Candidates in the box seat

When I look back with hindsight of 34 years’ sourcing and training talent, the changes are profound.  No more so than the acceleration of technology, as a buffer for businesses to stay productive and keep workers happy in COVID.

It is heartbreaking to watch the economic fall-outs of COVID lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne. We can but hope this will be short-lived.

Meanwhile, our Executive Outlook survey of local businesses is finding that the hiring snapback from COVID has caught us all off guard.

Our survey indicates we’re heading for a perfect storm – businesses have the work coming in but not enough staff.  Some firms let people go in the midst of COVID, and are now struggling to hire. Workers are more cautious about changing careers. Companies are responding with higher wages.

A staggering 100% of leaders in Executive Outlook are experiencing skills shortages (so far).

This is unprecedented! We’ve been in business for 34 years, and have never seen demand for talent this high.

The boot is now on the other foot, and candidates are in demand.  Understanding their needs is quite different to 34 years ago.

Workers are more skilled, agile and socially connected than ever before.  Their idea of success is embedded in their skills and ability to learn, rather than security of tenure.  They can find work through their social and professional networks.  Those with multiple skills and an entrepreneurial spirit are in the box seat.

Credentials are less important.  This generation relies more on augmented tools and social networks for guidance.  It’s easy to access specific knowledge on-line, with a plethora of manuals, videos and advice.  So, we’re more reliant on knowledge embedded in the cloud, rather than educators.  That’s another big change. 34 years ago, qualifications underpinned our careers.

It’s also about the soft skills they bring to an employer. The differentiator for any business (at any point in time) is to move from a transactional to consultative environment.  What’s changed now is our ability to exploit technology to manage the data, which frees us up to engage with clients and build our brand – that’s the edge.  And that calls on strong communicators with empathy, to negotiate and understand the context of customers’ needs (machines can’t replicate these skills).

Relationships are critical in these uncertain times (Executive Outlook, 2021)

Retention is now front of mind for business leaders. A visit to Silicon Valley shows the lengths they go to. These young tech geniuses come out of college on 6 figure incomes. Pets are welcome, with on-site creches for kids, gyms, designated caravan parks and gourmet meals cooked on site (and if it’s not cooked by a world famous chef, they’ll move for one that does).

No-one’s saying we need those extremes, but if we don’t look after our superstars, they will vote with their feet.

Our advice is to consider candidates with transferrable skills, like values, attitude and people skills from other sectors. The focus has also shifted to internal mobility, upskilling, alumni networks and referrals. Now is the time to hire on potential.

For us, machines can find candidate profiles, but it still takes market knowledge and finesse to find the right talent, and explore options with you. It’s similar for most professions.

Compiled by Jan Gadsden, Founder of Top Office Group Pty Ltd.