Think finding qualified talent is difficult now? Just wait….

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1 warning & 3 major changes you need to make to attract qualified talent in today’s digital world

Those of you in the U.S. may have listened to the public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”.

One of the show’s stories involved a town in Minnesota called Lake Wobegon, where the children are all above average. Interestingly enough, that’s the same refrain you find on many business websites: we hire only the best and brightest.

Now more than ever, companies need to attract people with advanced skill sets, as well as merged skill sets. Truth is, you need to know what does “the best and brightest” mean to your company in terms of merged skill sets and capability.

And what is meant by merged skill sets?

With today’s digital technologies blending and blurring the edges between functional areas and activities, your business can not survive using the established, siloed “we do it this way in our area” mentality. For example: warehouses and logistics areas used to be the corporate stepchildren. They didn’t require a lot of advanced skill sets, didn’t do much integration with other company areas, or even register on the customers’ radars. Now, they set the image for the entire company. Integration must occur at the human, data, and system levels as well as between various functional areas and customers. New software, apps, IoT, AI, AR, co-bots, drones and more are now found in modern warehouses. Speed and agility are prized, as long as the shipments arrive at their destination on time and in perfect condition. There is more work than ever for both humans and tech in coordinating the data, activity, and communications.

But the shift is even bigger. When we were just converting specific processes to digital, it meant taking a manual process and converting it to a software process. While digital conversion is still needed, digital transformation is required. Digitally transforming means changing how you do business. The tech enables blending across imaginary corporate boundaries and the opening of capabilities and potential as you build your digital technology stacks. For example, AI used in marketing better informs us about who wants what, how, when and where. Combine this insight (usually digitally gathered and aggregated) with another digital technology used to enhance operations and the company may find it can open new lines of business as well as new ways of doing existing business. Digital tech use enables converting former cost centers into profit centers. Think digital twins that integrate IoT input with AI and digital modeling to provide insight, services, decision alternatives, and products you can sell.

While the digital data can be captured and moved electronically through integrated systems, what to do with it currently requires manual review and decision making. Yes, you can automatically capture more information, move data faster, and develop alternatives. Yet technology is only effective if your people at the human-tech interfaces have merged skill sets for data handling, merging, communicating, and integrating. This is more than an IT issue.

These blended, merged skill set needs are required not only at companies the same size as yours, but also at companies that are much, much smaller, and much, much larger. And that count doesn’t even include all the tech start-ups promising big payouts.

Warning: The competition for talent is worse than you ever imagined!

Everyone, and I mean everyone, is looking for the same talent you are at all levels of business to handle the new tech as well as all the new integration points.

More people with merged skillsets have to be hired at all levels in all businesses in all sizes.

It used to be that people migrated toward a certain size of company because of the unique opportunities presented. While that still has relevance, digital technology integration has removed many of the differences between the work performed at various sized companies.

What happened?

Digital technology initially made it possible for small and micro businesses to look like large businesses. With advanced technologies, not only are small businesses (SBs) able to perform like larger businesses; they are required to do so. To support this, jobs are changing. Here’s an example for a SB data analytics clerk job description (the company was originally seeking an administrative assistant but realized the melding of skill sets required a different approach): hiring for a clerk with digital analytics talent that can handle sensitive customer information as well as critical internal and external communications, be comfortable using more advanced technology including customized systems as well as our CRM system, be detail oriented, able to work in a fast-paced environment with little supervision, and make data-based decisions concerning inside sales.

Doesn’t sound like a generic small business job position, does it.

Get ready. Because of tech’s blurring of boundary lines, each and every job description in your company is going to change.

Gone are the days when someone could pawn off digital activities to someone else.

Gone are the days when someone could stay safely within their chosen silo and never have to think about what is going on in other functional or business unit areas.

Gone are the days when hubris was a winning strategy.

Gone are the days when different sized companies hired from different applicant pools.

Your company must be interconnected and integrated within and without. Collaboration, cooperation, and digital data integration is required to thrive in the current pace of business. Today’s heroes are teams. To enable this change, you need the right, qualified, melded skill sets. This is the talent that you will compete for against all other businesses of all sizes – everywhere – for all jobs (remember, hiring remote talent that stays remote due to tech use is building in momentum).

Considering the data security concerns with more people having access to your data in every aspect of your company, hiring the best talent matched to your company’s needs and culture is more critical than ever before.

So how can you begin to attract, and keep, the talent you need?

1)    Know your competition and be realistic about what you need

To add to the competitive talent problem, small businesses have found that they not only need talent usually hired by larger businesses, but that they must pay them more as well. Here in the U.S., while large business may pay $15/hour for specific talent, small businesses I’ve worked with are starting to offer $25/hour or $30/hour to attract and retain the talent they want and need. This allows them to be picky about who they choose. If you are not willing to compete on pay, you may not be attracting the same level of talent – even if you are a much larger company.

Here’s another thing: If you are not offering the same type of opportunities to creatively use skills and help the company in meaningful ways, you won’t attract the same level of talent as other businesses – even if you are a much larger company. Opportunities include problem solving to eliminate those pesky reoccurring problems. Opportunities include training – especially in the best use and application of new technologies as well as how to integrate them. Opportunities include providing easy access to insight, descriptions on how to advance careers, and what skills are required at what capability level, no matter if the path chosen leads laterally or vertically through the company.

Be realistic about the skills you really need. Do you need the best and brightest for all jobs? For all skills? No business does. For a specific job with three needed skills, realistic may mean competence is good enough for the first skill. The second skill may require an expert level of capability. For the third skill, a beginner level of knowledge may be fine. By realistically breaking down the level of each skill you really need, you will attract more people who have the true skill set mix the job requires – and the company wants. Noting realistic levels of capability needed will begin eliminating some of the qualified potential-hire self-elimination that goes on currently when a company presents a laundry list of “needed expert” skills.

2)    Open the recruiting doors

Many companies advertise that they are an equal opportunity employer, that diversity matters.

Many don’t go beyond the words – and potential talent figures this out pretty fast.

In 2020, McKinsey published a report highlighting that having an integrated, diverse workforce, IE: meaningful inclusion of minorities and at least 30% women in all levels vertically as well as horizontally throughout the company. This puts you with companies in the top quartile for financial outperformance. Financial outperformance of 36% compared to companies that refuse to diversify (no matter what the marketing states). This outperformance is due to the unique insights and viewpoints diversity brings into a company.

Because the outperformers continue to widen the financial performance gap, the laggards, and even other businesses that are slower to more fully diversify, can’t catch up.

But, you may say, we can’t find qualified, diverse talent.

Then you’re not really looking – or your recruiters are not really looking.

There is growing research and reporting about recruiting firms that will pull in minority and women candidates only to find them “not qualified” and therefore not passed on to the client firm. The initial discussions with minority and women prospects allow the recruiting firm to meet its quotas and the client firm to continue to hire candidates that fit the established hiring demographic. The client company can say no qualified minorities or women were found in the job applicant pool. That’s because the recruiting firm made it so.  This will get you into trouble both competitively and with the press. If you truly value diversity, make sure your recruiting firm is passing along all qualified candidates – and make sure the recruiting firm is not making decisions your firm should be making about candidate’s qualifications. Recruiters should not be making the hiring decisions – you should. This means more work on your end, but will provide you with a wider array of highly qualified candidates to choose from.

If you don’t do this, you’ve just limited your diversity to the detriment of your competitive stance and corporate financial performance. Probably not the results you were looking for.

If your company performs its own recruiting, are you only mining for candidates in the same places the company has always hired from? Expand hiring to where diverse candidates are found. This may mean hiring at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), community colleges in inner cities, or small colleges/high schools in areas outside your main recruiting cities. Currently, recruiting for diversity also includes looking outside country borders since remote work is increasingly popular. Take a look on YouTube or other social media and find out who is doing creative things with technology that can be adapted, the technology or the innovation, for your company.

A few years ago I was talking with a CEO who was trying to hire women in logistics, but she said she couldn’t find any. I had just finished talking with several women who owned their own small logistics firms. Firms they started because, as women, they were continually passed over for promotion. My advice to the CEO was to look at the small, woman owned logistics firms. She could also mine the conference attendee lists to find highly qualified, diverse talent.

3)    Create career paths, not career ladders

New hires of all ages look for purpose and the ability to build a meaningful career.

Today, the word “purpose” usually refers to the people, planet, profit equation. However, it also means being able to use the talent and skills you have in-order-to create opportunity, solve problems, and innovate without being told to stay in a very narrow job definition. As Steve Jobs stated, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Digital advancement means you need people who can competently use tools, systems, and effectively communicate to create opportunity, solve problems, and innovate without being told to stay in a very narrow job definition often describes a job that no longer exists. If you force people to stay inside age-old, or even slightly old, job descriptions that no longer work, moral declines, negative postings about your work environment find their way online, sabotage may occur, and because potential talent hears about this, you lose competitive ground in the marketplace because you can’t hire those you need.

Need a quick way to figure out if your processes, and the jobs inside them, are out of date? Here it is: Is everyone is exhausted from constantly running around your processes trying to satisfy the customer without solving the underlying problem? If yes, your processes and jobs are out of date. True speed and agility don’t happen in hide-bound organizations.

And many new hires are looking for organizations striving to meet today’s agility and speed requirements by integrating people and technology.

But just hiring someone is not good enough from the prospective talent’s point of view. Often, I hear about great talent that got away because the company has a vaguely defined career ladder. No one is able to explain to the prospect how she/he can climb it. If that is true for you, throw away the career ladder. Create career paths that wind laterally and vertically through your company offering constant challenge to your talented people – while also training them for more advanced responsibilities. Not everyone wants to advance the same way – let each person choose their path. Well-constructed career paths should outline exactly what melding of skills and behaviors are needed at what capability level for each steppingstone. They also signal what training may be needed on a personal level – something that can help at those annual performance discussions.

Because career paths integrate across functional areas, digital as well as business knowledge is constantly being shared. Your company’s ability to work as a unified whole is enhanced with all parts pulling in the same direction. In other words, winding career paths allow you to keep people challenged while also challenging your competitors. Great talent looks for these opportunities.

In the end, with each person following their own path through the company, sharing skills and knowledge, and meeting new challenges with excitement, your company absolutely has a method to grow most of its own best and brightest talent that can make your competition squirm.

You’ve also built-in anti-poaching controls by offering continuous opportunity and a chance to use the creativity and talent each person was hired in for in the first place.

You’ve protected your data and critical systems because employees are invested in the well-being and success of the company. Talent seeks you out because of the culture and opportunities.

And to top it all off, you get improved processes, efficiency, and people who use integrated technology to solve problems and get measurable results.

All it took was a bit of tweaking to your talent hiring processes and career path creation.

Keywords and Concepts: digital transformation, technology, talent, skills, business results, performance, career paths 

Cynthia Kalina-Kaminsky helps innovate, align, and digitally transform supply chains and operations. She consults and trains on how to meld supply chains and people skills/capabilities to get top performance results. Join her in the next FREE workshop on getting results without wasting time and money sponsored by: ImEx Cargo on Monday, April 26

Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kathleen Gorby / Wikimedia Commons