People: growing headcount and access to key skills

A focus on retaining, growing and upskilling existing workforces

Faced with restricted availability of business-critical skills in the UK talent market, it seems UK CEOs are looking to retain and grow - and train and develop - their existing workforces. Almost two-thirds – 63% – of UK CEOs expect the headcount in their company to increase over the coming 12 months. This is higher than many of their global peers, with only 60% in China, 54% in the US and just 44% in Germany saying the same. Only 10% of CEOs in the UK expect their headcount to decrease – down from 20% last year, and well below this year’s global figure of 16%.

As well as being more likely than CEOs elsewhere to be planning to grow their workforces, UK CEOs – as we reported in our section on technology  – are more likely than their counterparts to have added digital training to their learning programmes. In line with this focus on retaining and developing people, UK CEOs are also more likely to have changed their people strategy to reflect the skills and employment structures they’ll need for the future, with 81% of UK CEOs saying they’ve done this, against 78% globally and 63% in Germany. However, only 51% of UK CEOs say they’re rethinking their HR function, versus 60% globally.

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Seeking both digital and “softer” people-orientated skills…

Our survey shows that 83% of UK CEOs are worried about how to get hold of key skills, a proportion that’s up sharply from 71% last year, and compares to 77% globally. The UK is by no means alone with CEOs in China even more worried about skills availability than in the UK, with 88% citing it as a concern. The level of concern in the US is similar to the UK at 82%.

In terms of the skills they think they’ll need in the coming years, our UK respondents – again as noted earlier – place greater emphasis than CEOs elsewhere on the importance of digital skills, with 83% in the UK saying these are important against 79% globally.

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However, it’s interesting to note that the skills they prize most highly are the “softer”, more people-orientated skills such as adaptability and problem-solving (both rated as important by 98% of UK CEOs), leadership and collaboration (both 96%) and creativity & innovation (93%).

All these ratings are either equal to or higher than the corresponding global figure. Looking at other territories, the 98% of UK CEOs who rank adaptability as important is exceeded by a 100% response rate from US CEOs, but is well ahead of the 87% recorded in both China and Germany. And on the importance of problem-solving – again rated as important by 98% of CEOs in the UK – the response rate from US CEOs is once again 100%, while CEOs in China lag behind on 95% and those in Germany on 92%. With the current pace of technological change it is hard to predict what jobs will look like in the future, so it is more important than ever that employees are adaptive and able to respond to the next skills challenge.


…which are among the most difficult to recruit

However, while UK CEOs regard these softer skills as the most important to their organisations, they also say they’re among the hardest to recruit. The three skills that UK CEOs find most difficult to bring into their organisations are, firstly, leadership, which is rated as difficult to recruit by 85%, compared to 75% globally and just 45% in Germany; secondly, creativity & innovation, rated as difficult by 78% in the UK and 77% globally; and, thirdly, adaptability, rated as difficult by 71% in the UK, 61% globally and only 27% in China.

Once again, a broader comparison with the findings from CEOs in other territories provides some interesting insights. Just 24% of CEOs in China say it’s difficult to recruit digital skills, compared to the 67% in the UK saying the same. And they also find it easier than their counterparts elsewhere to recruit people with emotional intelligence: only 41% in China find this difficult, against 64% in the UK and globally, and 71% in the US.


Globalisation has helped create a skilled labour force for UK CEOs to draw on

Despite the challenges they face in recruiting the skills they feel are most important to their organisations, UK CEOs take the view that globalisation has given them a helping hand by contributing positively to the development of a skilled and educated labour force. Some 95% of the CEOs we surveyed in the UK say globalisation has helped do this – compared to 90% of CEOs globally.

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Contact us

Anthony Bruce
Head of HR Consulting
Tel: +44 (0)20 7213 4524

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