UK skills shortages and media businesses: opportunity to enhance mobility and D&I

18 June 2024

The UK media industry is facing fierce competition in attracting and retaining top talent, both from other sectors and globally.  

Despite 60% of the 300 media businesses we surveyed having found it very or somewhat challenging to recruit over the last 12 months – 99% still made redundancies in the same period. This shows that, although the labour market is tight, this is not simply a numbers problem.

Rather, the media industry’s struggle to recruit and retain is due to an ongoing and significant skills shortage in the UK, in areas which are critical to the sector – including digital skills, data analytics and content creation.  

To find the talent required, do businesses need to cast a wider net? And what opportunities and challenges might this present – particularly with the emergence of employees wanting to work remotely overseas and an increase in the use of contingent workers?

Organisations looking further afield to bridge UK digital skills gap

The UK digital skills gap is not breaking news, with research having already determined that around 60% of the UK’s workforce is unable to do all 20 digital tasks that industry and government have defined as essential for work. Our People Perspectives report by The Real Economy also showed that 39% of middle market businesses cited digital skills as a top three concern for the following year. 

With such skills scarcity, UK organisations are not only competing with other sectors locally, but also globally. To avoid missing out, businesses should be open to hiring internationally, allowing them to tap into a vaster pool of talent.  

And our survey found that some UK media businesses already were. 25% of those surveyed had current employees from overseas, but working in the UK on a permanent basis, while an equal amount had employees working in the UK on a temporary basis. This could suggest that, for the right candidates, these companies are willing to leverage visa sponsorship, or offer secondment opportunities, to enhance their workforce and help bridge the skills gap. 

Pie chart showing the distribution of employees by location in the last 12 months. Replies mentioned in the text above.

The rise of remote and hybrid working models also allows businesses to provide location flexibility to current staff. 23% of those surveyed had current employees from the UK, but working abroad on a temporary basis, while 25% had employees working away on a permanent basis. This posed the question, are employers becoming more relaxed in allowing overseas work, specifically to attract and retain talent? In our discussions with media businesses, it’s clear many see flexible working (including periods overseas) as a benefit for their employees and it is of concern when their competitors appear to be offering something they can't or are unwilling to offer.

Businesses that are keen to allow their people this enhanced flexibility should carefully consider all legal, tax, immigration, and social security implications. It is important for businesses to think about their people strategy and ensure policies are in place to support this flexibility and mitigate the potential risks.

It would also be prudent to have contingency and flexible working policies in place. Companies must ensure fairness and ensure employees understand the organisation’s position, and a strategy must be in place for managing workers in different time zones, ensuring a cohesive working environment and minimal disruption to processes, workflow and, most importantly to other employees. If employers are looking to hire employees based overseas, will this impact their existing workforce and where they want to work from? 

Overseas hiring enhances diversity and inclusion 

In looking at diversity within UK media businesses, 34% of our respondents said that 25-50% of their organisation’s leadership team identified as female. Meanwhile only 23% claimed a 25-50% proportion of leadership who identified as belonging to an ethnic minority.  

Bar graph showing percentage of leadership team by ethnicity. Results mentioned in the text.

With both statistics highlighting clear room for improvement – could enhancing global mobility help achieve this?

Hiring from overseas will naturally increase the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity within a company. And, when companies look globally, they have a larger pool of female candidates to choose from, too. Equally, when a business chooses to actively recruit from abroad, it sends a strong message about commitment to creating an inclusive environment that values diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

International employees also add to the cultural competence of the entire workforce, making it more adept in the global marketplace. A globally diverse team will often bring language skills, local market insights, and cultural adaptability. For businesses looking to expand, particularly within countries with significant cultural differences to the UK, these attributes should not be underestimated. For instance, 39% of our respondents are planning to expand within Europe, and 28% in South America.

Bar chart "Planned regional expansion". Replies: North America highest (40%), followed by Europe (39%). Further discussed in the text above.

Cross-cultural collaboration boosts innovation

Overseas recruitment is not only a strategy for filling skills gaps – it’s a transformative approach that can significantly boost innovation within businesses. 

The studies highlighting the connection between immigration and innovation, while often focused on technology companies, are indicative of a broader trend.

By bringing in talent from around the world, companies benefit from diverse perspectives that challenge conventional thinking, cross-cultural collaboration that fosters a dynamic exchange of ideas, and enhanced problem-solving capabilities that arise from a mix of different educational and professional experiences. This diversity is a catalyst for creativity, driving innovative solutions that can give businesses a competitive edge in the global market. In essence, overseas recruitment enriches the innovation ecosystem, propelling companies towards groundbreaking achievements and technological advancements.

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