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August 31, 2021

The UK’s got (digital) talent

Here’s how UK executives can reinvigorate their talent management strategies to overcome the twin challenges of the pandemic and Brexit.

In today’s dynamic, hyper-competitive digital economy, the skills that separate successful businesses from also-rans are changing — and fast. Much has been made of the UK’s talent shortfall following its exit from the European Union. The reality is that the issue precedes Brexit and will outlast its impacts.

According to the CIPD, Brexit has not led to a reduction in organizations seeking EU nationals, largely because most are simply looking for the people with the right skills to do the job, regardless of nationality. And finding talent can be difficult to do; 50% of UK respondents in our recent Work Ahead study believe there will be a global talent shortage between now and 2023 as needed skills rapidly change to support modern ways of doing business. 

Even as automation removes many of the rote and routine tasks that once employed large swaths of the workforce — from customer service and data entry, to manufacturing work and ticket office clerks — high demand for workers will continue post-pandemic, as will the struggle to find them. Even now, salaries are increasing, and businesses are failing from lack of staff. 

Demand for automation will likely increase to fill talent gaps and keep costs down; indeed, 75% percent of UK respondents in our study are at some stage of automation implementation, from exploring pilots to widespread implementation. The labor market is so stretched that robotics are being developed to mitigate a lack of fast-food kitchen workers. 

The people needed to execute, manage and run these newly digitized and automated processes will all require new, more specialized skills. As a result, understanding where to source the right talent at the right time, and deploying them in the most efficient way, will determine business success for years to come. 

Expanding the talent pool with ‘Remotopia’

Just as the British government was looking to introduce larger imports of global talent to offset the reduction in European immigration, the COVID-19 crisis restricted travel and led many workers to return to their home countries. Amid the prolonged pandemic, many have opted to stay home.

But what started as a problem is quickly turning into an opportunity, as the world becomes more accepting of remote or hybrid work. After 18 months of the pandemic, it’s become clear that the output and quality of remote work need not suffer if it’s properly supported — technologically, emotionally and culturally. In fact, our collective experience begs the question of whether teams need to be co-located at all.

In our Remotopia report, we discuss how technology and processes have advanced to a level of supporting vastly better remote work experiences (although there is more work to do). Previously a rarity, dispersed teams can now collaborate on complex business challenges, regardless of geography.

Increasingly, we’ll see a considerable proportion of the workforce consisting of workers who don’t live in the UK but simply have the relevant skills for the role. The next best development team could be made up of members from anywhere in the world producing the talent required to perform the tasks at hand. Undoubtedly, as younger generations move into the workforce, their comfort with collaborating online with people they’ve never met in-person will make this kind of remote work not the exception but the norm.

There are, of course, complications. Businesses still needs to adhere to employment laws and tax requirements of specific locales, for instance, and the remote employee experience will become crucial for attracting and retaining talent. Recent research reveals that the employee experience can be as important as customer experience when it comes to financial performance. 

Looking to the long-term with new reskilling models

While recruiting from a wide talent pool will solve short-term issues, the ever-changing nature of work requires a long-term strategy to keep skills relevant, especially as jobs change to reflect the digital economy.

While existing employees can be both evangelists for and detractors of change, businesses stand a better chance of succeeding in their endeavors if they bring them along for the journey by reinvigorating their approach to continuous training and reskilling. Eminently more affordable than high attrition rates and continuous recruitment, such programs should be available for both off-site and on-site employees.

Cyclical modern career models are built upon the philosophy that reskilling should be intertwined and interrelated with the employee’s work and job roles, and that work and learning share a symbiotic relationship in which the impact of learning on work is valued as highly as the impact of work on learning. Implementing this model not only keeps skills fresh and relevant; it also creates agile teams that can respond to dynamic tasks as and when required.

The future workforce (i.e., students) also need the right skills to keep pace with the changing job market. Especially considering the UK’s world-class higher education system, it is as incumbent on these educational institutions to monitor and adapt to changing work practices as it is for businesses.

For example, the UK government has recently created Institutes of Technology, a means by which colleges, universities and other educational institutions can collaborate with employers to further technical training to ensure students gain the right skills for future employment. Companies such as Microsoft, Nissan and Airbus have already signed up, and the number of partners is limitless. Through partnerships, businesses can help shape new talent to their requirements and benefit from academic courses that focus on their industries. 

Time to prioritize talent management

If ever there was a time to formulate a talent strategy, it is now. Amid the twin challenges of the pandemic and Brexit on the UK’s ability to source and nurture talent, opportunities have emerged that offer new ways and means of attracting and retaining talent.

Solving the global skills shortage will require a variety of co-joined initiatives that help to cultivate and access a wider talent pool, rejuvenate employee experiences and embrace the latest models for retraining existing and new resources to ensure organizations have the right skills to succeed in the digital future. 

To learn more, read The Work Ahead in the UK.

Duncan Roberts
Senior Manager, Thought Leadership
Headshot of Digitally Cognizant author Duncan Roberts

Duncan Roberts is a Sr Manager at Cognizant. A thought leader and researcher, he draws on his experience as a digital strategy & transformation consultant, advising clients on how to best utilize emerging tech to meet strategic objectives.

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