CWS 3.0: June 13, 2012

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Quality: Solving the Labor Market Paradox

Unemployment remains stubbornly high in the U.S. as the economy lurches forward in a not-so-promising recovery. Even in this environment, ManpowerGroup reports that about half of U.S. employers are “having difficulty filling jobs,” according to its recently released “2012 Talent Shortage Survey.”

Melanie Holmes, Manpower Group NA’s VP of World of Work Solutions, is in many ways correct to suggest that “We’re right in the middle of a labor market paradox.” But she is also quick to point out that there are many identifiable causes, and we are really dealing with a potentially solvable problem and not an irresolvable paradox.

No doubt many HR departments and workforce buyers are vigorously asking and examining these questions: “What is the nature of the deficiency problem for our own business and industry?” and “What can we do about it?” Each organization is focused on its own talent management and talent acquisition strategy to compete against other firms in the markets (both the markets they serve as businesses and the labor markets they source from).

Certainly talent management and growing internal talent is one part of a solution to this problem. However, organizations’ talent acquisition strategies and tactics (compensation, recruiting performance, new technology, contingent workforce management, etc.) will reach limits. So ultimately the problem becomes not simply gaining access to the applicable knowledge and skills in the right forms, but whether or not the desired knowledge and skills exist (have been developed) at all — anywhere.

In waging the “war for talent,” companies are competing for scarce resources in what will be a zero-sum game if the pools of critically needed knowledge and skills are not increased.  Consequently, it may be necessary for many companies to expand their “talent growth perspective,” which generally includes employee retention strategies, internal training and development programs, and talent “acquisition” tactics. 

“Talent growth perspectives” may need to look more extensively outside of the firm in a more strategic and longer-term direction — namely, working more collaboratively further upstream in the talent supply chain to have an impact on how talent is developed (with what could be a lead time measured in years).  This does not necessarily mean influencing the development of specific skills with pin-point accuracy, but ensuring that likely needed types of competencies are developed and needed types of roles are prepared for. A good example of this might be supporting the development of STEM type professionals to eventually fill fast-growing work areas/roles such as “data scientist.” Here is another example of it actually happening in Pennsylvania.    

This might seem like a bit of a pipe dream (just like solving a paradox), but if one looks at the dramatic changes — often technology-supported — that are beginning to occur in the education sector (e.g., more — and even free — online classes; increasing post-secondary certifications done online in lieu of traditional college degrees, etc.) and the potential to integrate skill development and skill assessment with a feedback loop (one perhaps supported by talent-hungry organizations), then new possibilities start to emerge.  And such a world may not be so far off.

Perhaps therefore the real challenge for social innovation and securing talent may not be developing it inside of our firms or in hunting outside with “talent collection/acquisition” tactics, but in reimagining and redefining models of collaboration and signaling upstream in the traditionally disconnected talent supply chain (labor intermediaries, public governing entities, educational institutions, workers and students, individuals and families) upon which our firms’ existence and performance depend.

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