Is there REALLY a skills shortage?!

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted every aspect of our lives, with the way we work literally being transformed overnight. As the world continues to rebalance, job seekers' priorities have undergone a profound transformation.

The traditional pursuit of stability and a steady income has given way to a desire for remote work, flexibility, purpose, and a deeper meaning. However, despite these evolving aspirations, for the most part, the current job market still falls short in meeting these expectations. It’s something that I see playing out daily when I meet with both candidates and clients; an expectation gap that shows no signs of closing, creating the perfect storm of jobs that are difficult to fill as applicants needs, desires and wants are simply not aligned to what most companies can offer.

In this blog I’m going to explore the changing nature of what job seekers truly want, the contrasting reality of available job opportunities, and share some (potentially unpopular) truths.

Seeking meaning in life

The pandemic caused people to re-evaluate their priorities and to seek greater meaning in their lives. Job seekers are increasingly prioritising positions with employers that align with their values, provide opportunities for personal growth, and contribute to a greater societal impact. They are looking for careers that offer a sense of purpose, allowing them to make a positive difference in the world. Companies that can demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility and sustainability are more likely to attract and retain top talent.

This has been a particular challenge across Aberdeen, especially for slightly younger job seekers who might have a less than favourable view of the oil and gas industry due to years of boom and bust, as well as a tarnished image that’s only gained traction since the pandemic. It’s been difficult to make oil sexy, with jobs outside of the industry, especially energy transition jobs, becoming highly sought after.

Ethics: Transparency and Accountability

The pandemic brought to light the importance of ethical practices and corporate responsibility. Many people are now more discerning about the companies they choose to work for, considering factors such as environmental sustainability, fair HR practices, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and ethical decision-making. They want to align themselves with organisations that prioritise transparency, accountability, and have a positive impact on society.

Remote Work: The new norm? Well…not really, especially across Aberdeen

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work, as it was a necessity at the time. The flexibility and convenience of working from home appealed to many employees and job seekers alike. At its best remote work eliminates commuting time, offers (potentially) greater work-life balance, and provides opportunities for individuals to work from anywhere in the world. Becca and I are the perfect example of this, where our business is in Aberdeen, but we live and work fully remotely from Dubai.

Many job seekers are now actively searching for fully remote roles, and the data backs this up. There has been an exponential increase in the number of searches on LinkedIn for fully remote roles since 2020. We’re seeing it ourselves on a weekly basis with candidates who register with Vero, who are actively seeking our advice with how to navigate and transition into the 'digital homad' (not to be mistaken with 'digital nomad'…Google it) lifestyle. However, this is simply not matched by the number of fully remote jobs available, highlighting an expectation gap between what’s available and what an increasing number of people truly want.

Dare I say, Aberdeen is even further behind the curve with this than many other cities. Less than progressive policies across the energy industry have resulted in almost no local employers hiring on a fully remote basis, with many leading employers now back in the office five days a week.

Flexibility: Balancing life and work

More so than fully remote work, it’s actually flexibility that I see as the crucial factor for many job seekers, as they seek a better balance between their personal and professional lives.

What do I mean by ‘flexibility’? The pandemic highlighted the importance of being able to adapt work schedules to fit individual needs. Employees want to have control over their time, allowing them to meet personal obligations, take care of their well-being, and engage in hobbies or personal development activities. This desire for flexibility extends to working hours, location, and even job-sharing arrangements.

The “you must be here 9-5, 5 days a week and sit where I can see you” ethos of many organisations would have you believe that flexibility and remote work means that people are lazy, and that they want to work less. But that’s simply not true. People want to be judged on output rather than input/ presenteeism during set hours. In fact, it’s likely that those with more flexibility will often work more hours, and be more productive, when they’re able to work around their schedules…win win, no?

As Millennials take on increasing numbers of C-Suite roles, and Gen Z workers have a greater impact upon company culture, I believe we will see a wholesale shift in working culture. We are on the precipice of change, where practices that we’ve all become accustomed to simply won’t be accepted or tolerated.

Contrasting Reality: Current Job Market

While job seekers' expectations have evolved, the current job market often falls short in meeting these demands.

Despite the increased desire for remote work and flexibility, many industries and companies have struggled to devise flexible and/or remote work practices that are seen as meaningful. It’s impossible to please everyone, and instead of persevering and trying to embrace these new opportunities, many employers have found it easier to revert back to pre-pandemic working arrangements and practices. As a result, the availability of remote work jobs remains limited, posing a challenge for job seekers seeking flexibility and remote opportunities.

Furthermore, whilst the demand for ethically sound companies has increased, not all organisations have embraced sustainable and socially responsible practices. This is by no means a criticism; with the increased costs businesses are having to deal with, simply staying afloat can at times be all-consuming. In addition, many companies still prioritise short-term financial gains over long-term societal impact. Again, it’s difficult to ascribe any blame for this. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, so many of these practices are often seen as “fluffy” by senior management and C-Suite, who are often not Millennials and Gen Z.

So, as employers, what can we do?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the priorities of job seekers, emphasising the importance of flexibility, meaningful work, and the desire to work for companies with a deep ethical conscience. However, the current job market, has (on the whole) struggled to embrace this change. The limited availability of remote work and flexible opportunities, and the struggle to find organisations that align with personal values present challenges for job seekers seeking to strike a balance between work and life, find purpose in their careers, and contribute to a better world.

However, I’m a firm believer that nearly all companies can make themselves more attractive, both in terms of retaining existing staff and also when they are trying to attract new hires.

Staff retention

Firstly, so that companies don’t need to recruit so often, staff retention should be a major priority for every manager. I would say the number one reason that people contact me looking for a change is overwork. Having well-resourced departments and IT systems that are fit for purpose ticks a major box and goes a long way to retaining employees.

Well resourced departments with fit-for-purpose systems

Additional perks such as Cycle to Work schemes, yoga sessions and mindfulness classes are all fine and well. However, nothing beats a well-resourced department with good systems, where overtime is not a day to day expectation outside of month-end. Yes, headcount and IT costs may increase, however there will almost always be a net reduction when you factor in the cost of losing employees, decreasing levels of productivity, and not to mention recruitment fees if there’s a lot of churn.

Employers must be able to sell their story

Secondly, your employer branding is absolutely key. Websites must be up to date and in full alignment to your social media channels. Instead of being purely factual, marketing needs to paint a picture of why someone would want to work for your company, with real life examples and case studies. It’s often easy to list Values and a Mission Statement, but it’s imperative that these are woven into the fabric of your organisation and communicated in rich media across your website and social channels. My advice? Be human. Overly corporate or formal communication can be construed as lip-service.

A well communicated ESG strategy

This ties into my third point. Another essential is your ESG strategy, clearly communicated across all of your media channels. This could be through video, interviews, and case studies. The discerning job seeker of 2023 takes a holistic approach to their search, and I’ve seen first hand the impact a well communicated ESG strategy can have on candidate attraction.

Working hours and employee benefits

Fully review your standard working hours and arrangements. Can these be modified to help existing members of your team, and to help you when attracting new applications. This includes 37.5 vs 40 hour work weeks, can some roles be reduced/part time hours, can you implement core hours with flexibility, to give a few examples.

Often when I approach someone about a new job opportunity, lots of questions arise around employee benefits. Typically, these include bonus schemes, pension schemes, private medical, and life assurance. Have you done a full review of these recently to gauge your competitiveness against your competitors or your peers? If a company has a bonus scheme or not can often be a deal breaker when it comes down to negotiations.

Are you a hybrid, remote, or an in-office employer?

Ask 100 people what suits them best and you will get a whole host of different answers. Again, there is no right or wrong and there’s a great deal of nuance involved. I’m a believer that it’s the company’s prerogative to decide what’s best for them, and then to clearly communicate their reasons behind their decision.

However, from experience, at least 80% of people I speak to have a preference for some form of hybrid arrangement. If you are an employer advocating five days a week in the office then I agree that it’s your right to do so. However, be aware that the candidate pool you are fishing in for new hires will be significantly reduced.

Onboarding is just as important as hiring

Having a well defined, qualitative onboarding process within your business is in my view the most overlooked part of the entire equation. Lots of time, diligence, and effort is typically spent hiring the right candidate, but the process often falls short when a new employee starts. The first few hours, days and weeks can set the tone for how your new employee will feel about working for your business. Time and time again I see star employees move company, and due to their experience in the first few days, they simply don’t perform or have the same attitude as they did previously.

Structured development plans for staff

Employees must know how they are performing, what they need to work on, and how they can achieve a promotion within your organisation. If not, they will often look to a new employer who has a better track record of training and developing their people.


I’m fortunate to spend my working day speaking to a wide variety of people. All of the above topics form a major part of the conversation, and it’s very clear to me the importance of addressing all of these points if you are looking to hire or to retain high-calibre employees.

The key is to see this as an opportunity rather than a threat. By making some minor tweaks which are often free and don’t take up a lot of time, you can create a value proposition that significantly sets you apart from your competitors.

And if you feel like you need some support, want to evaluate your offering or consult a specialist...that's what we're here for.