Could it be the case that perceptions of talent shortages are in fact the result of a shortage of imagination?
Does the existence of a profession called recruiting create the perception of skills shortages?
These were among the questions asked and debated in a fascinating session (or "track," in unconference speak) lead by HRExaminer Editor John Sumser at yesterday's TruLondon unconference (Click here for more about TruLondon, and here for a definition of unconferences).
The debate gave rise to some wide-ranging and extremely compelling perspectives on these issues. It also got me thinking:
- Does talent grow on trees?
What follows are my notes on some of the key points raised in this extremely rich discussion.
Most of the points below come from the wise words of John Sumser. But there are also contributions from other attendees, including China Gorman and Mervyn Dinnen.
The fact that just one hour's discussion produced such a wealth of interesting material should provide some idea of just how rich unconferences can be!
I'd love to get your take on the issues raised here. Please do get in touch!
You can leave a comment via the box below, or contact me directly via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.
Is it 'bizarre, aberrant nonsense' to expect talent to grow on trees?
Perceptions of talent shortages often arise because employers believe that talent will arise on its own, without any level of investment or intervention on their part, says Sumser.
He described this view as "bizarre, aberrant nonsense," and posed the following question:
- How often are perceived talent shortages actually an acute symptom of over-abundance?
Sebastapol, California - the "next town down" from where John lives in California - is famous as a leading US producer of the Gravenstein apple.
When they are in season, you can't move for Gravensteins. Sebastapol produces upwards of two billion Gravensteins.
Such a "surplus of inventory" creates a buyer's market.
This in turn creates the view that there is "always a better deal to be had out there."
Similar "surplus of inventory" issues help give rise to perceptions of talent shortages.
Does talent grow on trees?
So, does talent grow on trees?
Sumser argues that what feels like a talent shortage might really be an imagination shortage.
Technology can turn "dust into magic." As technology evolves, what seemed impossible today becomes "mundane" 18 months from now.
This has huge implications for the workplace, as "things that didn't look like work become work."
Therefore, "we need to invent questions," says Sumser. Identifying and asking "questions that didn't used to be answerable" is a key growth industry.
Talent shortages aren't necessarily the employees' fault
Managers too often explain talent shortages by resorting to the age-old view that it's the employees' fault (or the fault of the labour market talent pool).
Sumser contends that perceived talent shortages are much more likely to reflect a failure on the part of the manager.
Are employers and recruiters settling for second best?
Resourcing in companies tends to be "sub-optimal," rather than "permanently optimal."
In other words, recruiters and employers too often settle for second best.
It's difficult to hire precisely the right person for the role. Job descriptions effectively become "a moving target," as the role will inevitably continue to evolve once someone has been hired to fill it.
Great recruiters can carve out the optimal fit for any role by recognising the talent that is out there.
The old distinctions between "technical" and "non-technical" jobs are now gone. "I don't know of a job that isn't technical now."
Are qualifications a barrier to talent?
Qualifications can also present a barrier to recruitment, in turn worsening perceptions of talent shortages.
This section brings together my notes on points raised by two other delegates attending this session - top US HR blogger China Gorman, and the UK's very own Mervyn Dinnen.
Here are my notes on what China Gorman had to say:
- The US has arrived at the "ludicrous" situation in which "you even need a college degree to do jobs that don't need college degrees." For example, many roles in the US fast food industry now require a minimum of two years' college education.
- The unemployed are not necessarily unemployable, even if they lack a college degree.
- In order to be effective at the task of creating work, HR needs new proxies of work. HR needs to rethink its proxies of the minimum experience and minimum skills required to perform specific roles.
- Businesses must decide: Do we put the business where the people are, or where it makes the most economic sense to do business? Cost and political/regulatory considerations often win out.
BCG study suggests that the big deficit in HR is strategic workforce
planning. We might define this as the design of jobs and identifying
where the talent is. "This is just not being done."
- Qualifications are often used as a barrier. Recruiters too often think they need to find talent fully-formed.
- The need for recruiters to hit targets risks perpetuating this state of affairs.
- "Does the existence of a profession called recruiting create the perception of skills shortages?"
My take on #TRULondon 2012:
- #TruLondon 2012 (1): Does talent grow on trees?
- #TRULondon 2012 (2): How #HRtech can unlock the potential of 'the video game generation'
- TruLondon Find out more about TruLondon.
- HR, What's on Your Mind? Watch a video of a talk with China Gorman and John Sumser at TRULondon 2012 moderated by Mervyn Dinnen.
- Fact or Fiction: Do Modern leaders really need to manage the generation gap? Watch a video of a great TRULondon session that I sat in on, which featured China Gorman.
- Heather Bussing's TRU London gallery Check out Heather Bussing's photographs from TRULondon on 23 October 2012. My thanks to Heather for her kind permission in allowing me to use the picture of China Gorman and Mervyn Dinnen, above.
- TRULondon 2010: Where HR, recruitment and social media meet
My account of TRULondon 2010.