The Causes & Cures of Talent Shortages
Most of the shortages we created and can reduce
Tech companies have laid off thousands of people recently. The irony is these same firms spent the past several years struggling to find enough talent. With inflated expectations of growth, they vastly overhired. The pandemic was a blessing and curse to e-commerce and tech in general. We wanted and needed everything as quickly as possible, but we went back to normal buying patterns once the crisis subsided. It is hard for organizations to deal with the unprecedented ups and downs of the buying public.
But despite the growing number of layoffs, the unemployment level remains low, and recruiters and hiring managers report that finding the talent they need remains difficult. Businesses reduced staff or even closed down entirely during the pandemic's peak. Many people who were let go have chosen to do other things and have not sped back to work. This has exacerbated the talent shortages. Many employees who were close to retirement chose to permanently leave the workforce. Their loss was magnified as they were often the most qualified and experienced workers.
Finding people skilled in renewable energy, cyber security, software development, retail, sales, health care, and nursing has been tough. The time it takes to fill open positions has increased, and hiring managers frequently complain of long waits and poor recruiting.
What is Going On?
Some jobs are so new that very few people have the needed skills. Cyber security skills, for example, were, until recently, mainly found in the military or government organizations. The same applies to skills in renewable energy, designing electric cars, and artificial intelligence.
Human resource professionals and hiring managers created job descriptions based on what they ideally wanted without having good labor market knowledge or visibility into available skills. However, with talent intelligence tools, we can now develop accurate and objective views of what talent and skills are available,
With this data, there are various approaches we can take to ease the talent shortage.
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Redefine Work by Deconstructing Jobs into skills
We have packaged a set of skills into what we call a job. When we do this, we rarely ask three critical questions: what is the desired output of this job, are all of the skills necessary to achieve the output, and are a sufficient number of people available in the talent market who have those skills?
We can deconstruct jobs into their component skills by listing these individual skills and ranking them by criticality. Doing this makes it easier to determine if people with these skills exist even though they lack all of the ones listed in the job description.
New technologies are available that use artificial intelligence to help identify these critical skills and also identify other skills that might be similar. For example, music graduates often make excellent programmers and software developers. It turns out that the thought patterns are similar, and music grads learn to program quickly.
Invest in Training and Development
I spent many years working in the semiconductor industry when it faced a labor shortage of skilled process engineers and equipment operators. We eventually devised training programs that took basic electrical engineers and developed them into capable process engineers. IBM trained thousands of programmers throughout the 1960s and 1970s to meet its huge needs. At the same time, IBM and other companies quietly worked with academic institutions to develop today’s academic computer curricula.
This training and development does not have to be the same type that a person would receive at an ordinary academic institution. In almost every case, corporate training can concentrate on skills needed right now and forego the theoretical, the basics, and the nice to have but not critical things. Whether or not a person goes back at some point to get those basics remains a question, but I believe that efficient training can address the labor shortage issue quickly.
I constantly argue for integrating staffing and development because I believe their functions are inextricably intertwined. It isn't easy to do one without doing the other.
Whether this is done through merging departments or whether it is done simply through good collaboration doesn't matter. What is critical is that there is a dialogue between the two functions.
Granted, we cannot train people for every job because many require experience and legally required certification or licenses. However, we could significantly lessen the labor shortage if we were willing to expand our job expectations and definitions.
Expand the Labor Pool
We usually only tap the workforce willing and able to work a normal workweek and be physically present most of the time. However, thousands of recently retired people and people who can only work remotely or have physical or mental challenges possess useful skills.
The greater workforce ecosystem is huge and largely untapped.
Influencing hiring managers has become a critical skill for recruiters. We must develop good personal relationships with them and build their trust in our data and judgment.
We must always consider whether the organization could train someone for the open position in a reasonable time or whether it would be better to spend the time and money on a search. We also need to ask if someone in the greater workforce has the skills we need. And we should consider whether this skill is only needed part-time or if we could automate it.
When management and recruiters develop a broader understanding of the issues and step up to the fact that, in many cases, skilled people are just not available at a reasonable cost, developing people becomes sensible and cost-effective.
There are few, if any, talent shortages. There are just shortages of imagination and an unwillingness to broaden the workforce, deconstruct work into more readily available skills, and provide training as needed.
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