These changes in the composition of the UK workforce have led to it becoming 'dumbbell' shaped, with considerable demand at both top and bottom ends - but very limited growth in middle, semi-skilled jobs sector.

This creates a worrying situation. The impact of this glut of people in low paid jobs for which they are overqualified means there is also a shortage of supply of skills for advanced level positions because of the limited pool in the middle from which to draw on

So why is this happening? Why are we still struggling to attract the skills we need and why are employers struggling to invest in developing their people with the job related skills they need?

There are various schools of thought. Some point to failures in our education system that mean we are struggling to keep pace with the demand for skills in STEM areas, whilst others cite to the fact that technological change is accelerating at such a pace that the ‘shelf life’ of knowledge and skills is shortening.

In the UK, skills shortages are reported in all types of engineering, IT, healthcare and education. The CBI found that nearly 40% of firms looking for staff with STEM skills have had difficulties recruiting, and about half believe the situation will get worse.

The economic crisis has exacerbated the situation. Recent Governments have had less money to spend on skills and education initiatives, thus shifting the responsibility onto employers and employees to plug the skills gap. But, there is a lack of investment in training by employers who are fearful that their staff will take their skills elsewhere.

So how can HR and Resourcing overcome this?

Well, to start with employers need to anticipate the differing values and needs of an increasingly diverse and segmented workforce. There is a definite growing trend towards employees looking for value and meaning in their work. Often ‘talent’ wants to work with other talented people and on exciting and rewarding projects. Values and purpose are rapidly perceived to be as important as remuneration. This is particularly the case amongst newer generations entering the workforce.

Therefore, employment opportunities that allow people to build their own personal ‘career portfolios’ in this way will need to be the norm. Let’s be under no illusion, this will have profound implications for both employees and employers. Employees will be expected to shoulder more responsibility for their own personal development, whilst employers will need to rise to the challenges of building and developing authenticity in their employer brand and EVP, in order to appeal to this increasingly segmented and diverse workforce.

This means that HR will need to devote itself to ensuring that talent management practices properly reflect the differing expectations and motivations of their employee base in order to increase engagement and retention. In the future, part of this will also require some fundamental shifts in how we organise our workplaces in terms of how we design our work practices and systems.

About the author

Kirstie Kelly Diversity and inclusion practice lead

Kirstie Kelly

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