Talent Management: 6 Ways to Approaching Talent Shortages


This post is inspired by a 30 March, 2011 article in the National Post titled “Tech labour Crunch Looming in Canada” by Jameson Berkow, pages FP1 and 5. The article reviews a study by the Information and communication Technology Council that details the attributes of the looming shortfall (106,000 openings) issue for the next five years. This post will consider how we can conceptually think about dealing with such issues by entertaining six (6) strategic (non exclusive) options.

The talent issue is with finding talent that has five – seven years experience. This paying attention to the quality not just the quantity concern:

“The people with five to seven years experience just don’t exist anymore because we didn’t hire them five years ago. The jobs have changes and people that we need for them have changed.” (Paul Swinwood, CEO of ICTC)

The obvious implication of this situation is it puts in jeopardy the economic recovery in the country.

The traditional sources for replacement (technology schools and immigrants) are no longer doing enough. Complementing this circumstance is the fact that females are fundamentally under represented in the workforce (25%).

So how do we begin to think and act our way out of this dilemma?

I will outline six basic strategic options. I suspect that all six will have to be used to one degree or other if we are to be successful in substantively reducing this TM issue.

First: the most conventional – invest in making the field more attractive.

This is the choice of improving the “brand” of the work and the firms providing it.

It will mean:

  • Looking to see how we can improve the inflow of immigrants with these skills.
  • Looking at how to make the field more attractive for females. Not only for entry but also staying in it long enough to develop the wisdom (five to seven years of experience) we are looking for.
  • Looking at improving the capacity of educational institutions to annually graduate increased numbers of trained people.
  • Looking at making the providers of work (the firms and organizations) attractive employers.

What this strategy does not do s to meet the short term needs for skilled talent.

Second: Invest in reducing the need for the numbers (i.e., reduce the 106,000 number)

This means being crystal clear where we absolutely need the “wisdom” and where we can get by without it (or at least less of it). This means considering the current structure of roles and and how work gets done through them.

The net effect is we increase (hopefully significantly) the productivity of the scarcest and most precious of technical talent. An example I have observed is the use of Pharmacists in drug stores. by focusing where Pharmacist talent is absolutely requisite and where it is not (at least directly), pharmacy outlets have been able to increase the productivity of their Pharmacists without jeopardizing public health.

This option will directly address the short (and long term needs) regarding being able to draw upon experienced talent. This also provides some level of bridging while option 1 above gets rolling.

Third: invest in “hothouse” talent wisdom development

This means looking at the whole process by which talent becomes experienced and develops maturity and wisdom. Malcolm Gladwell in his book titled “Outliers” provides very powerful insights into what it takes to develop top flight talent. He discusses how it is the amount of hours spent doing practice that makes the most apparent difference between the best and the “rest”. He suggests that a consistent observation across many fields of endeavour is that the best have invested close to 10,000 hours of practice.

The insight for us, is how can we fast track the experience through practice effort? Why does it take four years for a typical engineer to become registered? Why does it take three – four years for a technologist to become fully proficient? It does because we have determined that they need this period to get sufficient experiential practices in.

Can we find a way to shorten or intensify this development process? I argue that it is in our best interests to do so. As obvious as it should be, I am not advocating an change that weakens the quality of the outcome (I personally would push for improving the quality of the outcome).

Success means we can access just as good if not better talent with three to five years experience.

Fourth: Reduce the need through changing how we involve our customers

We need the talent we need, because in part we have established the line between what we do and what our customers do. We only need to look at what has happened in retail and the home renovations market to see how things have changed.

Examining how customers can be involved in different ways may open up possibilities where we can reduce the amount of investment we need to make in this scarce talent. Or at least put it to better use.

This option like the following ones deal with our sense of organizational identity: who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

Readers of this BLOG will appreciate I am outlining in a specific way the concept of system permeability (what’s inside/outside our operating model system).

Fifth: Reduce the need through changing how we involve our suppliers

This is similar to the fourth option above it just looks at the input sid of our operating model system.

Here again, we can see how others have done this. an example is Chrysler where they have over the years moved to using Magma to build partially assembled vehicle bodies. Apart from reducing the cost of manufacturing, Chrysler also was able to change its overall profile of technical talent that it needed.

Every input has to be processed in order to be developed into the product that gets sold. If we change the degree, nature, amount of processing in an area that demands scarce talent we can make the talent we have go further and put it to better use.

Sixth: Reduce the complexity of the work so we don’t need the same level of talent

This option often gets involved with the two directly above. It is a a rethinking how do what we do (even why) with the express intent of reducing complexity, increasing reliability, etc. Changes coming out of these efforts change the profile (what, quality, quantity, where, etc.) of talent we need internally.

An example from the fast food industry was where the talent issue was keeping a stable supply of trained cashiers. No matter what they tried (and they tried numerous things) the chain couldn’t.  It wasn’t until the question was asked: “Why do we need cashiers anyway?”

Taking payments. Yes of course. AND, taking orders.

Coming out of this inquiry, the chain put ATM like kiosks in place. This meant that option four above was incorporated and the customer dealt with their order and payment directly. The result?

  • more accurate order filling
  • faster order filling
  • they reduced their need for cashiers significantly
  • customers were happier
  • cost of business was improved

I realize that the article discusses technical talent shortfalls. But, I argue that innovation comes to us from surprising places. Often it is b y borrowing successful approaches by those in completely unrelated businesses.

One last observation: Solving talent issues does not eliminate uncertainty and risk (U&R) concerning this talent. Rather, the U&R is transferred to another form and place. In the fast food example above, the talent U&R was transferred to the supplier and maintainer of the kiosks. For this business, this was a better U&R profile than the one they were erectly dealing with.


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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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