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The war for talent


The following article, written by Wilf Altman, a corporate communications adviser and leading business journalist who regularly writes for The Times, Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard, highlights the need to prepare for massive talent shortages in the future.

Finding and retaining the right staff is an important issue for all companies. Despite talk of recession, there are still jobs out there, and at the moment more people are being hired than fired. Whilst the dot-bomb debacle saw 100,000 loose their jobs, 2.2million people joined the new economy in 2000. However, EU estimates suggest a shortage of 1.7 million IT professionals by 2003. Not only IT people will be demand, but consultants, marketers, finance specialists, general managers, and even receptionists are in demand.

HR departments in blue-chip companies are well aware of the need to find and retain the right staff and are preparing now for future recruitment problems. Delegates representing companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Barclays, Boots, BBA, ICI, Honda and Royal & Sun Alliance attended 'The War for Talent' event at the end of June run by The IMPACT Programme, the world's first personal development network for IT executives. Founded in 1989, The IMPACT Programme counts over 100 IT directors representing FTSE 250 and leading public sector organisations among its members.

Christopher Young of The IMPACT Programme says, "We held this event to bring leaders together to discuss and share their experiences of the talent war. Attracting and retaining the best staff is crucial across the board and it is important that we prepare for the future."

The war for talent extends well beyond the blue-chip sphere and can affect companies of any size; in fact it is impossible to grow a business successfully without the right staff. Guest speaker at the event, Mike Johnson, author of Winning the People Wars, says countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain cannot find the right people to meet the growing internationalisation of their businesses. In Germany 80 per cent of SMEs have no successors for their CEOs .

Johnson predicts that every SME will need IT, e-commerce and marketing people – an estimated 250,000 people in Europe alone. Johnson advises, "When you hire people, live up to the expectations you gave them when you took them on. Also, don't trust succession planning – the speed of change puts it out of date fast."

Changes in work culture, with the workplace becoming increasingly fragmented, will also have an impact on staff recruitment and retention in the future. The advent of the 24 hour lifestyle means that teleworking, hot-desking, virtual teams and other 'new age' work-styles feature more and more, and will become an integral part of employees work/life balance demands.

Johnson warns employers to be proactive. "People will seek workplaces that match their values. You will rise and fall by your reputation – how you are perceived by current and prospective employees will determine how well you cope in the talent war, so companies should look to spend a lot more on focused communication and reputation management."

Geography and demography will have an effect on the people war. Popular cities with lifestyle options such as London, Zurich, Milan, Munich, New York, and Silicon Valley will attract more workers. The balance of workers to pensioners is currently being sustained through immigration. The UN population division claims that nearly 13.5 million immigrants are needed by the EU annually to maintain this balance. The UN estimates Europe will need 125 million immigrants by 2025 to sustain growth. In the future, it is possible that older employees might be targeted with offers allowing them to work two or three days a week; tracking talent after it leaves and rehiring will become a real skill.

The first place to look for talent is inside the organisation, but it is also important to know the best people in the market place. Simon L Fosse, a Director of Harvey Nash advises, "Treat recruitment like a business critical project. Timebox it, set milestones, cover the whole market place and demand transparency from your recruitment partner. Be flexible and be prepared to move outside salary guidelines for exceptional people or rare skills."

"If you want to hang on to key staff, it is important to treat them as individuals," Fosse continued. He feels that retention strategies should be individually tailored, taking into account what the person responds to best. It is also important that employees are positively challenged and that they are supported in their efforts. He concluded, "Push people hard, but let them know that you are there to catch them when they fall."

The war for talent is an obstacle that is facing all organisations today. With all the talk of impending recession and the slow down in the economy at the moment, jobs are thin on the ground. However, finding the right people to fill vacancies is crucial. Whether attracting talent outside of an organisation, or fostering it internally, there is no denying this issue will plague organisations today and tomorrow.

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