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Article by Dilshad Sheikh, Dean of the Faculty of Business at Arden University.

As we approach the second anniversary of the initial UK Covid-19 lockdown, businesses are considering how they can scale up and increase the firepower of their teams to enable them to continue to build back from the pandemic.

The rules of engagement in the market have shifted, somewhat, with vacancies on the increase and talent more able to carefully select their next opportunity.   Yet despite this, it is important that job seekers understand what businesses are looking for, the key skills and attitudes that are desired at interview and that they’re prepared to be questioned on this.

The digital skills gap

There is a significant emphasis on digital skills development at the moment, which is being supported by the government’s “levelling up” agenda. Employers and businesses are in the driving seat here, but jobseekers will need to be able to upskill to meet the requirements of business and the skills gaps that exist.

A key mistake often made by employers is placing sole focus on a candidate’s existing experience. While this is admittedly important, employers should also consider what potential the candidate has to ‘develop’ critical skills and competencies needed for the business and its growth plans.

In essence, this means the hiring process should look for what an employee has the capacity and ability to do in the future, above and beyond what they can already contribute. It’s also important not to hire someone like yourself. By doing this, you will add relatively little value to the organisation. Instead, you should consider how you can use the hiring process to acquire contrasting skillsets that can be beneficial to your organisation.

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Balancing technology and human interactions 

Many employers are now automating the selection of shortlisted candidates by using technology (AI) that can recognise key words (skills, experience and knowledge) aligned to the job description. AI can score the application and put candidates forward for shortlisting, however, caution should be taken when using this approach. A human eye should always be cast over the shortlisted applications to ensure they are the right fit for your organisation.

Ideally, all outwardly facing tasks should have human interactions at their heart if you want to retain your customers and your people while also providing a first-class experience. Technology solutions are themselves created by ‘people; and can only do what they are programmed/coded to do – and they are no substitute for a human touch in and of themselves.

Instead, businesses should consider how they can automate backroom tasks to lighten the load of existing staff without impacting on the experiences of your customer base or talent pipeline.

Supporting employees in the new normal

The last two years have been among the most turbulent in recent memory, meaning that mental health and wellbeing have moved even higher up the agenda for most organisations.

Many workers are keen for a hybrid model where they have the flexibility to work from home or at the office. Calls for this existed before the pandemic and have only grown since working from home has become the norm. If managed carefully in line with the needs of the business in question and their workforce, this can be a great way to maximise staff engagement, encourage autonomy and help employees to improve their work-life balance.

There are many routes businesses can take to ensure staff feel heard in the workplace. Anonymity is often key to getting real feedback on how your staff truly feel – and to this end staff engagement surveys are often used to collate responses which provide a ‘pulse’ check on how staff are feeling within an organisation. Feedback boxes, which should be anonymous, are a great way for staff to share their ideas on how the company can change and improve.