Whilst it’s never been a target market of mine in the 18 years I’ve been in the recruitment sector, it struck me recently that neither myself nor the teams I manage, ever seem to be asked by clients if we recruit graduates. I appreciate that employers will have other direct channels to market to onboard this level of employee, though I do believe it is indicative of a wider point, that the demand for quality graduates is light and this is a feeling I have had across the many markets I have worked, in both the UK and Asia.

Using Asia as a case in point, we build ongoing partnerships with both start-up businesses and MNCs and much of the ongoing dialogue is around the 'war on talent' for niche skills, typically carrying 5 years’ experience and above. This is all very well and good and is normally great news for the respective markets in which we operate since such demand creates hiring cycles that are healthy for the talent ecosystem.

My concern however is where does this talent actually originate from?...

If the bulk of demand is for candidates with 5 years’ and above specific experience, then how does this directly benefit those in the nascent stages of their career? Once a candidate has 5 years’ experience, they have normally established their sense of identity and direction in terms of where they are taking their career and, more precisely, the category of job they are most likely to be qualified for.

However, this is not so easy for those finding their feet. Granted, certain skills are more easy to ring-fence, such as software engineering, but there are many roles out there that are murkier in terms of establishing one’s path. In other words, there’s no instruction manual for becoming a performance marketer, social media strategist or UX designer for instance. So, unless staff are getting specific guidance from their current employer or are being trained towards one of these more nuanced career paths over a number of years, which is what it takes, highly talented young professionals may end up high and dry.

I’m not 100% convinced, however, other than in certain cases that I see, that young professionals are being afforded this level of support and guidance.

I completely understand that employers need to create a return on investment in relation to the people they hire as quickly as is reasonably possible. However, if the sole activity of employers (and I put this more to larger MNCs with 500+ staff) is to hire staff that is adding value from day one, then I see a strategic flaw because this is simply short-termism. Employers, in my view, must take a broader social responsibility on this topic to building grassroots within the talent ecosystem in which they operate. If employers are purely focused on ‘harvesting’ the best talent without investing from the ground up, this will inevitably backfire for the following reasons:

- Salary becomes the key attraction point to fill the vacuum in the absence of other factors, so inflation sets in;

- Turn over issues will continue because loyalty will dilute in the absence of training and investment;

- And worse of all, talent will dry up or won’t be able to keep up with demand and this will harm everyone as employers will lose interest and move on;

So, my message to employers that are struggling for talent is this…

If employers are committed to the location in which they operate as I believe many are, an ideal strategy would be to invest at grassroots and address the disconnect I refer to above. This doesn’t mean an overhaul, but they should dedicate a % of intake purely to graduates and to nurturing a proprietary talent base. On a related note, for more senior roles, employers should target a 70% skill match in certain niche areas and 100% match on values and culture fit. Whilst this approach may require investment and impact the balance sheet initially, it will, longer term, have many benefits in terms of promoting loyalty, calming the inflationary effects of the 'war on talent' and overall, will help nurture the talent ecosystem, which supports economic prospects as a whole.

It is also ethically a far healthier approach and will create positive associations in terms of employer branding, which ultimately is the key to winning the war on talent because the best talent will want to work for those that invest back in the society that supports them.