Navigating HR and TA challenges: addressing the shrinking workforce

Written by Simon Benford-Blows

In the dynamic landscape of human resources (HR) and talent acquisition (TA), leaders are constantly facing new challenges. In recent times, the shrinking workforce has emerged as a significant concern for HR and TA professionals worldwide. This challenge stems from a confluence of factors, including demographic shifts, Brexit-related uncertainties, and unexpected trends in retirement patterns among the over 50s age group.

Demographic Shifts and Their Impact:

One of the primary contributors to the shrinking workforce is demographic change. Many developed countries are experiencing declining birth rates and aging populations. As a result, there's a decreasing pool of young talent entering the workforce to replace retiring employees. This demographic shift poses a substantial challenge for HR and TA leaders who must find innovative ways to attract and retain talent from a limited pool.


Brexit, with its uncertainties and changing regulations, has added a layer of complexity to HR and TA strategies. Organisations that relied on international talent pipelines may now face restrictions on recruitment from certain regions. Additionally, the economic fallout from Brexit has led to the employee’s leaving businesses with the difficult task of determining how to re-engage, reskill, or even downsize their workforce as the situation evolves.

The Missing Generation: Over 50s Retiring Earlier:

A surprising trend has emerged in recent years as many individuals over the age of 50 are choosing to retire earlier than expected. Factors such as health concerns, work-related stress, and lifestyle choices are influencing this decision. While this might appear as an opportunity for younger talent, it creates a gap in institutional knowledge and experience that can be challenging to fill.

Strategies for HR and TA Leaders:

  1. Upskilling and Reskilling: With a limited talent pool, HR and TA leaders are focusing on upskilling and reskilling existing employees. This not only helps bridge skill gaps but also fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth.
  2. Diverse Recruitment Channels: Organisations are expanding their search for talent by exploring diverse recruitment channels. Remote work and flexible arrangements allow businesses to tap into talent from different geographic areas.
  3. Tapping into Older Workers: Retirees who wish to contribute on a part-time or project basis can provide a wealth of experience. Encouraging them to return as consultants or mentors helps retain valuable institutional knowledge.
  4. Enhanced Retention Strategies: Implementing programs that address work-life balance, mental health, and career growth can make the workplace more appealing, thereby reducing turnover.
  5. Adapting to Remote Work: The shift towards remote work allows organisations to engage with talent regardless of location. This approach can attract skilled individuals who value flexibility and work-life integration.
  6. Succession Planning: Proactive succession planning is crucial to mitigate the impact of a retiring workforce. Identifying and grooming future leaders within the organisation ensures a seamless transition.
  7. Global Talent Pools: Despite Brexit-related challenges, exploring global talent pools can provide access to diverse skills that might not be readily available locally.

The challenges posed by the shrinking workforce are multifaceted and demand innovative solutions. HR and TA leaders must leverage their expertise to develop strategies that address demographic shifts, Brexit uncertainties, and unexpected retirements. By embracing new recruitment methods, upskilling initiatives, and flexible work arrangements, organisations can navigate these challenges and build a resilient workforce capable of thriving in a rapidly changing world.

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