What are the recruitment challenges facing employers across different sectors and how are government schemes – such as the Youth Contract and apprenticeships – working on the ground? These were just some of the key debating points at last week’s roundtable meeting which was hosted by the REC in association with the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) and brought together some of the UK’s largest business organisations.

A further underlying theme was the need for strong working relationships between government and employer bodies as a means of raising awareness of different initiatives and generating regular feedback from members. Aptly, the roundtable event was hot on the heels of Employment Minister Mark Hoban visiting the REC offices to sign the updated REC/DWP Partnership Agreement.

Discussions honed in on the hiring needs of businesses in areas such as technology, retail, engineering, hospitality, logistics, manufacturing, care and transport. This was an opportunity to discuss employment challenges across different sectors and to promote initiatives such as our VMS Code of Practice and ongoing compliance activities.

The big issues that were raised sat the roundtable were:

1. Intermediaries are needed to make government employment schemes work on the ground

The administration and complexities of schemes such as the Youth Contract and apprenticeships is creating a barrier for many employers. Having some sort of intermediary organisation to make things work on the ground would provide a practical way forward. Recruiters could play an important role here.

2. Employers need support in developing better hiring practices 

The feedback from a number of business organisations was that the employers they represent – especially the SMEs – need more practical support on their hiring practices. This includes some of the basics – including job descriptions and understanding different recruitment channels – as well as more strategic issues such as ensuring that current practices are genuinely inclusive.

3. Attracting the right skills is the number one challenge in most sectors

Business organisations in a variety of sectors – technology, care, logistics, hospitality, facilities management – have consistently underlined the need to pro-actively promote careers in their sector. One way forward is to get better at highlighting the longer-term career opportunities so that individuals can see beyond entry-level roles. The skills disconnect between the skills required by employers and those held by candidates is seen as a potential barrier to growth in many industries.

4. There is support for a good recruitment campaign

Recruitment practices that are inclusive, promote diversity and provide opportunities for flexible working where possible are just examples of good recruitment.  Effective hiring procedures are also key to enhance productivity and business performance and more can be done to recognise and quantify the benefits that flexible staffing arrangements – such as temporary and contract work – bring to UK businesses.

5. The role of trade associations is increasingly recognised by government

Representatives from the DWP underlined the pivotal role of lead trade associations and professional bodies. As well as providing a key channel for engaging with the business community, representative organisations are driving industry standards and professionalism and are a source of ongoing feedback on government initiatives and policy proposals. Bringing lead trade associations together on a regular basis is also an opportunity for a collective drive on issues such as youth employment and good recruitment.

Highlighting the support that recruitment professionals can provide to employers of all sizes will continue to be one of our core messages to the business community and is certainly something we will continue to take forward with Employment Minister. The REC will also be engaging with a number of leading employer organisations over the coming months on the issue of flexible working.