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Jayne Carrington

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The agile employer: helping employees fit the job


Employers regularly complain they can’t find the right people for the roles they have: however, there is rarely a ‘perfect’ candidate. So what’s the solution to make a person ‘fit’?

The most recent unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics is a stark reality of recession. The number of unemployed people has increased by 23,000 over the last quarter to reach 2.47 million. This is the highest level since records began, and represents 21.5% of the working age population. While it would appear the job market is flooded with able candidates, Manpower’s fifth annual survey has revealed that talent shortages continue to be a problem, and show no signs of easing.

It is paradoxical: despite unemployment figures in the UK and the rest of the world remaining at unprecedented levels, 31% of employers worldwide and 9% of employers in the UK are reporting difficulty filling key positions. In the UK, the top five jobs most in demand in 2010 are:

  1. Accounting and finance staff
  2. Chefs/cooks
  3. Engineers
  4. Drivers
  5. Nurses.

The conundrum is that the people available, and the skills required by employers, do not match up, particularly as companies are seeking a greater specificity of skills; it’s a case of not having the right talent in the right place at the right time.

Compounding this ‘talent mismatch’ issue is that employers are seeking ever more specific skill sets and are less willing to engage in anticipatory recruitment. This all adds up to a very challenging and frustrating time for employers and job seekers alike.

Having weathered the downturn, companies now must ensure they position themselves adequately for growth. It is imperative that organisations have the right talent in place. Many employers particularly, those facing ongoing and chronic talent shortages, will find they need to focus their attention on their methods of recruitment,

Flexibility and agility is a key part of success in today’s world of work, and individuals often now experience several career transitions during their working life. Employers must adapt and take advantage of this flexibility to ensure they have the talent they need. Employers should consider candidates who may not meet all of the job specifications, but whose capability gaps can be filled in a timely and cost-effective way. A commitment to re-skilling and up-skilling current and potential employees will enable organisations to expand the available pools of talent (both internal and external), ensure that their workforces continue to be appropriately skilled and keep employees engaged in their work. The key to this new mindset is the ability to identify a “teachable fit.”

Progressive organisations are already adopting this innovative approach, but typically in an intuitive and non-systematic way. In order to make use of the “teachable fit” to fill key positions, employers must first understand to what extent the gaps in a candidate’s capabilities can be easily filled; both in terms of technical skills and candidate mindset, as well as at what cost. This means that a candidate’s soft skills, such as strategic thinking and motivation to learn, which are often overlooked and hard to measure, become vitally important.

In order to help employers understand how they can assess when a ‘teachable fit’ would be appropriate, Manpower has developed a practical framework that maps the capabilities needed for success in a given role against an individual’s capacity of meeting those needs. Each capability must then be weighed according to its importance to the role and to what extent it is feasibly teachable (including cost, availability of courses or internal training practices).

This approach helps employers to identify the skills that can migrate across industries or be developed with relative ease. It will also identify those capabilities which are absolutely necessary but not easily taught; naturally these are ‘must-haves’. The ‘teachable fit’ framework allows employers to be specific about the pragmatic requirements of a job and focus on the gaps that can realistically be filled; it also provides the basis for a comprehensive job description and the starting point for an individual’s training and development plan. Not only that but ‘teachable fit’ analysis can also guide talent management more generally. As patterns in the important-and-teachable capabilities emerge, employers can invest in broader training schemes.

Ultimately, the ‘teachable fit’ approach allows employers to look beyond the usual places for candidates and consider those who are best positioned – thanks to their skills and their personalities – to benefit from training and development. As the skills mismatch grows more severe, the ‘teachable fit’ framework becomes foundational to talent strategy. It is a key step in an approach that is more expansive, systematic and sustainable – a talent strategy that not only keeps up with business strategy, but accelerates it.

Jayne Carrington is Managing Director of Right Management, the talent and career management expert within Manpower.

One Response

  1. Teachable Fit – yes please!

    I agree whole heartedly with Jayne’s comments and have to admit that in my industry the increased use of online recruitment systems with automated screening has, in many cases just made matters worse and encouraged organisations to become narrow minded in their search for perfection. ‘In’ or ‘Out’ is the order of the day for many organisations.

    Online questionnaires, in inexperienced hands are often used as blunt instruments to find perfection and reject the rest. The ubiquitous use of killer questions, or showstoppers give no room for highlighting those candidates who don’t quite match the specific skills set needed but DO have what Jayne terms as a ‘teachable fit’.
    Killer questions are the quick and dirty way to get a questionnaire set up and start to sift volume. And yes, they can help you find the top stars, but an awful lot of talent can get overlooked when the bar is set to perfection.
    We have been helping clients for over 10 years at the very beginning of the selection process to not only identify the star talent ie the A candidates, but also to identify those with potential, with a ‘teachable fit’, ie the B candidates. What is needed are flexible questionnaires and sophisticated scoring tools along with a good dose of common sense when it comes to questionnaire design.  
    So City Inn and Mitchells and Butlers are both able to be flexible and agile when it comes to recruitment and filling their capability gaps by having a pool of candidates who can be identified as either star performers, or those with potential worth investing in. Long may that continue.