A Human Energy Crisis?

A few days ago I was asked an interesting question by a reporter from a well-respected business journal:

In this buyer’s market for talent, are companies asking for too much at too low a price?

I don’t know if she’ll include my response but I’m fairly confident that many candidates and employers may not agree with me.  Nevertheless, the struggles that both candidates and employers are experiencing are real – candidates lack the skills that employers need, and employers aren’t willing to pay up.  Like consumers cutting back on travel by refusing to pay over $4 per gallon for fuel, many employers are refusing to pay up for skilled workers during this human energy crisis.  Are these employers cutting their nose off to spite their face?  Or are employees trying to offload their inefficient and ineffective work habits onto employers who are finally saying, in the words of Howard Beale in the movie Network (1976), “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore”? 

There is a new paradigm and both employers and candidates are struggling to function in it.

From the candidate side, many of the skills that once delivered differentiation and value are now commodities.  In other words, what once made an employee a top performer may barely keep them in the game today.   This is a tough pill to swallow.  Despite years of hard work and loyalty, many employees lack the skills needed for today’s jobs. They are therefore overpaid or requesting salaries above their competence. 

On the other hand, employers too are completely misreading the market.  Many have not grasped the depth and breadth of the skilled worker shortage. They look at the economic downturn as an opportunity to pick up cheap labor.  But unlike any other economic downturn, many of the people who are unemployed in today’s market just lack the essential skills. The gap between the required skill sets and availablility of skilled workers is widening. This scarcity has raised the salaries for skilled labor. In many industries and for key positions, the skilled candidate is winning.

What do you think?  Are employers being too demanding and cheap or are employees finally being forced to prove their worth (and by that I mean that loyalty and long hours doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity and profitability?

And by the way, having just re-read Howard Beale’s rant in its entirety, it is amazing how much time has passed since 1976 when the movie was released but how little has changed (except the part about the Russian):

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad.


Ira S Wolfe


  1. lanning bennett July 22, 2008 at 4:04 am -

    I agree.
    Whats needed is a better way to build understanding between employees and employers.
    One of the most powerful ways to do this potentially is by the proper use of an employee opinion survey. I say potentially because unfortunately employee opinion surveys have a bad reputation. Employees vary rarely see any good come from them and so treat them cynically. In my view they have every right to be cynical as very few of them actually do driver change. Fortunately there are a new generation of employee survey applications – usually internet based that move organisations from the survey results to team based action and improvement easily and cost effectively. This process can help build awareness between employers and employees and address the problem you raise.