Filling the Talent Gap

Published: 24 March 2016

Business across all sectors are noticing a new consequence of the Global Financial Crisis and the recession that then ensued. None more so than in the Built Environment and the two major areas in which we focus – Real Estate and Infrastructure. The effects are now being felt at the point of hiring in investment and development. After four to five years of very cautious recruitment, since 2013 we have seen a significant increase in demand for people, however, at a mid to senior management level there is a lack of supply. This is only set to get more acute even with George Osborne’s recent warning that “the storm clouds are gathering”and the check we are seeing in improving market conditions and positive sentiment.

The shortage of talent was foreseeable and the reasons behind it are clear. With investment and development markets depressed for such a lengthy period, there were major cuts in grass root and graduate recruitment stemming the flow of junior professionals that would now be in mid level positions. There were also limited opportunities for those at mid level to develop their skills and build a track record that employers are now looking for. The result is that we are now experiencing a ‘talent gap’ at mid management level - there are not enough people with the right experience.

So how to plug the gap? Develop and retain those you have; recruit wisely and effectively; and diversify from the traditional.

Over the last 25 years the property industry has become more sophisticated, competitive and compelling; attracting more people and developing more specialists. With a void of talent coming through, the current generation of mid management may need to become more generalist to cover business lines; developing much more commercial and adaptable professionals. Of course, once these valuable professionals have been developed then retaining them is crucial. Financial incentives and progressive opportunities are important in keeping staff enthused and interested, however, there is just as much importance on creating the right work environment and flexible arrangements to satisfy the shifting expectations of  work/life balance.

In order to recruit from a limited pool of talent, it is imperative that a business goes to market quickly, effectively and professionally. In a candidate driven market there are a high number of approaches occurring and those done properly tend to stand out and appear more attractive to candidates. A recruitment/search campaign needs to be well planned and executed; the target community well researched, the approach clearly thought through and the process slick.

Despite getting all the above right there still may be a lack of suitable talent and so businesses will need to look more broadly. At grass root level efforts need to be made to attract graduates from outside the traditional courses and the usual universities. At mid to senior level there will be a need to focus on transferable skills rather than traditionally relevant experience, allowing those from other industries to be considered. The time required  to get up to speed for those with a non-property background is likely to be greater and the support they require more intensive; however,they willbring new perspectives and experiences that will benefit an industry that needs to continue to modernise and develop.

With this in mind, the talent gap might not be such a bad thing. It will force the hand of employers to think more broadly about who they consider, how they develop these people and how they look after them. This should, in time, create a more diverse and adaptable profession.

Ben Ingram is a Principal Consultant in the Built Environment Practice

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