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Skills will determine who has the advantage in a tight labour market

For high-skill workers it’s an employees market but employers can pull away from the pack too with training and development strategies

In a tight labour market employees have the upper hand; how much so depends on what they can turn their hand to. According to a Dublin Chamber of Commerce’s survey earlier this year, there are very specific skill shortages out there. One third of firms reported deficits in management skills, while a quarter reported communications skills deficits.

Twenty per cent of Dublin firms had a gap in both cyber skills and green skills; one in six identified teamwork and collaboration skills as gaps, while one in seven (an unlucky 13 per cent) recorded a deficit in digital skills.

Despite the ongoing shortage of hard tech skills, old-school soft ones are most in demand. Indeed, attracting/retaining/upskilling staff generally was the top priority for more than three quarters (78 per cent) of Dublin businesses this year.

“It has been a tight market all round,” says Claire Kelly, head of growth and partnerships at Sigmar Recruitment.


While there were high-profile tech lay-offs at some big software companies, there is still high demand for certain specialists including software engineers “because it wasn’t that talent that was laid off,” she adds. “It was internal recruitment and sales teams. So there is still a tight labour market and obviously we are at full employment.”

Although wages have struggled to keep up with inflation, employers have been placing much greater emphasis on alternative benefits.

“Obviously the base salary has to be right but there are other things employers can do to attract talent such as provide educational assistance and access to study,” says Kelly. “This doesn’t have to cost a lot – it could simply be about giving access to courses on Udemy and Coursera. I know one company where, one day a week, staff get three hours to work on their own projects, including upskilling.”

At Sigmar, staff can avail of French classes internally. “You’re encouraged to keep learning. People feel looked after and comfortable as a result,” says Kelly. “It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – if you feel comfortable you’re more likely to thrive. If you feel micromanaged you won’t.”

Outlining its investment priorities for the National Training Fund, Ibec says reskilling is now “critical for the attraction and retention of talent”.

It has called on the National Training Fund to invest in digital and green management-skills, and said that while businesses continue to face difficulties filling vacancies in areas such as IT, finance and the leisure and hospitality sector, “the emergence of new technologies and mega-trends such as climate change are fuelling a rapid transformation of the skills needed across the workforce”.

If you have skills and experience, and you are in the market for a new job, you are at a clear advantage. But even in a buyer’s market, caveat emptor still applies. Mark Jordan, chief strategy officer at Skillnet Ireland, says the way to safeguard your long-term career prospects when you change jobs is to choose an employer that invests in training.

“Business owners understand that it is talent that gives them a competitive edge,” says Jordan. “Companies know they need talent to be competitive and that they need to keep pace in order to keep being successful.”

Potential new employees should be proactive about training at interview stage, he advises.

“It’s about asking, how are you going to develop me? A good employer will have a strategy around talent, including indigenous SMEs,” he adds. “The stronger ones now know how to hold on to their people, where previously employees would leave SMEs to go to MNCs in order to progress their career.

“Employees want training and talent development and are gravitating towards companies with more investment in talent development.”

It’s can often come down to how you feel at interview stage, he says: “Do you feel like a candidate or an applicant? A candidate is sold into a job. An applicant is selling themselves into a role.”

If it is made clear to you just how strongly the organisation prioritises training and talent, you’re a candidate, says Jordan.

“It’s especially important for those who are leaving education and entering the workplace for the first time. They are really thinking all this through during the interview process,” he adds.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times