The Case for College Recruiting: Why It Makes Sense in a Down Economy

Charles Johns is a recruiter for a healthcare organization in California, one of the states hardest hit by this current recession. This has not changed, however, his need to find medical assistants and nurses for the understaffed hospitals and clinics in his organization. In fact, his organization is so concerned about the shortage of qualified talent that they are starting a training program to develop the talent they need. While the job market may have been a buyer’s market over the past couple of years, that is changing already. There are numerous professions where there is a shortage of skilled talent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These include medical technicians, systems analysts, home healthcare aides, database administrators, and many engineering specialties. Cities like Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, and Austin will have job growth of more than 20% over the next five years, which will exacerbate the job shortages for them and for the cities that people leave in search of jobs and affordable housing. What this means is that, with ramping retirements, an aging workforce, and a shortage of people with the skills needed by American businesses, we will face a labor shortage that will be severe and will cause many kinds of work to be exported to countries where there is skilled talent. We have seen the beginning of this with a number of programming jobs being exported to India and China. It is the age-old supply and demand equation that causes this. When supply of talent is relatively plentiful, jobs stay here. When the supply becomes constrained (and therefore expensive), the jobs go to the cheapest place where the supply exists. The only way to change this is to increase the supply of talent in the areas where it is needed. We have done a pitiful job of encouraging our youth to study the sciences, engineering, and medicine. About 21% of all the degrees given in 2000 were in business ó where there is a serious glut of talent and rampant unemployment. Another 10% of all bachelor degrees went to social science majors and 9% to education majors. All of the interviews I have seen on television or read in the newspapers about the plight of young college grads were focused on those with majors in business or the social sciences. I have not seen one story about an unemployed technical graduate. Over the same period from 1998 to 2000, the number of degrees conferred in math declined by 22% and those in engineering by 12%. Clearly, we have not done a good job of letting young people know that there are many good jobs in these fields, and that there will by many more over the next five years. Here are four things you can do to start taking advantage of and encouraging the kind of potential talent that exists in colleges right now. 1. Determine what skills your organization will need the most of over the next two to three years. Spend some time talking to supervisors, hiring managers and senior-level executives so that you have a good picture of what kinds of people they expect to hire or would most like to hire. Then see how many of these people you can readily identify in your talent pool. If you were required to hire some of these people today, would you have them available at an affordable price? If so, you may not need to worry about college recruiting. But if you find yourself short of good candidates or can only find expensive ones, you may want to think again about where the talent you need will come from. While some managers balk at hiring inexperienced people, they may be more inclined to think about it when they see what a shortage there is of experienced talent or at the price they have to pay for it. A number of firms I have worked with have found that within a year of their hire, most college grads are performing at the same level as a person with three to five years of experience. Well-designed training programs and good orientation or induction programs can further shorten the learning curve. In short, for the money spent, a college hire is a hell of a deal! 2. Promote your needs on campus. As you read above, we have not really done much to encourage people to major in science or engineering. We glamorize business majors and many MBAs get profiled in magazines or in the annual reports. We rarely profile our top engineers, and many software gurus are only gurus in their own realm. We need to take a proactive stance on campus and let everyone know that we care about engineering grads, science grads, math grads or whatever. We can profile success stories, talk about patents and awards, show the students the equipment or software they will be able to work with in your organization, and paint an exciting picture of what it is like to be a scientist or engineer. The biotech world has the ability to show how lives can be enriched or even saved by the advances in medicine and biogenetics. Most technical and engineering positions have an affect on our lives and this can be motivating for a young person in college who is deciding on a course for their life. 3. Educate in the high schools. A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA showed that a record 8.5% of college freshman in 2001 were unsure of their major. This is up from only 1.7% who were unsure in 1966. Most college counselors know almost nothing about the jobs available in industry. I have talked with counselors in schools that are located in the same community as high-tech firms who did not know that these firms hired electrical engineers or mathematicians. I think all of us in recruiting have the responsibility to make sure that high school counselors, teachers, and students are at least somewhat aware of what jobs are available in our organizations and what education is required to get those jobs. We can only reap what we sow, and we are not doing enough to promote our needs and to encourage students in high school and in college to major in fields we need. 4. Sell internally. It is our responsibility, however difficult, to encourage our firms to take a longer view picture of what a well-balanced workforce might look like. We do need a certain number of experienced people to make decisions and to get things done efficiently, but we also need some people who bring in new ideas and have creative and innovative approaches to some of the things that experienced people are unwilling to consider. A balance of the experienced and the new, the risk adverse and the risk takers, and the thinkers and the doers is vital to any healthy organization. Too many of either and you can be in trouble, as the youthful dot-coms showed us and the sclerotic IBM almost did. We as recruiters have to sell these concepts and show, with facts and statistics why a college program is almost always a good idea, a good investment, and a prudent way to stay youthful.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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