Skills shortages are biting now and are guaranteed to worsen. Current skill shortages are rife within agriculture, construction, engineering, human resources, information technology and the skilled trades. In recruitment circles, we're also seeing skills gaps emerge in the realms of digital communications and customer services.

Although widely reported in the media and seeing this first-hand, it appears the 'red flag' is going unnoticed in many regions as employers ignore the signals.

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Skill shortages can also appear as a lack of transferable skills which are carried from one role to another. Currently these include visionary leadership, being able to deal with problems on the spot, decisiveness, and possessing business nous.

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As a result not only are we seeing a severe shortage of well-rounded individuals ready to step into the chunky roles that organisations need filling, there is a shortage of hiring expertise that understands the complexities of talent attraction and recruitment in this challenging market. The old rules no longer apply.

Having recently travelled around the country as a 'people process' expert for The Icehouse BIQ Roadshow, I've spoken with hundreds of business leaders about the people challenges facing industry. It's evident that there are two clear positions in the heads of those managing organisations....

On the one hand, are the employers who view themselves as 'active' in the quest for skilled talent. They boast future-focussed business leaders and acknowledge they will need high calibre talent in the next 1-5 years. They are in the throes of meeting the quest for expertise head on.

A recent Frog Recruitment survey, representing 91,000 employers across New Zealand, shows the key drivers propelling the 'active talent' stance include skills shortages (66 per cent) and not having the right people in their business for the next 3-5 years (52 per cent). This behaviour can level the playing field for SME's against the large corporates who are less agile and tied-up with over-cooked processes.

On the other hand, are a substantial number of companies describing themselves as 'passive' in the skills shortage debate. By not preparing to manage the skills shortage challenge anytime soon, these companies have the prevailing 'we'll be right' attitude, so consequently skills gaps are being pushed to one side or even overlooked.

A very real example of the consequence of inaction was evidenced by one Christchurch employer admitting that he had to turn down $6.5 million of work due to a shortage of skilled employees. Add to this the lack of a proactive plan to attract the skilled people needed and the impact on the size of the competitive pie is plain to see.

The survey also highlighted key areas of concern for this 'passive' group of companies, including only 39 per cent saying they have good internal people with the ability to locate the skilled talent needed and 22 per cent declaring they don't have the resources needed to investigate the problem. Meanwhile, 11 per cent of these companies take each vacancy on a case-by-case basis, while a mere 11 per cent boast low staff turnover.

Given the importance of preparation and planning in today's talent market, compounded by the competitive environment, I strongly urge the 'passive' companies to begin their workforce planning with some urgency.

The days of highly reactionary recruitment activity and a lack of workforce planning could spell disaster for business owners in New Zealand. So if, as an employer, you're 'active' in the skills debate, well done. If you're 'passive', it's time to get your skates on and be 'active'.

Jane Kennelly, Director of Frog Recruitment Ltd, is a recruitment professional with over 25 years' industry knowledge. Frog Recruitment has gained a positive reputation as a game-changer in recruitment circles due to its focus on linking employer branding to the recruitment experience. For more information see www.frogrecruitment.co.nz