War of Talent Heats Up; Employers Unprepared

The war for talent is heating up and despite nearly two decades of warnings, employers are woefully unprepared.  I’m not just talking about not being ready. I’m talking about downright ignorance and naiveté on the part of employers about what it will take to recruit, hire, and retain employees. 

Let me explain. Just a few days ago, I attended a regional economic forecast conference. If the forecasts hold true, 2012 should be the best in several years and 2013 should be even better.  That should come as pretty good news for all of us.

The keynote was presented by J. Michael Scarborough from Scarborough Capital Management, Inc.  Without a doubt, Scarborough was the most informative, practical, honest, and candid speaker I’ve heard in years.

Scarborough made two profound comments that became my most important take-aways.  First of all, he described “technology as the single greatest job killer since 2000.”  Outsourcing didn’t kill all the jobs. Neither did foreign competition or the recession.  Technology did. 

But unlike outsourcing, foreign competition, or the recession, the growth and integration of technology into our lives can’t be turned back or effectively regulated by a single government. Employers can attempt to avoid it or ignore it but by doing so, they will be sealing their own fate.

Technology plain and simple allows more production from less people, making many jobs obsolete. Conversely hundreds of new types of jobs are being created by technology. These jobs however require different and more complex skills and fewer people to do them. Technology also allows people to work remotely and differently, eliminating the need to retain full-time and even part-time workers just in case you need them. This technology catalyst that changed the way we produce goods and deliver services is largely taken for granted. Technology didn’t just automate processes; it changed the way businesses operate. Companies must begin to vision the workplace and marketplace of 2020 and beyond and yet they continue to fantasize about a simpler world.

A second comment Scarborough made will be both good news and bad news to employers.  He exposed a rarely spoken about silver lining in our weak U.S. dollar. “The weakened dollar makes it better for international companies to manufacture in the United States,” he said. This trend is only being enhanced by the economic problems in Greece and other European countries. This means that more manufacturing jobs will be imported, not exported, into the U.S., a reversal of fortunes from the past few decades.  (It’s interesting that we don’t hear many politicians speaking about this.)

So what’s the downside for employers and workers? The jobs being created are high-tech, high-skill jobs. The majority of unemployed, under-employed, and still employed Americans don’t qualify for the jobs being created. The competition for talent will only heat up as jobs in manufacturing and health care expand.  It won’t only affect the jobs in those industries but jobs in every industry.  As skilled jobs open up with higher pay, better benefits, and more opportunity, qualified employees will leave one career for another. The job hopping will be easy and lucrative, especially those workers with transferrable skills.

That forecast painted a more promising economic picture, although a daunting one for employers, than I’ve heard in years.  It didn’t take too long though until I was stunned into reality when I moved to one of the break-out session about the hiring forecast.

One speaker, who shall remain nameless, heads a staffing firm specializing in manufacturing placement.  She admitted to being a bit of a technology-phobe – one who struggles with and fears technology. Just think about this irony – the head of a firm that provides staffing and training for companies that need skilled workers isn’t comfortable around technology. 

It got worse. In preparing her forecast for the presentation she “discovered a few things that even surprised her.”  Among her surprises was the role social media was going to play in recruiting moving forward. Really?  What world has she been living in?  Next she revealed how companies would need to provide candidates the ability to apply on their smartphones and iPads.  I’m not kidding – she admittedly was surprised by this finding but felt “companies in our area don’t need to worry about this yet.” Disappointedly, many in audience seemed as surprised about these trends as she did. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when so many employers still want candidates to stop and fill out a paper application.  But as the old saying goes, “you get what you deserve.”

The coup de grace however came from a participant in the audience. When the speaker mentioned Careerbuilder, a hand shot up to stop the speaker. She asked, “What’s Careerbuilder?”  You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The gap between companies prepared to recruit, screen, and retain employees and those who fantasize about a simpler world with slower and less change is growing.  For the leaders, this gap creates opportunity. For the laggards, the future of your business is laden with landmines and detours.


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Recruitment Agencies Auckland February 13, 2012 at 10:13 am -

    I still meet employers everyday who really have no idea at all how to retain staff. They are still easily replaceable to them. However they still fail to see the financial cost to the business by constantly recruiting. Then again I am hardly going to point that out as I have a recruitment agency of my own.