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The job pool is drying up


There are lots of people looking for work and yet a startling lack of the candidates you need.  To carry the aquatic metaphor a step too far, I offer the line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

“Water, water every where and not a drop to drink.....”

Current 8 percent unemployment generally recognized to be closer to 18 percent suggests an ample pool of ready candidates, available when it’s time to add jobs.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The growing skills gap coupled with a declining “work ethic” means that your ability to successfully recruit and retain is a must-have.

Jeff Joerres is the CEO of ManpowerGroup, a $22 billion staffing company (that’s with a B).  He says the skills gap is growing as technology is changing jobs from the hospital ward to the factory floor. In Rich Karlgaard’s March 12th column in Forbes, Joerres says part of this gap results from the bias against trade schools. This has left us short on electricians, plumbers and medical technicians.

Another example of a growing talent gap is in high school and college-age students. In short, the highs are higher and the lows, lower. Many metropolitan high schools now have graduation rates under 60 percent. That 40 percent aren’t going to be in the relevant labor pool. Simultaneously the competition to enter big league four-year colleges is tougher than ever. Wait-lists abound even as credentials and SAT scores for this cohort rise.

The “right people for your bus” shortage is not just a skills gap per se. If you’re an employer you’ve already witnessed a change in the “work ethic” once assumed at our core.  Charles Murray documents this in his latest book Coming Apart.  “Industriousness” has declined precipitously over the last fifty years. Murray describes a new upper class and a new lower class whose core values have diverged over time from the more universal views once held about work, family, religion and duty.

What can be the impact of getting the right people? Under Jack Welch, GE had a strategy that he described as “Less people, paid more, with a lower total wage cost.” The Container Store believes that one great person’s productivity equals that of three average people. Costco (in 2007) had a lower cost of labor as a percentage of sales while paying its people 38 percent more per hour than Sam’s Club. They also had lower employee turnover with sales per square foot 50 percent higher than Sam’s.

Connecting the dots between a growing skill gap and your company’s fortunes, your success will be increasingly predicated on finding and keeping “A” players.  Even if you’re not hiring today, get started now because the talent gap is here and it’s real.

Action steps

Start with an assessment of your own people
•Think first about those who report to you. Ask yourself, “If I had it to do over, would I enthusiastically rehire that person?” If not, why? Is it a question of performance or a “fit” issue around your company’s values?

Take the temperature of your staff
•Do an assessment of your culture. One caveat. Get some help on this as there’s a science to it. There are a number of great tools out there. (One is the Performance Insights™ employee survey that is designed for small and medium sized businesses with smaller budgets).

Improve your hiring process
•Learn how to do behavioral based interviewing. Stop using your gut. The numbers prove that intuition alone doesn’t work. Augment your interviewing process with proven assessment tools. They are plentiful and now reasonably priced.

Start job benchmarking
•Before you ever begin looking at candidates use a benchmarking process to define the job’s key accountabilities. Again there are tools available like TTI’s Performance DNA™ which we use.

Build your bench strength
•If you don’t have resources internally, bring in a coach or advisor to implement a development plan. Don’t be caught short when a key player leaves or retires.

The right people are out there but you’ll have to work harder and in new ways to find them as top tier people becoming increasingly scarce.

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Tom Krekel

Tom Krekel is an independent business coach with Gazelles International. He came to business advisory work from a background as a business owner and CEO for more than 30 years. His companies have ranged from start-ups to mid-market enterprises. Tom’s primary interest is with the challenges specific to entrepreneurial growth companies.  His company’s website is www.FullSailStrategies.com. (303) 827-2404


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