What war for talent?

Apr 28 2008 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

A new report has just come out of the 10 hardest jobs for recruiters to fill and it's plenty interesting. First, according to a blogpost from the recruiter ManPower comes this list:

  1. Engineers
  2. Machinists/Machine Operators
  3. Skilled Trades
  4. Technicians
  5. Sales Reps
  6. Accounting and Finance Staff
  7. Mechanics
  8. Laborers
  9. IT Staff
  10. Production Operators

Now, put this in perspective with what we've been hearing about how there's a war for talent. We constantly hear that there aren't enough people out there, and it's about to get worse. I beg to differ.

I think what we have here, as Mrs. Armstrong, my old English Composition teacher (and bÍte noir) would say, is a sentence fragment. What they really mean to say is:

  • There aren't enough people able to work for what we want to pay them
  • There aren't enough people who want to do this crummy job under these conditions.
  • There aren't enough people we can pull off the street and drop into the job without having to invest anything in their training.
  • There aren't enough people to bring up from the ranks because we fired everyone in a Six Sigma lean frenzy and we're spending all our money bringing them back as consultants.

The point is, there's very little on that list that a little more time, money, or forethought (mostly forethought) wouldn't cure. No, I think there are some really tough jobs out there that would be much harder to fill. 2008 Olympic Torch carrier, for example: low pay, hostile crowds, unenforced safety conditions, hazardous materials and that's even BEFORE you get to China.

As a hiring manager, I've often been in situations where I couldn't find someone to fill the role as it is imagined. Usually one of two things happens- we raised the pay or we lowered the admission standards and hoped we found the moldable raw talent to come in at what we were paying. One of these was exponentially more successful.

Is it me or is it rather ridiculous to demand experience on machinery, for example, that didn't exist five years ago? As anyone who's watched me with lawn equipment knows, I'm no machine operator but it seems that if I have worked an Acme 310, I can probably handle the Acme 311. Just give me a couple of weeks and someone who can tell me where the coffee machine is.

Instead the nice lady in HR looks at the resume, doesn't see Acme 311 experience and immediately gets on the phone to a recruiter in Bucharest.

Study after study shows that there is a direct connection between tenure at a company and the opportunities afforded workers. An internal apprenticeship program would almost guarantee a proven worker would stay with the company and have a less expensive learning curve than someone coming in off the street but you'd have to look long and hard for those kinds of opportunities.

Instead they keep waiting for the government (the country is irrelevant here) to solve the problem and create freshly minted graduates who are lining up for the jobs.

The Government. I'll wait while you write your own joke... it's too easy.

There are plenty of people who can work in a warehouse. They probably even want to - but a criminal conviction or a bad drug test means you're trying to get that nice kid from Harvard to apply. Good luck with that. Hey, I've worked in warehouses. Use of most drugs during non-working hours is no hindrance. It might even be compulsory.

There is a problem, to be sure, but there's no real war for talent. Remember how you staff up for real wars? You take young people off the street with no experience and minimum requirements. You train them, feed them, give them benefits and the advice of an older, experienced (albeit loud and sometimes mean) worker to coach them. Pay is low but steady.

In very short order they can do the minimum required and in a little longer become good enough to command new recruits themselves. It's worked for centuries.

I submit it is harder to convince those picky "Gen Y" ers to take a hill with a bayonet and a rocket launcher than it is to use the Acme 311, but only one of those options is offering opportunities these days.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.