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Creating New Strategies in War For Talent

AT&T is offering a special deal this month for anyone joining its “talent network.”

Registrants may wind up with not only with a job, but a chance to win a Bose speaker for a wireless music system.

The offer is part of the effort that companies like the communications giant have to undertake these days in order to have a stable of potential employees—as demand for skilled workers continues to outpace the supply.

“It may seem ironic, but even with 13 million people unemployed, there are still pockets where recruiters are having a lot of trouble finding new hires,” says Robert Hohman, co-founder and CEO of Glassdoor, a four-year-old website where both corporate employees and their bosses offer information about what it’s like to work at various firms.

People who assume that America’s 8.2 percent unemployment rate means job recruiters have their pick of applicants probably aren't working in high-tech, health care, manufacturing or several other sectors in which pools of qualified applicants are shrinking.

A look at the numbers explain why so many firms are scrambling to compete in what is widely referred to as the “war for talent.”

One in four American students drops out of high school every year. Only 46 percent of Americans complete college once they’ve registered. Barely 28 percent of the general population aged 25 and older has at least a bachelor’s degree.

At the same time, even as job growth is exploding in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, too few students are choosing to major in those subjects, resulting in a growing deficit.

The demand-supply mismatch helps explain why so many human resource managers — at large firms and growing start ups — are working overtime building their brands, bragging on Twitter and Facebook, and even making old-fashioned investments in training.

“It’s trench warfare out there,” says Bismarck Lepe, co-founder of Ooyala, a video software firm in Silicon Valley, which has gone so far as to put fliers on cars in the parking lot at Microsoft, and lure engineers with free ice cream at one recent conference — a tactic, Lepe notes, that's resulted in five new hires.

Talk of a “war for talent” is nothing new. In the 1990s, human resource experts realized that a graying workforce was limiting the supply of skilled workers.

But the supply of qualified applicants has been noticeably shrinking even more over the past six months as some companies have started to accelerate hiring, says David Almeda, vice president of human resources at the global work-force management company Kronos, based in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

To fill open positions, Kronos has also begun offering $10,000 for employee referrals and adjusted its recruiting approach.

"These people may not have 10 years of experience, they haven't zeroed in on their specialty, but they are gaining experience that is very germane to what we do. After 18 months, they have had experiences that are very useful to Kronos." -VP, Human Resources, Kronos, David Almeda

Instead of looking for candidates with more than five years of experience, the firm is now hiring employees right out of college or with less than three years at a job. It is also investing 18 months — three rotations of six months each in various roles — to help employees discover what type of job suits them best.

"It's more of a department hire than for a specific job," explains Almeda. "These people may not have 10 years of experience, they haven't zeroed in on their specialty, but they are gaining experience that is very germane to what we do."

Almeda says the company is already seeing success with the program. Employees who have gone through the program have stayed, and are high performers.

"They learn so much about the company, and can become a valuable contributor in so many areas. It helps to make them successful, Almeda explains."

But even as firms like Kronos and AT&T change their hiring strategies to allure skilled employees and keep them, what they're doing doesn't address the long-term worker shortage, says Lalit Dhingra, President of NIIT Technologies, a global IT solutions company.

"The U.S. has to focus on education and specialized training," Dhingra argues. "Most kids want to do something fashionable like work at Facebook or make money quickly. They don't want to learn insurance programming, which seems boring. But until that happens, the lack of skilled workers won't go away."