Recruiting high-calibre staff topped the list of anticipated challenges for employers in a newly released YouGov survey of 2,035 employees commissioned by Acas.
The research did not reveal the reasons why the respondents believed this to be the number one issue facing businesses today, but the spectre of Brexit may have been looming large in the minds of those polled. Industries heavily dependent upon foreign workers are projecting shortfalls of hundreds of thousands of workers as a result of the more hawkish immigration policy anticipated after the UK leaves the EU. Another possible factor may be the persistent and widely reported “skills gap” – the shortfall in students graduating in the UK with the skills employers need – particularly the so-called STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics).
Other issues the survey indicated are productivity and technological change. These issues are related, since technological change has facilitated an increase in productivity ever since our Palaeolithic ancestors first started using stone tools. It is unsurprising that technological change would be at the forefront of many workers’ minds. In spite of the manifold benefits, some have always eyed new technologies warily, as having the potential to dramatically change, or even sound the death knell of, their livelihoods. During the Industrial Revolution, the Luddites – textile workers in the East Midlands – destroyed the machinery that they feared would render them redundant. Similar fears have abounded in the present Digital Revolution as an increasing number of tasks which previously required human labour can now be performed by robots or computers. That self-driving cars and lorries will replace taxi drivers and truckers, for example, seems inevitable, and it is considered among futurists increasingly likely that even professionals such as accountants, doctors and – perish the thought – lawyers, may be partly or wholly replaced by artificial intelligence within the lifetimes of some of us.
According to some of the more apocalyptic headlines, the Digital Revolution and the Age of Information it has brought forth could lead to the end of work as we know it (and some of us would lament that more than others). But it would break the pattern of the last 3 million years if, rather than leading to the end of the demand for human labour altogether, it did not instead facilitate new, more efficient forms of working which in turn made us more productive. In order to be productive, however, we need to develop the skills to harness new technologies to their full potential, or much of the benefit may pass us by. All of which brings us full circle – to the need for workplaces to recruit and retain workers with the right skills.
Taking the top three issues collectively, therefore, upskilling your existing workforce’s technological capabilities may be a sensible course of action for 2019. A well-conceived and targeted increase in technological proficiency may well lead to an increase in productivity – and utilising your existing talent would negate the need to search for new recruits.