Recruiting and retaining top-tier staff has always been a key priority for businesses but as highly skilled workers become rarer in the global talent pool, job hunters are increasingly finding themselves with the upper hand in employment negotiations

From cybersecurity experts to chemical engineers, positions in a diverse range of industries are difficult for companies to fill, with 49 per cent of respondents in the Ius Laboris forces for change survey selecting the ‘talent and skills shortage’ as the most concerning workplace issue of the past year.

“For workers, rising demand has been followed by rising starting salaries – now is a good time to be looking for a job, as candidates can use this uncertainty to leverage more benefits for themselves,” says Sophie Wingfield, head of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), a recruitment trade organisation.

Salary is only a single motivator, albeit a significant one, and in-demand staff rarely base their job search on this factor alone. Flexible working options and an inclusive corporate culture are valued by job hunters. “We have certainly seen an increasing trend to offer flexible working, and promises of a better work/life balance to attract talent” notes Russell Brimelow, partner at Ius Laboris’ UK firm, Lewis Silkin.

Companies are steadily including more unconventional work arrangements as part of their new employee offer due to the urgent need for skilled staff.

Beyond bumper wage packets, skilled talent are pushing for additional financial and non-financial perks and benefits, including unlimited vacation time and the chance to develop relevant personal projects during working hours. Netflix and Google, companies both operating in an exceptionally competitive market for highly skilled talent, have implemented some form of these perks to find the best staff.

To some extent, experienced workers now have the ability to leverage their scarcity power to affect change. Yet, employers are not set to lose out, now being able to look further outside of the cities they are based to broaden their search, as flexible working becomes more accepted with businesses that require specialised talent and grants access to a larger global talent pool.

“We have certainly seen an increasing trend to offer flexible working, and promises of a better work/life balance to attract talent”

Naomi Hanrahan-Soar, Managing Associate at Lewis Silkin adds, “We have many clients that recruit foreign talent specifically because of the skills shortages in their areas, in particular within technology, AI and machine learning, engineers and language skills for region specific business development.”

The talent shortage isn’t just impacting Western companies, as a report from workforce expert ManpowerGroup finds that 45 per cent of global employers are finding it difficult to fill open positions. Japanese, Romanian and Taiwanese businesses are facing the most issues in hiring the right staff with talent shortages in 2018 being the most pronounced since 2006.

In job markets where workers can more effectively dictate the rules of engagement, employers need to ensure their offer is both distinct and targeted to the exact profile of the person they want to hire.

For example, concentrating on the strong leadership or unique aims of the company will make it difficult for other firms to compete, which will become increasingly important as 28 per cent of respondents in the Ius Laboris survey ranked the ‘poor quality of candidates available’ as the greatest recruitment challenge their business had faced over the past 12 months.

In response to the lack of qualified staff, a number of employers are embracing unconventional approaches towards finding - and keeping - talent. For example, multi-billion-dollar Austrian building contractor, PORR, created an education campus to meet the demands of job seekers looking for advanced training and professional development. Set to open in September 2019, this campus will train internal employees in cutting-edge skills and offer staff the opportunity to gain experience in specialisations that are in high demand in the construction industry. As there will be a chance for workers to gain additional skills while at the company, skilled job seekers who fall just short of requirements in a specific area may be able to join the business and gain the needed education on-the-job.

By offering opportunities specific to their organisation, companies can help ensure the right quality of candidate is applying for positions. “Employers must invest in their staff and promote an environment of lifelong learning and development in order to future-proof their workforce and ensure the enduring success of their business,” adds Wingfield.

There is little doubt that talent shortages will have a major impact on the future workplace, especially when dealt with at the same time as equally disruptive new technologies such as AI. According to the updated ‘McKinsey Global Survey: War for Talent’, high-quality workers in extremely complex roles are 800 per cent more productive than average performers, underlining the value gained from workers with a sophisticated skill set. In industries such as information technology, manufacturing and others that require highly developed cognitive skills, the skills gap is going to become increasingly pronounced as burgeoning technologies require a complex skill set to effectively manage and those companies without the right staff will be unable to utilise the latest innovations.