HR Query, HR Technology Week

HR Query: Skills Gap or Waning Interest? Why Tech Leaders Can’t Find Talent (Part I)

Although thousands of tech workers have been laid off in the last few months, tech leaders are having difficulty attracting top talent. According to a new LinkedIn survey, as a career, the tech sector isn’t as attractive as it once was.

While unemployment is at its lowest level in decades, there are still more than 15 million people in the U.S. who are underemployed, statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor reveals.

This week’s HR Query guest John W. Mitchell, President and CEO of global trade organization IPC, says that talent is out there but finding them is the challenge.

“Finding and retaining talent is a process in dire need of change from the ground up, as outdated recruiting practices keep the best candidates at bay due to the lack of sometimes useless degrees,” Mitchell shared with HR Daily Advisor. “The way we accomplish this is being creative. Some of the best tactics I have seen involve going to other industries and pulling them into your industry or looking for fundamental skills as opposed to degrees and being willing to train in the expertise. I have also seen companies run creative job fairs to bring in locals and offer jobs on the spot while they are excited about what they have seen of the work environment and culture. And don’t forget that restaurant server who is attentive, respectful, remembers your order, and demonstrates those soft skills that are tough to maintain in that environment.

“When you require a certain degree you limit your pool,” he continued. “Try instead to post the skills you are looking for and put the degree down as ‘nice to have.’ The idea is to open the opportunity to more people, so you have some selection. The degree is not the only thing that demonstrates skills – and often it demonstrates only the capacity for skills – you still have to teach them once they are in the workplace.”

Read on to find out Mitchell’s techniques for hiring a good fit, tips for retaining talent, as well as best practices to manage salary equity and more.

What are some techniques we can use to ensure our hires are a good fit for the position and our organization?

JWM: I have seen the truth of the old saying ‘fire fast, hire slow.’ When hiring, you want to do everything you can to ensure the right person is being brought onboard. Here are a few things you can do to optimize your likelihood of success.

First, we call this the Rule of Three. You need to be seeing (and hopefully in the final pool) at least three candidates. If you only have one, you will have no comparison. The next part of the rule is that at least three different people need to have interviewed each of the candidates. Get different opinions of these people. It would be great if you could also hold those interviews under different circumstances. Usually, I would suggest in the office, on the phone or video call, and over a meal. Those are still great suggestions, but with more individuals working remotely – that may not be feasible.  The alternative might be via different devices.  Or on video, only audio, and perhaps walking around on the phone.  The point is to see how the individual reacts to various situations.

The last suggestion is one that factors in time. Even if you do the Rule of Three above, you only have about 3-8 hours of total interaction time with the candidate. That is hardly anything! I enjoy the suggestion made in the book by Sutton and Pfeffer Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense. One of the ‘half-truths’ centers around hiring friends or family. While we have all heard the horror stories of the uncle’s brother who does nothing once you give him a job, the other side of this is that if someone you trust recommends someone, they have months or even years of interaction – well beyond a handful of hours. Something to consider.

How do we keep our talent in times of low unemployment?

JWM: With low unemployment, like we have been part of for about a year now, often comes options. In my book “Fire Your Hiring Habits” I have termed this not the Great Resignation, but instead the Great Reprioritization. The pandemic caused many to rethink exactly what was important to them. It provided an opportunity to experience – for a while – a different way to work. And it got people thinking about their options. So, what to do?

One of the best ways to keep people I have found (and research supports) is to keep making them better. Find out what they desire professionally and invest in them through training, certifications/credentials, and mentoring. Show them you want them to become the best they can become. ‘But, John, if they have better skills they will leave for better pay!’ And I cannot deny that is a possibility. But let me offer two other perspectives on the idea of improving your team’s capabilities.

First, how can you not?  If you have better skilled people working for you – you are more likely to be more efficient. They will be able to do their work faster and more competently. You will have better products. Better outcomes. Better people. All the things that make up a great company. Second, a LinkedIn survey showed that 94% of the people surveyed said they would be more loyal to companies who invested in their personal and professional growth. Training your people develops loyalty to your organization. That is a key strategy to overcome the specter of losing people in times of low unemployment. 

What are some of the best ways to manage salary equity when new hires are entering at higher rates than existing personnel?

JWM: With increased inflation these past few quarters, this question is more relevant than ever. We could have an employee that joined us just before the pandemic and was super grateful that their job remained active throughout that ordeal. Then about two years later, we might need another individual to do the same job and scarcity and inflation could have driven the cost of that individual significantly beyond what the first person is now making. Less experience – more money. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for retaining employees at all. Well, what can we do about it?

Below are three strategies I have seen used to manage this kind of situation, let’s categorize them like the old Clint Eastwood movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

The Good – it’s simple and the most expensive. As you are preparing to offer the new staff member the same job at a higher rate, inform the more experienced person they will be getting an increase commensurate with their experience and the market. Many organizations I work with have shared that they expect labor force costs to go up in cost by about 10% this year.

The Bad – this is gaming the situation to save very little money – hence ‘bad.’  First, try to be sure that the jobs being done are indeed the same. Differences allow for differences in pay in various directions.  If they are indeed the same and the first individual is better (due to over two years more experience in the job) begin the process. Following the process can actually help a little with the financial situation. As it is a process, it moves one step at a time. First step, observe the new employee to ensure they are going to stay (1-2 months is a reasonable time). If they leave, there is no longer immediate pressure for re-leveling. After that time, the next step is to speak with the more senior individual and share you are going to raise their compensation commensurate with their experience and the market. The next step is to explain that this will happen at the typical time this occurs in your organization – as long as it is not too far off – share that it will occur at that point. Observe their response. You may need to move faster than your process dictates if you feel they might leave and that would be detrimental to your company.

The Ugly – let it ride until complaint is shared. This is obviously ugly because you may lose someone valuable, and if you don’t you have a toxic culture in your organization.

Suffice it to say – choose the Good.  Pay a fair wage – you want a culture that retains your talent.

When it is time to ‘part ways’ with someone (RIF or cause), what are some best practices?

JWM: We have been hearing of layoffs nearly every other day throughout the beginning of this year.  Company X announces, ‘12,000 people being laid off; 15% of the workforce to be cut; 5,000 employee positions to be eliminated.’ When approaching a reduction in force (RIF), I believe it absolutely needs to be handled with compassion and with fairness.

Recently, I was part of a RIF. Before we let anyone go – the entire executive team took a 10% pay cut to avert the RIF. This ended up be insufficient to prevent it, so the next thing we did was communicate with the company.  They needed to know what we were facing and why we were doing a RIF. At the time of the RIF, discussions and compensation were part of it. Recognition that this was affecting lives was also internalized and shared.

When letting an individual go, similar practices need to be followed, but there are other aspects as well.  Consistency (which should be adherence to the company policy) is a must. Treating two different individuals differently when they have a similar background or position is a recipe for disaster. Be human and don’t make it about you. It is their life that is being impacted and that is hard for even the most deserving of releases.

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