As the world reopens after Covid-19, there have been reports from employers in the United States, Canada, Australia, parts of the EU and the UK that they are struggling to find the workers they need. This staffing crisis reaches far beyond the haulage, farming and hospitality sectors that have been so widely publicised in the media. Indeed, in a recent survey^1 by accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO of 500 leaders of medium sized businesses across England and Scotland, every business reported some form of staff shortages – with a third saying their biggest recruitment challenge is a lack of available talent.

In this article we look at 7 strategies businesses can adopt to help them overcome staff shortages and ensure business continuity in this challenging environment.

The impact of Covid-19 on global business is not to be underestimated. In a recent article Michael Wolf, Global Economist at Deloitte’s highlighted how

“the pandemic has fundamentally altered the industries and locations where would-be employees want to work.”

The extent of this shift is not surprising if we consider the far-reaching impact Covid-19 has had on employees and the way they work. From the adoption of remote working, to increased digital transformation and automation, to adapting to new hygiene and social distancing protocols – for many employees working practices pre and post pandemic are unrecognisable.

It is not unsurprising that these changes have led to employees to re-evaluate where and how they want to work. For as many employees that prefer the flexibility of home working, there will be those that miss the social interaction and career development that an office environment provides. And, whilst many people, now vaccinated, have adapted to the reality of living with Covid, an equal proportion will find the ongoing risk of contagion makes certain jobs, where the risk of infection is higher, less attractive.

“Brexit, global supply chain issues and the long tail of Covid-19 has created a perfect storm for UK businesses,” Ed Dwan, BDO partner

In the UK the impact of the pandemic on access to skilled workers has been compounded by Brexit. Under the EU freedom of movement, the UK has historically attracted a high number of workers from across the EU. In the pandemic about 1.3 million non-UK workers left – approximately 4% of the workforce. Post pandemic they haven’t returned despite anyone from an EU member state who was living and working in the UK having the right to apply to remain. Meanwhile under Brexit, new EU workers who would like to work in the UK no longer have the right. This has left many UK employers have the challenge of securing a workforce with the right skills to maintain business continuity in the short-term, while also looking ahead to build the teams needed for future business growth.

Whilst there is no one quick fix to what looks to be an ongoing issue, there are several measures that businesses can implement to address these workforce challenges both in the short- and longer term. These measures are most impactful when deployed as part of an overall human resource strategy – with awareness of current and future needs.

These measures include:

1. Changing recruitment strategies

Many businesses have an established method for recruitment based on what has worked historically. However, when the job market changes, recruitment strategies also need adapt. Whether this is increasing the intensity and reach of recruitment activity to attract more applicants or using different methods such as social media, a challenging job market will require innovation and investment.

2. Improving benefits packages

Job roles can be made more attractive to existing or potential workers through adjusting rewards. This can include raising wages, adjusting fringe benefits, increasing opportunities for flexible hours, and altering working conditions.

3. Adopting new / different processes to secure required human resource

If the traditional process of simply recruiting new permanent staff is not effective, businesses will need to find new ways to ensure the business has the right human resource in place to ensure business continuity. This could include persuading older workers to delay retirement, encouraging retirees back on a part-time / temporary basis or recruiting temporary staff to cover gaps / service peaks.

4. Improving output from existing staff

When there are staff shortages, particularly within a specific skill set, it will often require the existing team to pick up the slack. Whether this is done through overtime, incentives or looking for smarter ways of working with can improve productivity, there will usually be some way of increasing the output from the existing team.

5. Digital transformation / automation

Digital transformation, and the automation it can facilitate, is one way to reduce and/or change the staffing needs of a business. In most circumstances digital transformation will result in efficiency gains and an improvement in productivity from existing teams. However, there will be instances where digital transformation is either not viable or is not a cost-effective strategy.

6. Investment in education and training

If you are struggling to find skills and expertise externally it is always worth looking for opportunities to upskill your existing team. This not only has the benefit of resolving workforce supply issues, but also incentivising staff to stay through providing career development opportunities. In addition, you may look to recruit externally people who can be trained to fulfil a skills gap. Apprenticeships may be a medium-term proposition for addressing shortages.

7. Outsourcing

For many business areas, outsourcing can provide a quick to implement temporary or permanent solution to cover shortfalls in your workforce. Flexible and scalable, you can access the resource you need, when you need it, without compromising your day-to-day activities or paying for resource when you don’t need it. This can be particularly effective for shortfalls in skills such as language expertise when you might not require a full-time resource. Targeted on results an outsourced team will focus on delivering your business solutions that meet agreed goals within an agreed timeframe – without impacting on your day-to-day activity.

In conclusion whilst there has been much written in the press that the answer to the current staff shortages is going to be pay hikes, pay is only one tool in a business’ tool kit. Most business’ have a variety of strategies available to them to ensure they secure staff with the right skills to ensure business continuity and continued growth. If they are to ensure corporate resilience, all businesses should be looking at their current and future human resource needs and developing a human resource strategy that will ensure these can be met.

*1 (monthly survey of 500 medium-sized businesses. Medium sized businesses are defined as businesses with revenue between £10-£300m. The survey was conducted by Censuswide on behalf of BDO in September 2021.)

If your business has a current staffing shortage within either your credit and collections function, or has any other voice-led customer contact needs, 4D Contact can help. We specialize in multi-lingual high-touch, voice-led contact that deliver results and your customers an outstanding experience. Contact us now on

These relatively simple to implement strategies can make a real difference to your working capital position within a few months of year end. However, it is without question that businesses who prioritise working capital and have a long-term roadmap of initiatives to drive improvements across all four key processes will ensure the business is in the best possible to weather any downturn and deliver sustained growth.

Author: Mark Smith

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