Companies today are facing an unprecedented situation where high demand for staff is exacerbated by low unemployment and a low supply of people. These circumstances are unlikely to change any time soon, warns Andrew Openshaw.

Our 2022 Regional Skills, Retention and Attraction Survey confirmed that nine out of ten Northern companies expect a shortage of suitable candidates over the next 12 months.

Most firms are trying to navigate this environment by prioritising retention and attraction, while multiskilling staff to build a more valuable workforce. Our survey revealed that 78 percent of respondents consider retaining existing employees a key priority. Also, 55 percent are focused on multiskilling the workforce, while 45 percent are recruiting additional staff.


5 strategies to improve retention

Our survey highlighted five clear strategies adopted by Northern firms aimed at improving retention. Over 70 percent of respondents indicated that their company was driving initiatives in these areas.

Despite rising expectations around pay, work-life balance and flexibility are still important to people in a post-pandemic world. Northern companies seeking to improve rewards and benefits packages for employees are dedicated to creating flexible and agile working environments and promoting this as a significant benefit of choosing to stay with the business.

Our survey confirmed that 65 percent of Northern firms are offering hybrid working, with 60 percent considering moving to a 100 percent remote working operation. Offering hybrid and remote working, however, is not the primary change organisations are making. 76 percent of companies, according to our survey, are seeking to improve employees’ sense of belonging and engagement.

Giving people a valid sense of belonging is key to engagement in the post-pandemic world. And providing employees with a meaningful purpose is one way Northern firms are doing this. Yorkshire-based Quorn Foods, for example, says its mission to “feed people and save the planet” is a key factor behind high levels of staff retention at the business since 2020.


The importance of multiskilling the workforce

Skill shortages are evident across all discipline areas. Our survey confirms that over a third of Northern firms are struggling to find the skills required to fulfil mid-level roles in IT and manufacturing. Multiskilling staff is helping businesses build more valuable workforces during this period of market readjustment.

Underpinning the multiskilling agenda is the adoption of flexible approaches to employee development. Tailored training programs and cross-functional collaborations are focused on creating opportunities that enable all employees to reach their potential. These often-incentivised trainings are also helping staff feel more valued in their connection to the organisation.

Job crafting, for example, encourages employees to find ways to customise their jobs to better meet their interests and ambitions. This allows staff to consider non-traditional types of career progression and merge into compatible roles while facilitating cross-functional learning opportunities and helping to solve skills shortages and improve retention.


Diversity and inclusion are key factors behind successful talent attraction

Most Northern companies are finding it hard to secure the right talent across a wide range of disciplines. Our survey confirmed that 98 percent of Northern employers are recruiting this year. Also, 89 percent stated that they will increase the number of employees in their business by the same amount or more than they did in 2021.

Elevated levels of employment and job vacancies are intensifying competition. Our survey highlighted how 75 percent of Northern firms are expecting to compete for talent. While companies can attract candidates with flexible working benefits, career development opportunities and higher pay, they must work harder to convince people that they are still the best option.

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) remains a strategic priority for more than half of employers, according to our survey. It is also proving significant in talent attraction success. If providing employees with a meaningful purpose is helping firms retain talent, an explicit D&I agenda is as effective for attracting new people.

Our survey revealed three clear D&I priorities for Northern firms – gender, racial and cultural diversity. A tight recruitment market makes active shortlisting for D&I criteria challenging. Companies that have made investments in D&I, however, are enjoying success in attracting new employees from all backgrounds.

Teesside manufacturer Nomad Foods, for example, is focused on creating a culture where everybody can be themselves at work. The idea that if you start with inclusion then diversity will flourish is at the heart of its D&I strategy. Cultivating inclusive behaviours and attitudes across its leadership team, hiring practices and culture ensures Nomad’s workforce is truly representative of the wider world.





Andrew Openshaw is a U.K.-based writer and content specialist for Nigel Wright Group, the leading and largest professional recruitment agency in the North of England. Since 2011, he has written extensively on a broad range of HR and recruitment trends.