Executive Outlook reflections

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.

Actually, the hiring snapback from COVID has caught us all off guard.  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.

Leave your competitors to debrief with emails. It’s far better to follow through by phone, or over a coffee, where you can ask questions and connect face to face. One thing that hasn’t changed is our need to develop business, engage and innovate (machines can’t replicate these skills).

Relationships are critical in these uncertain times, there’s not much good news around (Executive Outlook, 2021)

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.

Remote Work

We’ve leaned on technology to work from home through COVID.  Social networks, collaborative software and Zoom have been a godsend (never could have predicted that one, 3 decades ago).

Employees like the freedom and independence of this lifestyle, with push-back on returning to workplaces. They get to claim utilities and equipment, with no commuting and more family time. What’s not to love?  I’ve heard this called a “social revolution”.

A Bloomberg survey of 1,000 U.S. employees in May found 39% would consider quitting if their bosses weren’t flexible about them working from home.

It’s also easier to run your own business from home, and virtually oversee operations.  It’s unnecessary to be there all the time.  This helps explain the trend towards leaving cities for a tree change.

Australia’s regional housing market outpaced capital cities in the last 12 months, rising 13% (compared with a 6.4% gain in capital cities), according to latest Core Logic’s update.

Of course, this calls on a different mindset (there’s two sides to this coin).  It can be lonely, but there are new apps in the wellbeing space to help alleviate this. The endless barrage of e-communications can be overwhelming.  Digital exhaustion is a real threat, without the opportunity to bounce ideas around the water cooler.

There’s push-back from employers, too, and a sense that teams perform best when people are together.  Many businesses are heavily invested in buildings and assets (mortgages and expenses don’t stop for a pandemic).  Then there’s the supply chain of small businesses and CBD cafes, dependent on the discretionary spend of workers (who now work from home, in droves).

We’re likely to meet in the middle – a hybrid model with time spread between the office and home. COVID may be under control, but employee expectations have fundamentally shifted.  Flexible work is here to stay, and will be critical to attract and retain talent.  This gives employees the best of both worlds, and the tools they need to contribute from wherever they happen to be.

Executive Outlook

Our Executive Outlook interviews reflect these trends, for example, sales reps can share network connections from home, with client and office meetings scheduled around KPIs.  It’s early days, but so far clients surveyed say this approach results in higher productivity.

Overall, our conversations with business leaders are upbeat about where they’ll be in three months, tempered by the uncertainty of a pandemic.  Start, pick up the pace, pause, step back, go again (it’s a bit like that).

In manufacturing, our clients talk about an explosion in raw material and freight costs, in the order of 30-40%, along with global supply shortages.  Rising costs and razor-thin margins are the No. 1 challenge so far.  Of course, there’s no inflation and stagnant wages (if you believe in the tooth fairy).

When it comes to skill shortages, we’re seeing a perfect storm – businesses have the work coming in but not enough staff.  Some 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, especially sectors affected by foreign labour shortages, such as agriculture.

Technology is where it’s all happening.  Cyberattacks on websites, identity fraud and scams fuelled by COVID have skyrocketed.  This has paved the way for cybersecurity specialists to counter attacks. The market’s also red-hot for Web designers, ap developers, robotics engineering and digital marketers.

Health professionals, legal and finance professionals are also light on the ground, as well as logistics personnel.  Our clients also face a shortage of switched-on business developers to find opportunities and build relationships.  These trends are reflected further afield.

Hro2 Australian Job Index: Job postings rose 4.3% in May to reach another all-time high.  Director Bob Oliver said “It mirrors the property market with a fear of missing out on talent … I have never seen demand this high”.

Australian Industry Group’s Performance of Construction Index:  Demand for construction workers hit a record high in May. With new orders and the pipeline of infrastructure projects growing strongly, Head of policy Peter Burns said “there is a clear need for industry and governments to ensure adequate capacity in the sector and its supply chains” to meet demand.   

Kevin Wheeler, Future of Talent Institute founder says “The world’s population is shrinking significantly – in fact… it will become a critical issue in the next decade or so.”

 Where to from here?

 The Federal Government has doubled onshore visa holders to 41 skilled occupations on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List.  RCSA CEO Charles Cameron says this shows an awareness that “our comparative advantage in handling COVID, in Australia, will be lost if we don’t find great people” to leverage opportunities.

Our advice is to consider candidates with transferrable skills, like values, attitude and people skills from other sectors.  Now is the time to hire on potential.  How adaptable are they?  Can I train them quickly?  The focus has also shifted to internal mobility and upskilling, alumni networks and referrals.

Training and retention are now front of mind for 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 team of superstar candidates are available to support your projects, cover leave or just take the pressure off. Call Liz on 3812 2920 to find out more.

We’re a Registered Training Organisation, and have sourced and trained thousands of business trainees for our clients. To find out about these amazing incentives, please reach out to Bree on 3812 2920.

Executive Outlook is presented by Top Office Group, and is known as the “most comprehensive and insightful study of the region” (matched against national data, for our 13th year running).  Thank you for sharing your views.

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