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The Dilemmas of Recruitment

20 September 2011

Companies will claim employees are their most valuable asset and the key element to their competitive advantage. In reality, most businesses are as unprepared and unskilled in attracting and retaining top people as they were 10 years ago.

This past decade has seen organisations invest heavily in HR systems and processes, prioritising this ‘war for talent’. While these investments were necessary and expected, they have proven to be, at best, wanting.

The key issues acknowledged by senior managers and executives are that they view their ‘strategies’ to attract and manage talent as a short-term, tactical issue.

Confusion over the role of the HR professional together with the view from executives that their HR counterparts lack business knowledge (and that many work in a narrow administrative way rather than addressing long-term issues such as workforce planning and talent strategy), has led to the declining impact that HR has on a company’s overall strategy.

Two studies – the first in 2006 - by consulting firm McKinsey & co identified that businesses saw this ‘quest for talent’ to be the single most important managerial challenge for the following decade.

In line with this, the government has announced plans to create 50,000 apprenticeships in the UK food industry, a sector already employing 3.7 million people, confirming what most have known for quite a while – there are skill gaps across the sector with companies finding it increasingly difficult to attract talented candidates.

So – will creating 50,000 apprenticeships solve our industry’s problems? In short – ‘No’ – There are no guarantees that people will remain in the sector long-term and the skills shortages in lower to higher levels of management will still be present, and it will take a number of years for the emerging workforce to work it’s way up.

So what can be done?

External factors such as falling birth rates and rising rates of retirement can not be influenced nor changed and nothing can be done immediately to increase the availability of talented people so companies must become more competitive in their fight to ‘capture’ talent.

One of the first places to start with is the interview. Companies should remember - the interview is the ideal place to showcase their company, and use it to ‘sell’ their opportunity.

The key to a successful ‘talent strategy’ is to implement robust systems and processes for recruiting, developing and retaining employees.

A trap that a lot of companies fall in to when doing this is to focus purely on their HR systems and processes when, as one executive of a meat processing business commented, the real battle lies in people’s heads, “habits of the mind are the real barriers to talent management”.

Understanding the mindset of people will help when both hiring and retaining staff and the key is in the detail.

For example, someone with 5+ years of experience will tend to favour the longer term potential and strategy such as growth in their current role, chances of promotion, variety to role etc. Entry level and non-management employees are more concerned with the shorter-term gains such as salary, holiday etc. This needs to be clearly explained.

Our study showed that hiring processes containing more than 2 interviews significantly reduces a company’s chances of securing talent from that process.

To rectify this, companies should shorten their hiring cycle, either by scheduling multiple interviews in one day or by selecting candidates more quickly. Research also uncovered that once candidates had started discussions with one firm, they are 80 per cent more likely to look at other opportunities.

2012 will see the start of the ‘baby boom’ generation retiring and swathes of ‘Generation-Y’ entering the workforce. This provides a whole new test in managing three different generations and mindsets of workers in the industry.

The key to winning this war for talent will be to start winning the battles now. A third of all companies have done nothing about their aging workforces and urgently need to address it.

* Andrew Cottrill is a recruitment and
retention specialist for Search International

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