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4 strategies for overcoming talent shortages

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Attendees pose for the camera at Xref's seminar on ‘Strategies for hiring in a candidate-short market’

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Talent acquisition is a challenge for organisations around the world, especially in New Zealand, which is currently experiencing a labour shortage across all sectors. This labour shortage (aka a candidate short-market) makes it difficult for employers to find and recruit skilled workers. 

According to research cited by HRD New Zealand, 77% of employers around the world are finding it difficult to fill job shortages, making it the highest candidate shortage in 17 years. The IT sector is reportedly experiencing the biggest talent crunch.

A shortage of candidates in New Zealand is a result of several factors:

  • New Zealand is still recovering from border closures during the pandemic, which ground immigration to a halt.
  • New Zealand’s ageing population and declining birth rate will intensify the labour shortage. According to Stuff NZ, the country will be short 250,000 workers by 2048 if current trends continue.
  • There is uncertainty around the upcoming election, which may impact employees’ employment decisions.
  • The recession has hit New Zealand, meaning people will likely stay in their jobs for financial security.

Xref New Zealand recently hosted two seminars called ‘Strategies for hiring in a candidate-short market’ in New Zealand – one in Auckland and one in Wellington. 

During the seminars, a panel of highly experienced HR and recruitment leaders across a diverse mix of industries (including government, banking, hospitality and retail) discussed strategies for overcoming talent shortages.

Xref branded graphic with photographs of panel members of HR & Recruitment seminar organised by Xref in New Zealand

In Auckland, our panel speakers were Bridget Rainsford, Recruitment Manager at SkyCity Entertainment Group, Annabelle Klap, Senior Manager Talent Acquisition at Westpac, and Zubair Mohammed, Recruitment Manager at The Farmers Trading Company Ltd.

At our Wellington event, our panel was made up of Sarah Nixon, Head of Talent at Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Tim Bush, Recruitment Manager at Parliamentary Services, and Sally Morison, Talent Manager at Ministry for the Environment.

The events were moderated by Xref’s Marley Monk, Regional Sales Director (New Zealand), and Brydie McCamish, Account Manager (New Zealand).

In this blog, we will distil the main discussion points covered in our New Zealand seminars and share their tips for overcoming talent shortages.

4 strategies for overcoming talent shortages

Speakers shared creative ways to attract new talent and keep candidates engaged.

Both panels touched on similar topics, but the Wellington discussion had more of a political lens as the panellists were from government agencies.

Below are the main themes and advice from the panel discussions.

1. Improve the candidate experience 

The importance of enhancing the candidate experience was a discussion both panels engaged in. The speakers emphasised that the quality of the candidate experience can influence whether organisations secure top talent.

During her time in government recruiting, Sally Morison has found that a good candidate experience is about speed and efficiency. A recent study revealed that most candidates (55%) wait less than a week after their final interview for a job offer before moving on, so organisations should act fast. “Move as quickly as you can so the candidate knows where they stand, and so you can get that offer in front of them first,” said Sally.

For Tim Bush, Recruitment Manager at Parliamentary Services (Wellington), the candidate experience is more important than the process. “The experience you offer is so incredibly important,” said Tim. “To quote da Vinci, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. Your process and experience should look and feel simple for everyone – candidates, hiring managers, agencies, etc.” 

The more seamless and straightforward the candidate experience is, the more professional your organisation will seem, and the more likely you will attract top talent.

One way to speed up the hiring process is to harness technology. Reference checking software like Xref can automate and digitise the referencing process, saving recruiters, candidates and referees time. The quicker referencing can be completed, the quicker an organisation can make a candidate an offer.

2. Diversify the channels used for candidate attraction

New Zealand is a small market, which makes it hard to source new talent. “There are only so many Facebook and LinkedIn groups [we can use to source talent],” said Annabelle Klap, Senior Manager Talent Acquisition at Westpac (Auckland), “and we have one main advertising board.”

It's hard to source candidates, so organisations must tap into different channels and find new ways to showcase their employee value proposition (EVP).

TikTok and Instagram can be great channels for targeting younger generations or those working within hospitality and retail.

Bridget Rainsford, Recruitment Manager at SkyCity Entertainment Group (Auckland), said her organisation is experimenting with video to tell the story of their EVP to attract new talent. “One thing we’ve found is that our job ads with video are tracking better [than ads without video]” said Bridget. 

Zubair Mohammed, Recruitment Manager at The Farmers Trading Company (Auckland), has also succeeded with video job adverts. “We did our first video of events for Instagram, and it clocked about 60,000 views, which we have never done before,” said Zubair. “We had about 60 applicants come through…so video content has been a game changer for us.”

While the channel used to source candidates is important, so is fine-tuning the job advert. Tim Bush from Parliamentary Services (Wellington) emphasised the importance of a well-written job advert and said candidates simply won’t click into an advert that is poorly written. 

Creating job adverts can be a chore for recruiters and hiring managers, so Tim suggests experimenting with ChatGPT to craft compelling job adverts to save time. However, while ChatGPT can help save time, Tim warns that any content produced is reviewed by a recruiter with a fine-tooth comb to ensure it has the human touch.

3. Emphasise the ‘WIIFM?’ element with candidates

The ‘What’s In It For Me?’ (WIIFM) element is key to engaging workers. The term refers to what employees get out of working for your organisation in terms of compensation and benefits. Recruiters and HR should highlight the WIIFM element for candidates during the hiring process.

Sally from the Ministry for the Environment (Wellington) has noticed that salary is the biggest driver for employees when applying for jobs. “The cost of living crisis is biting people,” said Sally. “Some people are really struggling with mortgage rates.” 

Sally also notes that flexibility and offering remote work are incredibly attractive for employees. “Flexibility is attractive to parents who have children of all ages, but also to someone who’s training for a triathlon or has other important things in their life other than work.”

“Advertise roles across Aotearoa and hire kaimahi remotely, especially where you need skills on the ground in those communities. There is amazing talent across the motu that can’t move to Wellington.” – Sarah Nixon, Head of Talent at Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Wellington, NZ

Aside from salary and flexibility, the panel speakers also consider the following benefits to be attractive to candidates:

  • Opportunities to give back to New Zealand (especially important within local Government roles)
  • Volunteer days
  • Wellbeing days
  • Health insurance
  • Meal vouchers

Whatever benefits are offered to employees, it’s important that those benefits are communicated effectively to candidates during the hiring process.

Xref branded graphic with quote (above) by Sarah Nixon, Head of Talent, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Wellington
4. Tap into your alumni

Tapping into alumni talent is a creative way to tackle labour shortages. Alumni talent is a rich source of potential candidates who have knowledge of your company and valuable skill sets.

Many of the panel speakers have had the experience of employees returning to the company after leaving – these individuals are known as boomerang employees

Boomerang employees are valuable because during their time away they gain new experience, skill sets and perspectives which they are able to bring back with them. Zubair from The Farmers Trading Company also notes that boomerangs may act as brand advocates and referees and bring new talent back with them.

During his years of working in the recruitment space in Wellington, Tim Bush has seen many employees returning to an organisation after thinking the ‘grass was greener’ but realising it wasn’t. Sally Morison has noticed that contractors are returning as permanent employees to government positions for financial security reasons.

Building a culture of boomerang employees is a collaboration between HR and talent acquisition. Together, they can find ways to engage ex-employees and ex-interns through social media and software and systems. 

Some panellists expressed how they effectively use Xref to create a talent pool of departed employees. Xref Exit Surveys offer departing employees the option to ‘opt-in’ to being contacted about future opportunities at the organisation. Then, TA professionals can search and filter the talent pool to identify people who would be a good fit for a role. Utilising talent pools enables organisations to fill talent gaps quickly, which saves time and money.


While the panel speakers at the recent NZ events are from different industries and have unique challenges, the discussions at the two events proved that many experiences are shared, and the lessons learned are applicable regardless of industry.

There are huge opportunities for us to think differently about how we approach the challenge of talent shortages, starting with improving the candidate experience and communicating the WIIFM element via a diverse mix of channels, to staying connected with alumni talent. 

The strategies mentioned by HR experts in our NZ event provide creative alternative solutions that organisations should adopt in order to tackle talent shortages.

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