Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The talent gap

Even in difficult economic times, companies worldwide are finding hiring and retaining talented staff a challenge. Has your business got the human touch?

The talent gap

What is the most valuable asset in your business? For almost every company, it’s not working capital or the technology you use (though they certainly help), but the people who work for you. Without their talent, you lack the drive to innovate and operate efficiently. And nowhere is that truer than within the supply chain, where highly specialized roles need a variety of experienced, flexible workers.

But companies across the world are finding that despite record numbers of people searching for jobs (the International Labor Organization projected a global unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent in 2011), finding the right person is more challenging than ever. Manpower’s global 2011 survey of employers found that 34 per cent had struggled to fill positions due to lack of available talent.

The report notes: “While the global economic downturn may have masked the talent shortage for several years, the global recovery has made the strains of the talent shortage more evident, as organizations that cut back staff are discovering they need more of the right people in place to move forward.”

It is a situation that Alison Bending, Global Talent Manager at DHL, understands all too well. “The skills involved in our industry are very specialist,” she says. “We can’t hire someone who doesn’t know their stuff or we lose credibility.” And with multinationals working across oceans and time zones, the search for talent is a truly global issue. “In BRIC countries, there is a real war for talent,” says Bending. “It’s a competitive labor market with a general shortage of experienced managers available locally.”

However, while sending expats out to solve the issue might seem like a good idea, Bending says companies should think carefully. “It’s not sustainable to continually send out expat managers. Set time limits: parachute people in for a short time to help local talent develop. You need to build from the bottom up.” Or think innovatively: agri-business Cargill has dealt with its recruitment problem in new markets by hiring managers in China, training them in the US and sending them back to their home country to lead Cargill’s operations there.

According to Manpower’s report (which cites Japan as home to the world’s greatest skills deficit), some of the most difficult positions to fill are those of highly specialized technicians and engineers. So it’s not surprising that many companies are choosing to overcome the skills gap by focusing on internal professional development.

“The business challenge is future-proofing,” says Bending. “However tight your budget, you need to think about what skills the company will need in future and invest in them ahead of time.” Encouraging professional development will also help retain staff by increasing engagement – and losing people is a costly business: a 2010 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that staff turnover costs the UK around US$66bn a year. For DHL, launching a resourcing centre (covering the UK and Ireland) has helped the company promote internally, key for lowering turnover. Since launch, the company has seen a four-fold rise in internal applicants for vacancies and now fills about 80 per cent of roles from within its ranks.

Overall, transparency and accountability are crucial both for attracting the best new staff and retaining employees. As Jeffrey Joerres, CEO of Manpower, says: “You have to engage very quickly and get people on board – meaning a shared vision, accountability and clear directions.”

DHL has introduced a global ‘Employer Value Proposition’, a guideline to company branding and recruiting and professional development best practice, to help make sure that its 500,000 employees worldwide are on the same page.  “It’s important to share regional best practice,” says Bending. “You need visibility across all countries. Whatever the company’s size, consistency is so important.” 

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