Untapped Talent


31st May 2023

Read time

4 minutes

A recent Gartner Talent Angle Podcast featured Harvard Business School’s Joseph Fuller on how employers can cultivate hidden talent. This is a louder and louder theme which in one guise or another we are hearing consistently by employers across sectors and is increasingly becoming an economic imperative.

In the mid-term we are facing a very real talent shortage through the demographic deficit –  a frightening widening gap between those in work and out of work – which by 2035 means the UK will face a talent deficit of c. 1.6 million workers.

More immediately, companies are facing spiralling wages, high staff turnover, worsening skills gaps and little movement on the diversity dial- particularly at senior levels.

As Mr Fuller, succinctly argues the solution is closer to home than we think.

Hidden talent

These are groups of individuals, (either existing employees or potential candidates), who are characterised as those who don’t either have the confidence to apply or awareness of their transferrable skills. This group are also some of the most diverse backgrounds.

Groups that when they do apply are consistently overlooked or sifted out by online recruiting processes, all too often due to a lack of relevant employment experience. This lack of relevant experience is not due to lack of ability or potential but often due to life circumstance such as they have been Care givers, ex-Military, NEETS, Neurodiverse etc . The cruel reality is the longer you are a ‘hidden’ worker the longer you will be one.

Many employers do proactively seek to employ from these groups but too often ‘just’ through dedicated programmes with a diversity focus (such as Returner programmes, Early Talent etc) whereas to make a more measurable (and much needed) impact such a focus must become the norm.


Detailed research shows those who fall outside of typical talent pools are more engaged at work.

Their attrition rates are lower.

They frequently outperform counterparts.

A focus on hidden talent need not solely be because ‘it’s the right thing to do’. It’s a clear, strategic business imperative, none more so than at a time of great economic uncertainty.

What are the few steps you need to take to have a whole new pool of what we call ‘total talent’ to hire from?

  1. Assess and identify those roles which are consistently hardest to fill; see the highest turnover; are central to your organisation’s ability to deliver (those ‘back-office’ roles).
  2. Ignore the ‘must have x years’ experience’, and just ask which of those roles need behaviours and skills which align hidden worker populations are likely to have. Then you will find yourself with new pools of talent, which is also highly diverse, to address the supply & demand imbalances likely  are keeping you up at night.
  3. Adopt a Senior Sponsor for each core business area recruiting from this ‘total talent’ pool to drive the new approach forwards & hold to account.
  4. Consider launching with an expert supplier partner with a proven track record in working with hidden talent populations
  5. Collect and measure data: adopt a continuous improvement mindset to the onboarding experience (and giving them what they need) and on the job performance (how does it compare to typical worker populations)

Consider the role technology can play in nurturing these cohorts at scale, through recruitment and in role to maximise conversions and progression.

Companies already committed & evidencing the benefits

  • Clyde & Co’s recruitment of ‘hidden talent’ into abroad range of Business Service roles
  • Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Programme
  • Now Teach, supporting career changers into Teaching
  • Cognizant’s Junior lateral programme – for those falling into the experience gap between early talent and lateral hiring