Mar 21, 2013

bigstock-Jump-7475814CEOs are frustrated. According to a ManpowerGroup survey, 34% of companies are experiencing difficulty filling mission-critical positions. Paradoxically, the Department of Labor reports that 12.3 million people are still unemployed. And so here we sit, asking ourselves, why are we struggling to find the talent?

Welcome to the Great Talent Gap of the 21st Century

In an article for, Keith Cline wrote, “The demand for top-tier engineering talent sharply outweighs the supply in almost every market, especially in San Francisco, New York, and Boston. This is a major, major pain point and problem that almost every company is facing, regardless of the technology ‘stack’ their engineers are working on.”

If you’re a hiring manager or a recruiter in the trenches, you’re not seeing a way out of it any time soon  You may need a production manager who knows calculus, or an experienced software developer, or a technology strategist with cloud-based computing experience; and you need them yesterday. Oh and, by the way, you need them at a “competitive salary” (i.e., the lowest wage possible).

To begin to close the gap, we first need to recognize that the talent gap of the 21st century is made up of smaller fissures. Second, we need to understand the interrelated economic and organizational forces which formed these cracks. And lastly, we need to get started now.

The Real Wage Gap

Average hourly earnings for all private workers only increased by 1.3% as measured at the end of 2012. However, when factoring in inflation at 2.2%, real wage “growth” is at 0.9%. But here’s the big gap, according to Bloomberg TV: Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at all-time highs of 12%, whereas wages as a percent of GDP at all-time lows of 2%. And according to Bloomberg contributor Gina Martin Adams of Wells Fargo, companies (in the S&P 500) are sitting on nearly four trillion dollars in cash playing it safe in these uncertain economic times.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Review your compensation policy regularly to make sure it is properly aligned with the business strategy, revenues, and labor market. Is it enough, when combined with your other compensation elements, to attract top talent?
  • Recognize success and successful practices and reward them.
  • Build intrinsic value in your organization through your work culture. Just as with your products and services — know what your labor market wants and find a way to provide it.

The STEM Gap

Not enough college grads are going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to meet the ever-increasing demand. According to, by 2020 there will be one million more U.S. jobs than students learning how to code. Start closing this gap by:

  • Becoming involved as an organization with STEM initiatives at high school, junior high, and grade school levels.
  • Check out the STEM Challenge as an example of making STEM fun.
  • Communicate and collaborate with educators and policy makers on what aptitudes are important.

The Learning Gap

Technological change continues to outpace individual knowledge and skills improvement. It is encouraging to see that companies on average are getting the message and investing more in learning. A Deloitte study reports that U.S. training organizations grew their spending by 12% in 2012.

  • Continue to invest in learning initiatives. Corporate learning doesn’t have to be expensive, especially with knowledge workers who tend to be passionate about learning anyway. Just give them time, access, encouragement, and learning goals which align with the goals of the business.

The Skills Gap

Recruiters and hiring managers continue to rely on mediocre and/or inflexible position descriptions which focus too heavily on skills and experiences (requirements) and not enough on applicant performance and potential.  Here’s how to fill the gap:

  • Stop focusing on skills and experiences as requirements for a successful candidate.
  • Define top performance in your career descriptions.
  • Interview for passion, aptitudes, and demonstrated previous performance, which is the best indicator of future success. Check out Hire with Your Head by Lou Adler and Lou’s new e-book, Hiring and Getting Hired.
  • Re-write boring job descriptions to make them performance focused and compelling. Those writing the description need to ask themselves, “If I was happily employed elsewhere, why would I entertain an offer from this company?”

The Sourcing Gap

Recruiters and hiring managers have relied extensively on the crutch of traditional online job boards and post-and-pray methods to source talent. Bridging this talent gap starts at the crossroads of in-person and online networks.

  • Embrace technology as a means to connecting with people and not the final fix-all.
  • Take advantage of positives about your brand while working on the negatives.
  • Become an effective marketer as well as a likeable, helpful, well-connected recruiter. Also, include and train hiring managers to leverage their networks in sourcing talent.

The Workplace Gap

Organizations (especially legacy businesses) have been slow to embrace flexible work arrangements and the technologies to support a mobile workforce. Bridging this gap starts with assessing management and employee readiness and, if ready, it evolves toward workforce management training, coaching, and continued monitoring of the program, making adjustments along the way.

  • Don’t be a Yahoo! The idea that collaboration can only take place by the water cooler is as parochially industrial as the notion that if your butt is not in the seat, you must not be working very hard.
  • Embrace and organize technological solutions.
  • Provide training for your managers that teaches them how to manage remotely — how to set goals, communicate and collaborate with, and involve remote workers.
  • Implement successful remote working practices as part of the overall performance management plan.
  • Start with small pilot groups and show success by metrics to upper management.

You can use surveys for new hires and hiring managers about their experience during the recruiting process. You can also review sourcing metrics to see how many new hires and applicants came to you through your website or other means versus you reaching out to them. How many were referred to you by employees or outside referrals?  Is the number going up? Are fewer employees turning over?

As you begin to fill one or more of these gaps, you’ll find that improvement in one area will support progress in another.

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