7 Survival Strategies From Tomorrow's Talent Wars

As the economy recovers, hiring challenges will also return. Here's how to come out on top in the war for talent.
Writer, speaker, researcher, Wise Bread
August 04, 2011

At the last official count, over 14 million out of work Americans were actively seeking employment. While the official unemployment rate is just over 9 percent, over 16 percent of the labor force who would like to be working full time, aren’t. So why even think about labor shortages? Because in spite of what the numbers say, business owners are already feeling the pinch and all indications point to a full-on talent squeeze by the end of the decade.

According to Matt Ferguson, CEO of Career Builder, “More than one-third of human resource managers we surveyed said they currently have positions for which they can’t find qualified candidates.”

As we emerge from our economic woes, the hiring and retention problems that were key management concerns just a few years ago will return with a vengeance. The labor force dynamics that created the talent gap haven’t changed. While layoffs and business closures have added millions to the available labor pool, they did nothing to improve the quality of the labor force. If anything, the recession has added to the problem. Employees who’ve survived are burned out. At the depth of the recession, a survey by Right Management showed that 80 percent were either looking for another job or planning to jump ship when the economy improved.

Now is the time to act if you want to keep them on board and attract new talent. Here’s how.

1. Recognize the shift

You’ve no doubt heard that the workforce is aging (aren’t we all), but did you know that almost all the labor force growth over the next six years will be among those 55 and older?

While experts argue about how severe an impact the retiring Baby Boomers will have on employment, one thing’s for sure, there will be a lot more of them in the short run and a lot less of them in the long run. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they’ll account for about 24 percent of all workers by 2018 (up from just 18 percent in 2008).

It’s time to take an inventory of the Boomers around your office and think about how you’re going to keep them engaged in the years ahead. The promotions and accolades that drove them in the last decade are being replaced by thoughts of retirement and taking it easy.

At the same time, you need to plan for who will fill their shoes after they‘ve made their exit and the impact their leaving will have on recruitment, training, management styles, corporate intelligence and institutional memory.

2. Some industries will be harder hit than others

While the shift toward service industry jobs and away from manufacturing will continue, Career Builder is seeing the biggest talent deficits among cloud developers, registered nurses, manufacturing quality engineers, business analysts, truck drivers, SEO strategists, and health care administrators.

Further out on the horizon, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts huge growth in the demand for health care and social service providers, scientific and technical professionals, and administrative/support workers.

3. Become an employer of choice

In those industries where talent shortages are likely, employers will be fighting to hire and retain the best and the brightest. Your top talent will be tempted by better offers. If you don’t have a plan that sets you apart from other employers, you simply won’t be able to compete.

4. Be flexible

Technology now makes it possible to work anywhere, anytime. For employees of all ages, workplace flexibility is at the top of their wish list—a third say they’d even take a pay cut for the opportunity. Now is the time to make the management and structural changes that support a mobile workforce.

5. Weed out non-performers

Seemingly counter to a fix for labor shortages, getting rid of dead weight can help retain your best people. Under-performers demoralize their co-workers. Tolerating them sends a message to the rest of your staff that you don’t really value their good work.

6. Consider the changing needs of your employees

Issues your older employees paid little attention to a few years ago—health care, retirement, caring for aging parents—are now at the front of their minds. Good employers are finding ways to help them make the transition to this new phase of life.

7. Go global

Talent shortages are not global. Ireland, Scotland, India, the Philippines, and many other parts of the world are suffering from underutilization of talent. Even within the U.S., pockets of underutilized talent exist among rural residents, the disabled, military families, and others. Thanks to technology, the world is your labor pool.

Writer, speaker, researcher, Wise Bread