People and Change

The critical need to manage talent in a competitive jobs market

Neil Hughes
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The Northern Ireland jobs market remains exceptionally competitive, as borne out in the most recent official statistics.

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Published by the Department for the Economy, the Labour Force Survey did report a very slight slowdown over the summer months, but the long term trend is low unemployment rate and a growing cohort of people in jobs.

The report found the unemployment rate stayed welcomingly low at 2.7 per cent over the three months to July (compared to 3 per cent in the corresponding period in 2022). Meanwhile, the number of employees in work, the report said, has been increasing and reached 813,450 in June. It means that the available talent pool (at least in terms of those unemployed) remains stubbornly low, making it all the more important  how businesses seeking to grow, manage their talent.

The Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) describes talent management as “seeking to attract, identify, develop, engage, retain and deploy individuals who are considered especially valuable to an organisation”.

Easy to define, but often not so easy to get right.

So what’s the prize for getting it right? Evidence shows that talent management done well provides a clear competitive advantage, with the top performers in the field outperforming their competitors across most KPIs, but most importantly in bottom line performance.

This seems self-evident - investing in managing and developing your talent is bound to lead to better performance, isn’t it?

Well, not always.

This is where having an integrated talent management strategy is important. Talent management needs to align closely with the organisation’s strategic objectives within a comprehensive end to end strategy.

Simply investing in one element (for example learning and development, which is often taken as the proxy for talent management) may well miss the bigger picture.

This kind of selective approach is likely to fail to deliver the benefits that a broad focus across the full talent lifecycle (workforce planning, recruitment, on-boarding, managing performance, culture and values, leadership, and of course learning and development interventions) would deliver.

To create a strategy, organisations should first identify their future people needs. The workforce plan should analyse the workforce supply and demand, current demographics, workforce trends, and the labour market, and then identify skill shortages and surpluses in the present and for the future.

This gap analysis at one level helps identify the opportunities where your talent can contribute in a strategically important way for the benefit of the organisation, as well as helping in the development of their own skills, capabilities and experience.

It also creates a demand plan where the organisation identifies critical skills and capabilities, and then effectively competes to secure those in the labour market, or works to develop them in-house.

Having a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) with talent management and development at its heart, can provide a real competitive advantage when attracting top talent into the organisation. These opportunities for development are consistently the most important factor that top talent considers when selecting a new organisation.

From there your talent’s experience of organisational life, and in particular how organisational values align with their own - how they are led, communicated with, performance-managed and developed, will directly influence their level of engagement and in turn their contribution to the organisation.

Ultimately, you are seeking to maximise this engagement for the benefit of both the individual and the organisation. Having a consistent approach to how this talent accesses developmental opportunities, whilst continually evaluating the effectiveness of those interventions, can also help drive an iterative and agile approach to developing the talent strategy.

As organisations are presented with new and evolving challenges, developing a workforce equipped to deal with this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment has never been more important.

Similarly, as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) become increasingly impactful on our jobs, proactively managing how your talent helps shape the future of the organisation will also be critical.

By managing talent strategically, organisations can build a high-performance workplace culture, foster a learning environment, and improve their creativity and diversity, in order to ultimately improve business performance.

Northen Ireland has come a long way in recent decades. Compare where we are now to 25 years ago in terms of the number and variety of international businesses here, and the growth of new sectors and industries. The Northern Ireland Investment Summit illustrated that this region remains an incredibly attractive prospect to local and international investors, willing to spend money to create new jobs and opportunities.

If the jobs market seems competitive now, it is only going to become more so in the years ahead. The case for people professionals to invest in an integrated talent management strategy has never been stronger.