There’s a perfect storm brewing in the UK recruitment market

In the UK, two market forces are colliding with almost unprecedented consequences. On the one hand, unemployment remains at its lowest level since 1974. On the other, job vacancies, according to the Office for National Statistics, are at a record high.

The result? Employers across multiple sectors and disciplines are competing for a seemingly shrinking pool of talent.

At Kier, we’re tackling this challenge by exploring new areas for recruiting talent. Yes, the market is the most challenging I’ve known it for the last 20 years, but I’d also say it’s the most exciting.

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The current economic climate is resulting in a war for talent. But if you’re prepared to broaden your horizons – and let’s face it, this is exactly what truly inclusive employers should be doing – there are still talented people out there, keen to work and to explore new career opportunities.

We’re working with different partners to help us find new talent and show them what a career in the construction industry can offer.

We’re lucky in the sense that our industry is unrestricted by traditional entry routes, offering a wealth of opportunity for so many, regardless of their background and qualifications.

So where are we looking?

Despite record high vacancies, many jobseekers still struggle to find employment due to personal circumstances or displacement. These individuals can include prison leavers, many of whom have a real drive to change their situations for the better and refugees who are looking to gain meaningful employment.

Making Ground is our prison engagement and employment programme, and a great example of a more inclusive approach to recruitment.

Designed to support serving prisoners and prison leavers into sustainable employment in the construction industry, the programme has already been a huge success in both offering new opportunities and building our bank of talent.

We’ve had over 100 participants on the programme to date, with more than 75 of these going on to secure employment with Kier or our supply chain.

Equally, we were the first construction company to join a business consortium committed to supporting refugees displaced due to the conflict in Ukraine and other countries.

The consortium operates in partnership with RefuAid, a charity that aims to provide sustainable employment for refugees in the UK, and we’ve already been able to offer jobs to some refugees.

Of course, reaching the unemployed is only one part of the puzzle. There are many people in this country that are already in employment but that boast a skillset that is transferable between sectors. Outreach in these areas is also important.

As you would expect, individuals leaving the armed forces offer us a wealth of relevant knowledge and skills, but sometimes they can find it challenging to adjust to civilian life.

We work as a signatory to the Armed Forces Covenant, alongside providers such as the Career Transition Partnership, to offer a variety of new career opportunities – from health and safety managers to IT security specialists and managing directors.

I’m proud to say we’ve been awarded a gold standard by the Ministry of Defence Employer Recognition Scheme for this work.

Identifying different opportunities like this is key to help tackle the talent acquisition challenge.

Our work with the STEM Returners programme looks to engage highly talented and experienced individuals who have had a career break and are struggling to articulate the skills they have gained during this time. We’re also working with the 10,000 Black Interns programme to create opportunities for underrepresented communities.

These schemes are really only the start. If we think in a truly inclusive way, there are many more routes left to explore – that not only plug a skills gap but equally enrich and improve a business with an unparalleled level of diversity of thought and life experience.

Of course, finding and attracting this talent in the first place is only one piece of the jigsaw. Ongoing flexibility and support at work are also key and something we’re heavily focused on as well, with family-friendly policies and a range of different support and development mechanisms in place.

We want our people to know they are part of a great team that embraces and reflects diversity, where they can expect respect and where they really do matter, regardless of their background. We are building long term and sustainable opportunities for people which will not just help us ride out the current recruitment crunch but also because it’s the right thing to do. The talent will come, and it will stay.

Paul Thornton is talent acquisition director at Kier Group