Candidate Shortages - Here To Stay?

The impending "war for talent" has arrived. For the last few years, we have been warned by the Department of Labor, economists, politicians and the like that a candidate shortage was forthcoming. We are now here. Employers are currently in serious competition to attract, bring on board and retain the best and brightest workforce for their organizations.

Why the shortage? Baby Boomers, the largest generation of workers in recent history, have begun to retire, leaving talent drainage in the overall workforce. Subsequent generations are less populous and do not have the same number of employees to fill the shoes of the departing workers. Furthermore, Generation "X" and Generation "Y" employees are often fulfilling non-traditional roles and are less interested in leadership positions than the previous two generations. The "X" and "Y" Generation workforces by and large are more interested in work-life balances than their predecessor generations. So, the question is, who is going to fill those leadership roles?

The current talent pool is and will continue to be unable to meet the requirements or expectations of most employers. Aside from the retiring Baby Boomers, other reasons have been cited that have contributed to the dearth of qualified workers. For example, questions have arisen whether our education system is adequately preparing our young workers to compete in a global environment.

Immigration is another factor contributing to the labor shortage. Over the last several years, employment visa availability has been cut drastically. Furthermore, post 9/11, the rigorous immigration processes that have been put into place have served as a deterrent for potential candidates to even apply.

So, what is the solution? It was thought in recent years that global outsourcing could be a viable answer to combating our current labor shortage. However, outsourcing is not the complete answer to the problem. The advancing economies in both India and China, where the majority of outsourcing has been performed, has stirred up competition for quality labor in those countries as well.

Right now the best answer is to be creative in your own recruiting and retention strategies in order to find and keep the best talent. You must proactively pursue qualified candidates through networking, referrals and the use of trusted recruiters. It is also imperative to take a strategic approach to recruiting by looking long term and not just at the "here and now." What talent do you anticipate needing in the next 6, 12, 18 and 24 months? Start your process of seeking talent in advance of the actual need. Seeking the right candidate can prove to be a time-consuming process. It may take some patience but you must give your organization enough time to proactively seek out qualified candidates.

Additionally, allow your outside recruiters to become an integral part of your strategic staffing team. Good recruiters are an invaluable resource for finding talent in the marketplace and keeping their finger on the pulse of the employment landscape. They can also assist in branding your organization. Allowing your recruiters "inside" to understand the strategies, goals and inner workings of your organization will enable them to be better "salespeople" on your behalf. Remember that recruiting is selling. Top performers who have the capability to make a significant contribution to an organization must be proactively identified, approached and attracted to your organization. A good recruiter can help your firm "get noticed."

Be creative in whom you actually hire. Consider hiring mature, experienced workers who are retired or semi-retired to handle projected shortages. Not only are these folks extremely valuable for their years of expertise and often transferable skills, they are extremely loyal and motivated employees. Furthermore, they could serve as terrific training resources for younger members of your team. They are often exceptional mentors.

If you have not already done so, you must also begin to consider part-time talent. There is a population of extremely talented workers who need a flexible schedule, often due to family commitments. Many of these talented individuals would consider returning to the workforce if the flexibility was afforded to them.

Retention is equally, if not more important since the resources to hire new staff are costly from both a dollar and time management perspective. You must offer competitive compensation and benefits, creative perks, appreciation and respect for contributions by your staff, as well as educational opportunities to enhance personal and professional growth. Peer mentorship programs are another benefit that costs little but have a tremendous impact. Flexibility is also key. As mentioned above, the "X" and "Y" Generations are focused on quality of life issues. It is therefore imperative for employers to recognize this and provide opportunities for work-life balance. Stability is also important. Employees and prospective employees want to work for well-established, stable environments that provide opportunity for career growth.

The candidate shortage is here to stay for quite some time. Employers must be prepared in their efforts to compete for the best qualified talent in the marketplace. Creativity in hiring and retention plans will be pivotal to your success in winning the candidate game. Utilizing networking and referral efforts, along with the help of recruiters as your strategic hiring partners, will better position you for winning the war for talent.

Published September 1, 2007.