A recent article by Dan Ovsey (News for Evaluating a national skills strategy) discussed the political institutional hurdles in agreeing and running a successful nationwide based skills strategy. This Blog post suggests that those who are affected by such environmental and contextual factors would be well advised to not figuratively speaking wait for “Godot”.
In Canada, education is a Provincial matter, this means that at frustrating points there are forms of balkanization in key skill areas where labour mobility would be enhanced. From a political perspective I would argue that all issues are seen through the light of territory – a.k.a. as what’s good for the province (and maybe if there is any generosity of spirit left over, national interests). This is just an observation of seeming fact – after all governments are all about ruling within defined boundaries, their constituent populations almost always demand it as well. Does the federal government participate in education? Yes, in the forms of money transfers for education and immigration of scarce skilled workers.
Ovsey notes that some research by Prof. Sweetman suggests that companies, caught up in the politics of it all, resort to lobbying for greater than they need amounts of immigration. Another apparent rule in politics of any stripe (annual budget setting in most companies?) is always ask for more than you need as You will likely get less than you ask for (my observance).
We may enjoy bashing governments for being parochial (e.g., worried that trained in the province people move elsewhere) but companies do the very same thing when they decide to not train as they have no assurance the skilled resource will be there for them when needed. Part of the self defined (hence inflicted) issue is the notion that talent management is all about employees. Readers of this Blog know that I consider Talent Management (TM) being about securing appropriate access to talent and putting it to gainful use. Hence my notion is broader and more flexible in that it is not trapped in the “just” employee strategy talent game plan.
There is a fundamental insanity about relying on an employee centric notion of TM – it almost assumes you can own people or at the very least “entice and lure” them into staying (attraction and retention anyone?). The irony, is that companies who do this stickiness effort well often cry out that their people have an “entitlement” attitude – guess what – you helped create that. I would argue, that any form of talent is leased or on loan for a period of time. Why? Let us look at some of the forms that securing talent access can reasonably take:
1. Employees – unless slavery and indentureship is being practiced, employment is a rental, lease like arrangement.
2. Contracted employees – the first word says it all.
3. Consulting and retainer like arrangements – always covered by clear contractual expectations which are definitely lease like.
4. Contracting out parts of the work itself (e.g., Apple contracts out its manufacturing needs).
5. Purchase finished products and services. Most organizations need vehicles somewhere in their business activities, few actually manufacture them. The same with their computer needs. Purchasing is almost always a “voluntary like” activity that lasts for as long as it meets both parties interests.
Education is the process for achieving several purposes:
- create literate citizens, literate citizens are often mobile in practice and mind;
- prepare people for subsequent gainful work which can be general or specialized and mirrors the interests of the person and their understanding of employability conditions;
- allow people to transition as economic conditions evolve over time or as their personal interests evolve which means some mobility is critical;
- give employers a baseline for which they can hire, further develop and economically make use of this means having the capacity to let people go so new and improved can enter;
So you are a company, needing access to skilled talent and your needs are not being met now or it is believed they are in future jeopardy, what can you do given the Canadian scene? Well some options include:
- Hope (pray?) that the education system is working in your areas of interest.
- Lobby for improved immigration.
- Try and get the talent from other employers (hopefully you have the deepest pockets).
- Do what you can to make yourself a preferred employer (up the stickiness of your employment offer) Hopefully this is not easily replicated and nullified by your competition.
- Educate and develop what you need with the understanding that some “leakage (sic)” will incur. However, if you have done 2 above this will moderate the risks.
- Manage your strategy around spikes and valleys in competitive demand for scarce talent.
- Look at your business model and se if you can “build in” reducing risk of talent issues this will include role and work design. An example is using kiosks for customers to enter and pay for their food order hence removing the need for cashiers (which for some companies is a talent issue).
- Let someone else who is more successful at keeping the needed talent do that part of the work for you. Talent implications include being good at contract management and knowing how to protect your IP.
- Develop talent building and even sharing alliances with competitors (will become frenemies).
The inherent problems with institutional like hurdles and barriers is the time it takes to make changes, AND, fact that political oriented agendas are more concerned with their interests than yours (e.g., the solution becomes even more troublesome with the incorporation of bureaucracy). As government always make the rules, it will always ensure their process and constituent stakeholder oriented interests are being attended to.
I always suggest, that the first option should be to look at solutions that you have the most control over (timeliness and agenda) and pursue them first while also trying to move rocks uphill with a limb rope.