David Smooke is a blogger’s best friend when they are blocked. He asked me to write about the “industry” so I asked him to define the industry for me. The title of this post is his definition.
I don’t share his definition, by the way, but I do think his definition is how those of us involved in any form of recruitment, staffing, hiring, or talent acquisition, should think about what we do.
There are plenty of people thinking about the opportunity side of the equation; that’s where the money is. But far too few of us really stop to consider the poor schmuck who is looking for a job. I am talking about the new college grad who has to start repaying loans in 6 months, and the single mom who needs someone to watch her kids while she goes to a networking event, and the 58 year old guy who was laid off after 20 years because he was too naive to read the signals that he needed to upgrade his skills, and the highly educated administrative assistant (premed at Stanford) who, although highly engaged with and committed to the company’s business, neglected to negotiate a fair salary and demand appreciation for her value to the firm.
There is a shortage of people who have the requisite skills for many positions open in this country. In this article, I will look specifically at jobs in IT, because I know it well. I believe the same issues occur in areas such as healthcare, skilled manufacturing, and services.
In my area, middle TN, specialized IT jobs are open for months. Employers wrestle with relocation and work visa challenges while those doing the work of IT wonder if they will be able to take a vacation. Those who lack skills try to find a way to get them, but the educational institutions teach dated and irrelevant skills. What is wrong with this picture?
In the meantime, “staffing” firms, internal recruiters, and agencies chase the same resumes on job boards and LinkedIn. They post positions everywhere they can think of. They make calls to people in their databases and ask for candidate referrals. Local candidates play musical cubicle and nothing really changes.
Many, if not most, would say that this is just a result of simple supply and demand. But, if there are plenty of people of average intelligence (the majority of us) who are willing and able to work, we should be able to acquire enough skills to do this work. When nearly everyone who is near a public library can access the internet, it should be easy to find out where we can go to learn something new that will help us get paid a reasonable wage.
Companies have contributed to this shortage. When some realized they could find cheap help desk talent in India and decided to outsource in droves, this dried up one avenue of apprenticeships or ways that people could learn on the job. It also discouraged people from pursuing these jobs because of concerns that once they did acquire the skills, they would be laid off anyway.
Now, one of my clients has international help desk support in the US, Europe and backup support in India. It’s a model that works well and the help desk is the primary entry point for people with minimal technical experience (a year or so) to get into a global company, build skills, and move into more demanding roles. This is great, but more entry points are needed. This scenario is what every IT manager I know goes through each time a key person leaves.
What are companies doing to address this problem?
They are forming talent communities to try and connect talent with their culture. I am not sure this is working as well as intended, but it is an interesting development.
There have always been college internships and entry level positions for recent grads.
But, what about people who aren’t in college? Many are able to do these jobs, with a little training.
What are staffing firms doing to address this problem? Could they partner with community colleges and/or training companies to train and test potential workers, then place them in entry level positions to gain some work experience?
All parties would have to give a little. Employees would need to accept lower wages than those with experience. Staffing companies would need to accept lower margins. Companies would need to invest in training people who aren’t actual employees, but, they could cherry pick the best and the brightest with minimal risks.
I’ve had discussions with local thought leaders who proclaim that the colleges in our area aren’t doing enough to provide relevant education. But, education is not the same as training. Someone pursuing a computer science degree is on a bit of a different path than someone who wants to learn how to maintain a computer network. I think the gap is in training opportunities. Companies aren’t training workers the way they used to.
When it comes to the build or buy decision, they’d rather buy. It’s perceived to be faster. But, as long as there is a huge gap between the demand for skills and the supply, the buy decision will work best for those with vast resources. The rest of us need to be resourceful and innovative as we find ways to equip people to become the talent we need to compete.
Those of us who comprise the “industry” need to propose and promote practical and workable solutions. One thing that will help is the educate job seekers on what they can do to be more competitive. No one is helpless; we are just woefully naïve and unaware of what our options might be. Since I am on my high horse here, I will put a stake in the ground and offer a series of three free one-hour Career Catalyst Audio Conferences to help job seekers. I would love to actually have a practical panel of experts. Who would like to partner with me on this?