Talent shortage is worldwide phenomenon. Most countries are at a loss when it comes to finding the next generation of specialized workers. The experience of the US is not untypical. Here, a common refrain echoes in the ears of up-and-coming employees across the US: the jobs they have trained for are few and far between. The country has reinvented its economic engine over the past decade, and the industries that shrank during the recession are likely not coming back in their original form.
In their place, there is an entire universe of new technology-created avenues to profitability in manufacturing, high tech, pharma – the list goes on. Talented workers are not equipped to participate, though. They struggle to put their education to use, while companies have trouble finding talent to take up these new opportunities. Companies seeking to offshore labor to other nations meet the same roadblock. The talent shortage is everywhere.
Fixing the talent shortage for now
Some organizations are leveraging virtual employees and independent contractors to bridge the rapidly widening gap between demand and supply – with mixed results. Netflix is a success story in this regard. Netflix recognized that it needed to increase customer demand, and saw value in the Amazon model that makes recommendations based upon previous buying behaviors. Netflix understood that it did not have the right talent to roll out sophisticated algorithms that would enhance customer-buying decisions. So instead the company launched a contest, inviting external developers to submit algorithms. It worked: over 55,000 legitimate submissions poured in from non-employees who vied for a cash prize.
Addressing the talent shortage gets much trickier when you’re looking to develop intellectual property (IP). To wit, the semi-conductor industry shows the negative side of the coin, as companies are forced to choose between fast R&D and protecting their IP. They often tap outside talent for critical projects, only to turn that talent back over to competitors.
Oil and gas companies are suffering from the talent shortage in a similar way. In 1984, 8,700 students graduated with geoscience degrees; by 2009, that number had fallen to 2,832. Without more geologists to locate wells, the industry will literally dry up. In the meantime, this talent commands a high salary and jumps from company to company. A long-term solution to the talent shortage must be identified.
Restocking the talent pipeline for the longer term
Companies that face a critical talent shortage must be more creative and patient about meeting their talent needs. The solution lies in expanding their perspective to include younger talent. Instead of depending on inefficient or incompatible short-term fixes to plug the holes, US companies should get more involved with secondary school programs and college coursework. A sponsored curriculum can go a long way to introducing the right people to the right skillsets before they are entrenched on a different path.
There is a precedent to this approach. Microsoft made a point of being involved in education at high-school and university level, especially in its hometown of Seattle. Intrigued by a grass-roots program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), the technology company joined the effort to get high-school students engaged in computer science. Microsoft now works with over 100 engineers across 22 schools in the area, and the initiative is taking root in other states like Utah, North Dakota and California.
That’s just one educational program out of many. Microsoft also joined with Boeing in 2013 to pledge $50 million to a scholarship program to encourage university students to major in high-demand fields.
These outreach and funding commitments set a strong example. More private and public powers should bring focused educational programs into schools in order to restock the talent pipeline. The band-aids of contract hires and patchwork labor forces will only help address the talent shortage if they bridge the gap to somewhere – and that destination lies with the next generation of employees.
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