Saying You Can’t Find Talent Is Like Saying You Can’t Find Anything to Watch on TV

Feb 5, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 2.09.21 PMAs a child living in a rural area, I had but three, maybe four channels when the weather cooperated, to watch. Installing cable down our very long lane was not economically sensible, and my father sure wasn’t going to install one of those monstrous satellite dishes in the yard. So we watched network television through the slumping antennae on our roof and ignored the fuzzy lines that appeared on the screen whenever we ran the microwave. Despite my limited viewing capability, I could always find something for my viewing pleasure. Flash forward 25 years and I now have 150+ channels in addition to dozens upon dozens of DVDs from which to choose. Problem is, I can’t find anything I want to watch half the time.

Limit my choices and I can decide on something. Give me too many choices and I constantly search for what has got to be something better out there. The current so-called “talent shortage” mirrors this conundrum. For those not familiar with this idea of a talent shortage, it is born from the fact that 49% of current U.S. employers, according to a study conducted by Manpower, cannot find qualified people for their open positions. When you hear this statistic you perhaps jump to the conclusion that if companies can’t find qualified people, then qualified people must not exist. Hence, a talent shortage must exist.

This is flawed thinking. 

What may actually be occurring is employers keep flipping the channel hoping to find something better to watch. Here’s an example. Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton, relates a story of hiring ineptitude on this very topic. A staffing department trying to fill a standard engineering position was unable to identify one qualified applicant out of 25,000! Do you really believe not one viable candidate existed out of 25,000?  Another story is of a software developer being denied a position because he didn’t have two years of experience using a simple database tool he could have learned in a couple of hours.

Cappelli points to several reasons for the so-called talent shortage. He suggests:

  1. Employers want candidates to fit their roles perfectly similar to replacing a part in a washing machine … something Cappelli describes as the Home Depot effect.
  2. Qualified candidates are consistently eliminated sight unseen by strict requirements programmed into applicant tracking systems.
  3. The glut of available, skilled, unemployed people have made it easier to hire whoever you want and so less sophistication has been placed on recruiting, selecting, and retaining employees as had been decades earlier.
  4. Companies want superstar employees with low salary requirements.
  5. Companies are less willing to train like in the old days. Why pay to train a candidate only to have them hired away by a competitor who avoids the expense?

The recent Manpower survey corroborates point number four, as 11% of employers reported that applicants were unwilling to work at their offered wages.

I myself as a recruiter have experienced the frustration of placing engineers, one of the positions that Manpower says talent is allegedly scarce. Finding the talent, especially when relocation assistance is offered and I can search through several states or countries, has not been difficult.  Trying to find a candidate that matches at least 20 out of 21 of the necessary and preferred requirements has challenged me more. Even if the candidate matches most of the requirements and is a great fit culturally, the hiring manager shrugs and flips that channel. “Let’s see what else is out there.”

As a recruiter you might wonder, “Why ask me to fill the position if you are content to leave it vacant even when supplied with capable candidates?”

Cappelli points out that there is a cost with leaving positions vacant, but the cost is difficult to measure. The benefits of not paying a salary however are much more obvious.

This begs the question as to whether employers are really that serious about hiring in the first place. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.7 million jobs are currently available in the U.S. Though many will be filled in the coming months as new ones open, a core of unfilled vacancies will remain and continue to taunt the unemployed worker.

With so many skilled, college-educated people searching for jobs, do you really believe a talent shortage exists? Would it make sense if I told you that among 25,000 channels I couldn’t find one thing entertaining enough to watch? Sounds pretty far fetched doesn’t it? Perhaps I just don’t really want to watch TV.


photo: Brian Day, for NASA

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