Where are the workers who will power growth?

Author:Eisenhart, Frederick

A conundrum has dogged CEOs in recent years: Despite record-high unemployment rates, skilled workers are at a premium. In the United States alone the number of unfilled, skilled-worker jobs is expected to grow to 14 million by 2015.

Private companies are already feeling the pain. A majority of them say they lack skilled employees in key areas of their workforce. The good news? Many of the talent challenges these companies are facing are the result of new growth momentum. Leaders of these companies who say their businesses have skill gaps expect to grow at a faster rate than companies claiming no skill gaps; they're also planning more major new investments than the latter group.

These growth-focused companies are looking to make strategic hires that can help propel their business ahead--workers who are innovative, technologically savvy, collaborative and comfortable venturing into new frontiers. These are not, for the most part, the workers laid off in the early days of the recession. As a result, the skill gaps that many companies currently face cannot be filled through simple rehiring.

Strategies for Filling the Gaps

Though the companies have strategies for filling these gaps --such as training and developing current employees and hiring new ones--those approaches are unlikely to suffice in today's world, let alone the world of tomorrow. To deliver real competitive advantage, talent strategies need to go beyond the old tactics, which is not to say it doesn't make sense to further invest in training and developing employees (something private companies have been doing more of in recent years).

First, these companies should identify their key talent (including people in pivotal roles) and determine how engaged they are. Doing so would help make employee-development efforts more targeted. Likewise, when investing in special incentive programs, they should pause to consider whether they have the right incentive/reward models to retain top talent, while also contemplating the impact on their business if they don't. Too often, companies do not measure the cost of losing their best people (or the cost of over-incentivizing others).

Admittedly, some of the best people are leaving for the simple reason that they have reached retirement age. As more than 10,000 baby boomers pass that milestone each day (a rate that will continue for roughly the next two decades), the available pool of talent is shrinking. Within management ranks, about one-third of...

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