The combination of ageing workforces in the West and intense demand for skilled workers in developing nations has created a global talent crunch that could in time rival the financial credit crunch for its effect on the ability of firms to function and expand.
A survey of nearly 5,000 managers and executives by the U.S-based Boston Consulting Group and the World Federation of Personnel Management Associations has identified managing and retaining talent as the critical challenge uniting HR professionals and managers around the world.
In response, companies would be more likely in future to see recruitment as a global issue rather than something that is managed country by country.
There would also be an ever greater emphasis on chasing talent around the world, with companies moving operations to wherever there was a supply of talented people, something that the survey forecast would be the most rapidly growing HR trend from now until 2015.
While all the headlines may be focused on the impact of the credit crunch on the ability of companies to expand, and in particular to raise funds for public flotations, the talent crunch could be just as serious, it warned.
Managing talent would remain at or near the top of executive agendas in every region and industry for the foreseeable future, it forecast.
It was also the most important HR challenge in nine of the 17 countries analysed in depth, including the U.S, Australia, Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom.
It was at least in the top three in 14 of all 17 countries, a reflection of increasing globalisation and competition, argued the survey.
"It may become harder to recruit and retain talented employees than to raise money in an IPO," warned Rainer Strack, a BCG partner and one of the report's authors.
"In the West, workforces are greying, while in developing markets, companies have an unquenchable thirst for skilled employees. Creating a 'people advantage' will increasingly translate into competitive advantage," he added.
Other key, and related, issues included improving leadership development and managing work-life-balance, the survey found.
Frances Wilson, international adviser at the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "Global talent shortages loom, even in these turbulent economic times, and companies must take steps now if they hope to address these shortages.
"To fully exploit global, highly skilled professionals, companies should source their talent throughout the world," she added.