War for talent isn't over

May 29 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

The war for talent has not gone away, it's just become a bit more muffled amid all the noise of the recession, new research has suggested.

In fact, nearly a third of managers worldwide Ė 30 per cent Ė say they are still struggling to fill key positions, with skilled sales people and technical staff in shortest supply.

According to the latest "talent shortage" survey of nearly 39,000 employers worldwide by recruitment firm Manpower, skilled manual tradespeople, sales reps, technical workers, engineers and good managers and executives all remain frustratingly hard to come by.

"Despite high levels of unemployment in many markets, this year's talent survey suggests a mismatch between the type of individuals available for work and the specific skills that employers are looking for," said Jeffrey A Joerres, chairman and chief executive of Manpower.

"In an environment where companies are pressured to shift their mindset to think more strategically and creatively about how to do more with less, the same approach is being applied to how they manage their talent," he added.

"Employers are looking for ways to accelerate their business strategy with fewer people. It's this specificity of skills required in the individuals that employers are now seeking that is creating a sense of talent shortage amidst an overabundant pool of available workers. This conundrum is frustrating both employers and individuals," he continued.

Countries with the most problems in this area included Romania, Taiwan, Peru, Japan, Australia and Costa Rica, the survey concluded.

In the Americas, 36 per cent of employers said they were having difficulty filling positions because of a lack of suitable talent available, up a full eight percentage points on Manpower's 2008 survey and six percentage points greater than the global average. Skilled technical workers were in most short supply, as were, intriguingly, accounting and finance positions.

By comparison, in the UK, a tenth of employers said they were facing difficulties.

What the recession was doing was simply masking ongoing, underlying trends and demographic shifts, argued Joerres.

"Employers need to revisit their talent assessment process to focus on leadership qualities, as possessing the technical or functional skill sets for a job is the price of admission; but to be successful in a given role, it's the individuals that also have a flexible and collaborative mindset to work across countries and cultures that get the job," he emphasises.

"The importance of an organisation's employer brand will become more critical as companies continue to adjust and align their workforce to prepare for the next cycle," he added.

And training and development, so often the first casualty of any downturn, needed either to be retained or quickly brought back into the equation if employers were to have any hope of keep and talent they had when the upturn came.

"This downturn signifies how an agile workforce strategy is required to attract and retain the talent that a company needs in order to achieve its business strategy," said Joerres.

The survey is just the latest to stress the need for managers and employers to be starting to move out of survival mode and starting to position themselves for the upturn.

In April, management guru Suzanne Bates argued that managing for recovery needed to moving up the executive priority list, while consultancies such as Watson Wyatt and Vistage have been consistency highlighting growing levels of optimism.