Craig Dearden-Phillips: It's a nightmare finding good staff

Our columnist says the third sector tends to carry a lot of people who are bright, creative or very nice - but don't actually contribute very much

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

I was watching ITV News the other day and a reporter was visiting various places to find out how the recession was playing out.

She went to Garforth, near Leeds, where unemployment is at 10 per cent, but where she found firms were also struggling to find the right people. This was not because of a lack of applications, but a struggle to find the right mix of skills and aptitude.

As an employer myself, I was not surprised. Finding fabulous people is a nightmare, even in times like this. Creating a job is a big investment of cold, hard cash. You're naturally looking for a return and, in truth, not that many people out there represent a good bet.

So what is it that makes people super-desirable as employees? It isn't necessarily brains - although that helps. There is no shortage of bright people, especially in our sector. But simply being clever isn't an alpha trait: indeed it can, in my experience, create a sense of entitlement in an environment where people-made results matter more than god-given talent.

What, then, are employers looking for most? One thing that isn't on the person spec but is highly valued is 'reciprocity' - a clearly indicated desire on the part of the employee to delight an employer who has taken a leap of faith by taking them on.

Many jobseekers imagine, from the off, that they are entering a transaction in which the risks are somehow equal on both sides. Without underplaying the career risk to anyone new to a job, I can guarantee that employers worry a lot more than employees about the financial and reputational consequences of a poor appointment.

A second quality that marks out the best people is a serious attitude to work. Many people, I find, simply do not take work seriously enough. Work, for some, tucks in around all the other interesting ways to spend time in 21st century Britain. Again, if you're paying someone's mortgage for them, you expect a bit more than that.

The final stand-out feature of the best available talent is an awareness that they are being hired to get things achieved quickly. The boss of Google says that the best people are simply very good at "getting shit done - fast". Pace really matters. Staff who delight you by how rapidly they turn things around are as rare as hens' teeth.

What all this says about the third sector I'm not sure. Compared with the private sector, which I find to be a bit more results-oriented, we tend to carry a lot of people who are either bright, creative or simply very nice - but essentially not contributing much. Indeed, our weaker organisations resemble a kind of welfare state with lanyards. In these, most staff could disappear with absolutely no consequence at all for the business - indeed it would probably improve.

In my mind, we could replace most person specs with seven words: Eager to please. Works hard. Works fast.

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at

Craig Dearden-Phillips is managing director of Stepping Out and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Suffolk

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