Labour pains

Written by: Steve Falla Posted: 11/12/2023

Talent illoGlobally and across sectors, a talent challenge is causing firms a massive headache as they struggle to find, develop and retain the staff they need. And the Channel Islands are not immune

Hiring the right talent has always been critical to the success of firms. People are the strongest asset of any organisation, and an employment crisis is exercising all areas of the financial services industry, including the investment funds sector.

In fact, the perceived fear of robotic solutions stealing people’s jobs could be overwhelmingly undermined by an estimated shortage of 85 million workers around the globe – a stark figure from the perspective that the entire population of the UK is only around 68 million.

One commentator values the manpower shortage at $8.5trn in unrealised annual revenues by 2030, if left unchecked. It is hardly surprising then, that governments are placing education, training and upskilling towards the top of their agendas. And the Channel Islands are no different.

A Guernsey International Business Association survey this year revealed up to 600 vacancies in the island’s finance industry – and stated that the ability to attract and retain staff with the right skills is a “critical factor” of Guernsey’s competitiveness and the ongoing health of its economy.

In response, the objective of Skills Guernsey – just one of the initiatives set up to help tackle the issue – is to ensure that the island can develop a highly skilled workforce, equipped for the opportunities and challenges of the global economy.

Savvy workforce

The story in Jersey is similar. Tony Moretti, Chief Executive of Digital Jersey, states: “With the skills crisis increasing, upskilling the local workforce is the only viable alternative to enable us to maintain a globally competitive and digitally savvy workforce. In the midst of a worldwide skills shortage, bringing skilled people to Jersey has never been more challenging.”

He has also called for Jersey businesses to match the investment from government through funding or other resources.

Of the Guernsey survey, Paul Sykes, Chair of the Guernsey International Business Association (GIBA), says: “The results reflect anecdotal evidence that we have observed among industry over the past 12 months or so. 

“There are a high number of vacancies in the sector and the survey further reveals several recurring themes. 

“Firms refer to the cost and availability of housing as significant issues when it came to recruiting and retaining staff, with several firms indicating this was one of the main reasons staff have left the island and relocated elsewhere.

“The finance sector employs around 20% of Guernsey’s working population – but generates nearly 40% of the island’s GDP – and GIBA believes that urgent change is needed to avoid the impacts of a growing skills gap.

“The island has a significant opportunity for further growth,” he says. “We estimate conservatively that the States of Guernsey would receive personal income tax revenues of approximately £6m annually if the sector’s vacancies were filled, and the economy could be boosted by at least £30m – and probably a multiple of £30m.”

Talent illo2Robust approach

Channel Islands businesses are well known for a robust and innovative approach to the challenges that come their way – and they are delivering an enlightened response to the shortage of talent.

Dominic Coyne, Funds Director at Fairway Group, says authenticity is important and could be a differentiator, given that benefits packages are generally “much of a muchness”. 

He believes businesses need to walk the walk. “It is very easy to promise the earth to candidates at the interview but, if you don’t follow through, new colleagues will quickly challenge,” he says. “And you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

“Getting it right first time is a mantra we strive for. Choosing the right candidates for roles within a client service company is crucial to client satisfaction and business success,” he adds.

Sykes believes employees take much more note of their employer’s actions and words: “Corporate culture and a sense of corporate responsibility are characteristics of Guernsey companies that are attractive to many employees. 

“Equally, many companies invest generously in and are supportive of professional and vocational education, which means the island is well positioned to retain its reputation for high-quality services and competitive advantage.” 

More than just money

Coyne acknowledges that remuneration packages also remain important to addressing the talent acquisition challenge, but agrees they must be complemented by the right corporate culture.

“Treatment of staff through emotional intelligence is paramount to maintaining a consistent workforce,” he states.

“At Fairway, we insist on the personal touch. Everyone has a voice and there are no closed doors. The senior management team sits out in the open office and are all approachable. Each team member is treated as a contributor to the success of the funds business; they are representing themselves, the organisation and the Jersey funds industry,” he adds.

“I’m not going to pretend that money is not important. For many it is vital in times of inflation and cost of living challenges.

“Your business needs to be paying top-quartile in order to attract and retain the best employees. But the internal culture is also a pivotal part of the package and, in the long-run, just as important.”

Coyne adds: “To attract staff there must be an added incentive – such as multiple jurisdictions or secondment opportunities – and flexibility is also important. 

“We have seen several interviewees in recent years who have approached us because we have an office in Madeira. 

The key part of our interview process is to deduce whether the candidate will be the right fit.”

However, a balance must be struck between rewards and incentives and realistic expectations from employees. “Incentives can be financial or cultural, or a mixture of both, and it is important that employees have a clear understanding of what they need to achieve to progress,” says Coyne.

“Bonus mechanisms should be transparent and fair, and all employees should have equal access to work-life balance incentives.

“Working from home is on many employees’ agendas post-pandemic, and employers must have a policy to accommodate this to at least some degree. Flexible working may also be necessary if valued staff are to be retained.

“Treating all staff fairly is the responsibility of all businesses and a good manager will respond positively to reasonable requests,” he continues. 

“That said, the business has to come first and customer service and satisfaction cannot be sacrificed in pursuit of staff retention. Sometimes difficult conversations must be had.”

Talent illo3And the cultural shift must also be fully embraced by management. Coyne’s view is that team members should be nurtured and given the opportunity to grow – and that many “old-style managers” remain control freaks at heart, which can be demotivating for employees.  

“The best gift I have been given throughout my career to date is autonomy,” he explains. “Granted, people are different – some need more guidance than others. But it is recognising those differences that is important, and then responding accordingly. 

“By all means, deliver a strong lead. But also provide the opportunity to shine and recognise success when you see it.”

Onshore option

Coyne concedes that hiring people onshore is an option for offshore firms in the face of the talent shortage before them, but he retains some reservations.

“That is always an option and many of the bigger businesses in Jersey have been doing this for years,” he says. 

“It is a hostage to fortune, however, and it has never been more important to know your customers and clients to ensure that they are pleased with services provided.”

Sykes believes there is big potential for the islands, with the right levers in place, to respond to the challenge and fuel further economic growth.

As part of that, businesses are also keeping an eye on the rapid developments in artificial intelligence and automation.

“Increased use of technology frees up employees to concentrate on customer service and satisfaction and it is important that businesses continue to invest,” concludes Coyne.

“AI is in its infancy and unquestionably will impact employment as it develops. However, a customer will be reticent to shake hands with a robot for many years to come.”

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