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Shortage of skilled labour

The equation in the shortage of skilled workers

Shortage of skilled labour

My son is in his first year at kindergarten. One of his pals is forever telling him tall stories. Here is one of them: He - Julius - had gone for a leisurely swim in the sea. Suddenly, a shark appeared and attacked him. So Julius farted in the shark’s face; the shark was startled and made off at full speed.


This story of Julius’s, crazy and incredible though it may be, reminds me of the current situation in HR. For years, it was taken for granted that key specialists could be found in the job market with relative ease. Sometimes hiring could take a while, sometimes it was quick. There was very little risk of process disruptions occurring because of a need to recruit staff. The vast majority of companies were in the flow with their core tasks. This has changed radically in the last year or two. Some companies are struggling to pay wages on time because they are short of HR professionals. Others are having to reduce beds for lack of nursing staff. Still others are not using their terrace in good weather because the restaurant is unable to find staff.

According to x28, Switzerland’s leading employment market data provider, this is the general situation at present (as of 17 February 2023):

Current ranking of the top 25 jobs with the most vacancies


The shark in this story is the shortage of skilled labour. Nobody knows exactly how it came about. Essentially, there are two possibilities: Either no new employees are coming, or too many are leaving. Or both. When staffing one project I put forward one of our best consultants, who had just returned from maternity leave. However, a manager on the client side did not want this consultant working on the project because she would now have a different focus in her life. The Leaving > Incoming formula will no doubt apply so long as such managers are in charge.

On the «incoming» side, companies have to ask themselves if they are sufficiently visible and appealing to new employees. Do we rely on the right platforms? How is our reputation on the market? How well known are we as an employer? How good are our job adverts compared to others? On the other hand, some (external) factors are harder to influence. Is there an adequate amount of young human capital for the profile concerned? Is the job content sufficiently interesting?

On the «leaving» side, the culture within the company is probably the most important factor. Do we have a leadership culture that inspires employees? Do team leaders treat our employees with the respect they deserve? Is there a shared «why?» in the company or team? However, there are of course factors that are easier to influence: Do we have a clean, efficient on-boarding process? Do we continuously gather feedback (experience management)? Do we offer employees exciting development opportunities? Are we quick enough to recognise desires for change? Do we look first among the in-house staff who already fit the culture before we advertise jobs externally?

Admittedly, there are more questions than answers here. However, it is hard to find simple answers – generalised or roundabout ones definitely will not do. In many industries, the skilled labour shortage will not ease off for a long time to come. Given demographic changes alone, apart from anything else. Every HR department will benefit from asking itself the right questions and working out a strategy. And you may want to come up with a strategy just like Julius did.


Philippe Dutkiewicz

Published: 21. February 2023

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