Hiring in a Skills Shortage; Help for Struggling SMEs

Posted on August 16, 2021 by Tania Howard

You may have heard; unemployment is at record lows of 4%.  You probably didn’t need that official
statistic to know how hard it is to find and recruit people for your business right now.   

I’ve outlined the contributing factors – what this means for small businesses and how you can improve your chances of finding staff.

How did we get here? 

Well it’s been a bit of a perfect storm!  I’ve been saying for years that NZ would fall over if it wasn’t for immigrant labour.  Well, Covid has shown us a glimpse of that reality. 

Many international students would work 20 hours a week, often in hospitality and retail.  Those whose English communication skills weren’t great often ended up in cleaning, factory or security jobs.  Then when their studies were complete, they would receive Study to Work visas, and enter the full-time employment market. 

Those streams of people are severely reduced.  People on working holiday visas have had their times extended, but it hasn’t’ been anywhere near enough to fill the gap.  And naturally there’s (almost) no immigration. And with all the press about people losing jobs last year, it appears some people are still nervous about going to a new employer, so sitting tight.  More so those on Visa’s waiting until the impending Immigration changes become clearer. 

This exacerbated a very tight market with serious shortages, critically so in trades, in what is a rapidly growing country.

My small and medium business (SME) clients are saying, “…but we’re not in those industries”, trouble is it has had a knock-on effect.  Businesses have compromised on the calibre or skills of candidates and vacuumed up people, that would have perhaps worked in another sector. 

The positive being that some people are getting opportunities they wouldn’t have previously.

Unfortunately, most SMEs can’t train someone as they are too small, they don’t have a ‘trainer’ let alone the time (or double resources) to allow someone to get up to speed.

Whatever has happened SMEs need to know that they are disproportionately affected due to the lack of branding and sheer ‘pulling power’ of larger businesses. 

How can you hire a great candidate when they don’t even know who you are?   And when most advertising follows ‘post-war’ methods, extending a shopping list of ‘must-haves’.

So I thought I would outline some actions you can take as a SME to improve your hiring chances:

  1. Be a good employer, seems obvious but many employers still think they’re doing the employee a favour.  Employment should be a mutually beneficial arrangement.  A great employer’s employees will become their greatest advocates.
  2. Be clear on your differentiators as an ‘employer’ and know why someone would want to work for you compared to a competitor, or another company hiring the same people.
  3. Use ‘candidate centric’ ads selling the above; not shopping lists of what you want.  Reverse the traditional order and spell out early on “What’s in it for the candidate?” then don’t talk about the company until late in the ad.  You would never sell your product or service talking first about the company, so why do it when hiring? 
  4. Use social media postings to drive people to the ad, then boost these for inexpensive advertising.  Post on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook Groups.  Do not start with “We’re Hiring!’, that is irrelevant in this market!
  5. Use images and video to support your postings.  Use free tools such as Canva to create images with text to make your posts eye catching; even better use a GIF if you can.  Unsplash is another site where you can source photos.
  6. Utilise free sites to post your ad such as Adzuna, Indeed, Jora, and KEA (https://www.keanewzealand.com).  MyJobSpace allows you go to nationwide without paying for multiple ads.
  7. Are there any industry specific groups or bodies where you can advertise that relate to your industry or job?  In some cases these get more views that job sites, which only attract candidates actively looking, and with 4% unemployment you need to get in front of ‘passive’ candidates; those that would jump at a great opportunity, but aren’t actively looking.
  8. Utilise the backend of Seek and TradeMe’s culling systems.  Direct social media ads to these too so it’s a lot easier to manage applications and respond to candidates.  And respond to applicants!  Even letters of decline are appreciated and protect your brand.
  9. Utilise your staff’s networks, ask them to post about the role on their social media.  It will hold more weight coming from someone already with the company.
  10. Choose your advertising medium/s based on the candidates you are attracting.  Is it a lower-level role or skilled role?  Are candidates’ computer savvy?
  11. Your process needs to match the market.  Be fast when there’s not many applicants or a known shortage.
  12. Proactively ‘search’ for people.  You can use LinkedIn or a new tool recruiters are using is Talentis.  If you posted on Seek you automatically have access to their database candidates who match the ad; it’s called Talent Search.  Send them a personal note and start a conversation.

If you’re a SME doing your own recruitment you need to give yourself a fighting chance.   If you are strategic in your approach, utilise your network, use marketing principles, and multiple advertising streams supported by social media, you’ll have much better results.

Also remain open minded about people’s abilities.  New Zealanders are one of the most travelled people on this planet, yet this doesn’t seem to equate to ‘open mindedness’ when hiring.  It’s time we dropped the ‘doesn’t have NZ experience’ excuse.  What do they have that you haven’t even considered?  There’s a chance you ‘don’t know what you don’t know’ and are missing out on other valuable skills.  

The saying ‘hire on attitude not skills’ has never been truer.  The above will at least give you some candidates to work with.

Posted under: Articles, Skill Shortage, SME Hiring

Big pay rise for women: Deal likely to alarm private sector

Posted on June 23, 2019 by Jennifer

About 55,000 low-paid workers, mainly women, are about to get one of the biggest pay rises ever after details of a historic pay equity settlement are revealed today.

The deal will cost the Government over $500 million a year when fully implemented in five years, assuming it is signed off by union members and the Cabinet.

The settlement will mean hefty pay increases from July in three government-funded service sectors that employ mainly women on low rates: aged residential care, home support, and disability services.

The Herald understands that for the primary litigant, rest home caregiver Kristine Bartlett, it will mean an increase from about $16 an hour to about $23 an hour – more than 43 per cent.

The deal allows for annual increases over five years to $27 an hour.

Overall, pay rises will range from $3 an hour to $7, depending on the work and experience.

The statutory minimum wage at present is $15.75 an hour. The new pay rates will not be backdated.

The case is the first legal settlement in New Zealand that recognises that some jobs pay less because they are done mainly by women.

Read more here

Posted under: Articles

Winning Tactics to Hire the Right Fit, Every Time! (Webinar)

Posted on by Jennifer

This informative webinar covers how to measure motivational, cultural and job fit of candidates for your vacancies.  It is this that impacts tenure if you get it wrong.  Simplistically it covers how to measure if someone WILL DO the role, not CAN DO the role as ‘behavioural interviewing’ does and is a great complement to this.  Follow the link to view the webinar and add this technique to your interviews to improve your hiring! 

Hint: start at the 3 minute mark to bypass the ‘ummms’ before Tania got into her flow.

Posted under: Articles

The Existential Crisis for SMEs

Posted on June 19, 2019 by Jennifer

In 2017 I saw a number of established small and medium enterprises (SMEs) affected by a crisis challenging their very existence.  The ability to hire the right staff.  The ability to find and keep good staff has always been a challenge but the skills shortage, now worse than ever, is threatening their survival. 

Although I’d like government to have more relaxed rules for SMEs around hiring overseas people, last years immigration criteria changes have meant the opposite.  So this article firstly defines the problem then provides practicable and affordable solutions.

As an outsourced recruiter I’m the recruitment arm for small and medium enterprises so have a holistic view of how the skills shortage is impacting SMEs.  I see more and more SMEs stymied by not being able to get staff.  The lack of available people combined with SMEs reduced ability to be noticed by potential employees runs a real risk of paralysing some businesses.  Last year I had several business owners tell me that if our team couldn’t find a person with particular skills (skills that weren’t on the skills shortage list) then they would have to shut up shop.  If you’re reading this article you’ve likely experienced the shortage but here’s some firm statistics if you’d like them.

In 2017 the largest increase in job ads was for unskilled and semi-skilled labour (reported in September 2017 by HRD).  Luckily some of these roles such as CNC Operators are now on the skills shortage list.  What catches SMEs out is a massive shortage of sales people, a remaining effect from the GFC.  Many people left this profession and haven’t returned, but this isn’t on the skills shortage list.

The reason the skills shortage is so impactful on SMEs is that they generally aren’t well known to potential employees, in comparison to corporates.  Most SMEs lack employment brand and recruiting expertise.  They also don’t have funds for agencies, therefore many try to DIY. 

The current 4.6% unemployment rate has meant a changed hiring landscape.  Due to skills shortages and low unemployment we have moved from the old fashioned “Advertise and Assess” model of hiring to “Find and Engage” (well-articulated in a recent article by Adele Chua of HRM).  That raises real concerns for SMEs as they do not have the time, resources or experience to hunt people down, approach them and convince them to come aboard. While in the past they’ve been able to get away with DIY due to good ad response, they can now be left high and dry.

So, in a nutshell – the main challenges for SMEs are lack of visibility and lack of budget or resources to improve this. Yes, SMEs should be training current staff and making sure valued staff are on or above current market rates, and have conditions they value.  But if the horse has bolted and you must hire, or you’d like to grow the company, here are some recommendations that may help…


On the up side – 97% of all businesses in NZ have less than 20 staff, and as 28% of our GDP is estimated to be produced by these enterprises, there is no argument that small businesses are critical to NZ’s future.  In Feb 2016 29% of all employees worked for companies with less than 20 staff, so there are a reasonable number of people who prefer to work for smaller businesses. But with Immigration requirements tightening, hiring will get worse before it gets better, so I suggest SMEs engage expertise and help to give themselves the best possible chance of competing for top talent.  Besides my company Talent Seed, there are many outsourced options that are not agencies and don’t come with the corresponding hefty price tag.

Posted under: Articles

Write a kick-ass recruitment ad that will attract great candidates

Posted on April 8, 2014 by Tania Howard

If I see the words ‘We’re hiring!’ in an ad one more time I’ll scream.  One of my pet peeves is most recruiter’s inability to write a half decent recruitment advertisement.  What chance does a business have of attracting people when they copy this well-worn (out) format?  

In this article I’ll rebuff the ads most recruiters, and unfortunately, companies still write, explain why most ads need to change and clarify the elements of a good ad.

If you’re hiring you need the right number of quality candidates.  A badly written ad can attract either not enough or too many.  Both situations have consequences but a good ad creates a positive flow on effect right through the recruitment process, which means hiring is a lot easier. 

So what makes a great ad? For a start, to attract great people your ad needs to differentiate your business as an employer.  

To set the scene let’s put our marketing hat on.   For reasons unknown people forget that when they’re hiring they are actually marketing their company as an employer.   And they are competing for skills against everyone else seeking those same skills.  

With an aging workforce skill shortages exist and the same-old tired format isn’t going to cut it if you want to stand out.  I recently had a client seeking a Business Analyst, at the time there were 477 ads for a Business Analyst on Seek in Auckland alone and less than 250 Auckland BAs with LinkedIn profiles. Now a lot of those ads would have been duplicated however the client really had to differentiate themselves to get noticed. So what’s so wrong with the traditional recruitment ad? Besides providing a shopping list of what the company wants and nothing of benefit to the candidate most start with talking about the company. They are very much written from the company’s perspective, not the candidate’s and don’t connect with potential applicants using everyday language.  ‘We’re hiring’ smacks of this.  There is minimal information about why a person would really want the role and the benefits and differentiators of the role and company. 

Traditional advertising follows the AIDA approach; the theory being to get, in this order, Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.  This is still relevant but simplistic and doesn’t include other factors that are required to make a stand-out job advertisement.

Even if you’re advertising for a role where there are lots of candidates you still need to make sure the right ones are applying.  Going through hundreds of unsuitable candidates isn’t fun or an effective use of time for anyone. There will always be ‘serial applicants’ and an applicant tracking system will save you time and energy but a good ad will explain why a certain skill is necessary so people without it are discouraged from applying.

So here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider when writing a recruitment ad:



Good marketing practices consider the audience, talk about what’s in it for them, and have a call to action.  Recruitment marketing is no different and a great ad provides a flavour of what you’re about as a company, ironically without talking much about you!

A well-written ad can save you time and energy during the recruitment process by attracting more of the right people. If you’re still writing ads with no differentiator stating ‘we want’ then expect to get less and less applicants.

Need some coaching to get your ads right, or have an ad written for you… give Talent Seed a call.

Posted under: Articles, SME Hiring

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