Skills shortages bite for professional services

by 08 Jun 2007

SKILLS SHORTAGES are hurting the professional services sector, according to a recent study, with more than half of professional services firms finding it difficult to source talented and experienced professionals.

The study found the single biggest human capital management challenge identified by professional services firms for the year ahead was retaining their people (almost 40 per cent) followed by sourcing talent (33 per cent).

Furthermore, 43 per cent of firms said the most difficult types of employees to attract are experienced workers/professionals earning $50,000–$80,000, while one-third said that it takes more than four weeks to fill permanent vacancies.

“It is well known that Australia is grappling with severe skills shortages in trade and industry, but the results confirm that many white-collar businesses are also finding it hard to recruit the people they need,” says Debbie Loveridge, CEO of Vedior Asia Pacific, which conducted the study.

“More specifically, what is a concern for many organisations is the fact that they are finding it difficult to attract experienced professionals. It is leaving a gap in many businesses.”

The study also found those firms which are not having difficulty sourcing talent attribute their success to the company’s reputation and brand (75 per cent), followed by networking and referrals (49 per cent) and a strong partnership with their recruitment consultant/company (45 per cent). Similarly, 90 per cent of professional services firms considered investing in employer branding a high priority.

“This finding in particular indicates that qualities traditionally used by the professional services sector to market their services, such as reputability and leadership, will continue to play a major role in the way that they promote themselves as employers,” Loveridge said.

Jane Adams, operations director of Vedior Asia Pacific, also said the skills shortage has meant that organisations are realising the importance human capital and the need for HR professionals to be involved in the business at a senior level.

“As a result of the candidate shortage, HR professionals will be in greater demand,” she said.

“HR professionals will have to educate operations managers more thoroughly in how to attract and retain staff otherwise they will not be effective in their roles. The companies that engage people best will win the war for talent. HR cannot do it alone. It is everyone’s responsibility.”

As the skills shortage continues to spread across sectors, Adams said employers will have to become more flexible by offering job-sharing opportunities and part-time work with flexible hours.

“HR need to educate line management on how to manage part-time workers, telecommuting and so on, so that business units can still run effectively. They need to develop best practice in a flexible workforce and share positive experiences from other companies who are managing it successfully,” she said.

All companies need to embrace the integration of flexible workers into their business unit and actively attract such people, otherwise Adams said they risk declining productivity due to staff vacancies.

In raising the issue with CEOs, Adams said senior executives understand facts, figures and outcomes. “It might require a formal proposal which illustrates case studies of success and how flexible work practices can benefit the company in terms of dollars and more intangible benefits such as morale and productivity,” she said.

HR professionals should prepare a formal flexible workplace policy, which invites all employees to apply for flexible working hours. Managers would need to be well-briefed in order to understand the benefits, accept and embrace the new policy, she said. “CEOs and executives must realise that flexible work practices can actually help them attract and retain staff.”

The study also found that 19 per cent of professional services firms have an alumni program in place to track people when they leave.

“As people change jobs more often, employers need to consider not just why staff members leave, but what they particularly liked about the organisation and what could draw them back,”Loveridge said.

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