How To Combat the Skilled Talent Shortage

How To Combat the Skilled Talent Shortage
David J. Baker

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We’re at the start of a new talent war. Ask any employer who is trying to recruit for any skilled trade and you will quickly discover that this is becoming their biggest challenge in growing and expanding their business. 

As we begin the rapid rise out of one of the worst recessions on record, businesses in the drain cleaning industry are seeing opportunities for growth. The stock market is setting records, almost weekly, housing is rebounding and mortgage rates are starting to bounce back. But there’s a great conundrum. Unemployment rates are still unusually high — still over 7 percent nationally. 

The problem is a current workforce that lacks the necessary skills required to perform the hundreds of jobs that growing companies are trying to fill. 

In a recent Talent Shortage Survey released by temporary employment firm Manpower, nearly 40 percent of U.S. employers are having difficulty finding skilled talent to fill vacancies. 

According to the study, the top 10 hardest jobs to fill include the following: 

1.     Skilled trades **
2.     Sales representatives
3.     Drivers
4.     IT staff **
5.     Accounting and finance staff **
6.     Engineers **
7.     Technicians **
8.     Management/executives **
9.     Mechanics **
10.   Teachers ** 

** These require specialized training in order to properly perform the duties employers’ need. 

U.S. employers reported several reasons for having trouble filling open positions:

  • 48 percent said candidates lack technical competencies/hard skills
  • 33 percent said candidates lack workplace competencies/soft skills
  • 32 percent said the problem is a lack of or no available candidates 

There are a number of steps innovative employers can take to put them ahead of their competition when it comes time to fill these jobs. 

Filling the jobs 

Businesses can curb the lack of skilled workers by growing their own. From those surveyed, 23 percent have begun expanding their training and development programs. Employers have taken matters into their own hands and are training current employees with the necessary skills, or implementing training programs that they can hire new employees into. Many have turned to the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeships for existing models to develop programs for everything from machinists, electronic assemblers, mechanics and opticians. 

Another option is for employers to take a different approach at recruitment. From those surveyed, 20 percent have begun recruiting from untapped talent pools. For example, the largest pool of skilled employees exists in one very well defined demographic — baby boomers. Most of these individuals have 25-plus years of experience specifically focused around employer needs. Smart employers are looking to rehire the early retirees back into the workforce and have them mentor the younger generation to gain the necessary skills. 

Employers are also partnering with technical schools. These programs generate individuals with core competencies, while arming them with some of the most advanced technologies, processes and innovations. One employer that was attempting to hire more than 500 CDL licensed drivers from the market, discovered that they could only fill about 200 of those positions from applicants. They decided to partner with several of the local CDL training schools and brought those individuals into driver trainee positions. They are slowly, but methodically hiring the talent with the skills they want and need.


Partnering with military and veterans organizations also works. There are thousands of very talented, fully trained — and highly disciplined — individuals who leave the military every month. Most of them would like to return to jobs near their homes. 

It all pays off 

Employers are becoming more creative in their compensation practices as well. In the 1990s employers in several major technology geographic hot spots, including Palo Alto, Calif., Austin, Texas, and the Tech Corridor near Boston were so desperate for skilled tradesmen and technical talent that they provided significant hiring bonuses, specialized perks and innovative work schedules to attract applicants and away from competitors. This included more paid time off, less cost for medical insurance, and even paid lunches. 

As these latest talent wars heat up, expect employers to revisit these programs with an even more aggressive approach focused on the two things the next generation is keenly interested in — time off and professional development. 

Recruitment and retention 

The best employers focus on retention combined with recruitment efforts. In their book “Topgrading: How to Hire, Coach and Keep ‘A’ Players,” Brad Smart and Geoff Smart calculated that the loss of a skilled employee can cost an employer between three and six times an individual’s annual salary. And it’s no secret that some employers don’t have much trouble retaining their employers. But most employees stay at a job because of pay and benefits, right? 

A research project conducted by Human Capital Investors found those reasons are actually not true. The research discovered that employees don’t leave their employers for more compensation (pay and benefits). They leave because they work for weak, ineffective and poorly trained supervisors and managers. Employers have begun implementing programs to build very effective supervisory training programs focused on retaining their employees that they spent so much time, energy and cost to recruit. 

There are specific trends that business leaders must be cognizant of when planning their talent strategies as the economy recovers. They include: 

  • Talent is the last great horizon. Companies who best strategize how to develop, manage and deliver it will excel over those that do not.
  • The gap in talent will continue to widen as our baby boomers transition to retirement. As such, this largest portion of our available workforce must be tapped now to grow the skills needed tomorrow.
  • The skill landscape will continue to be more and more competitive over the next generation. As such, opportunities for increased workforce efficiencies and skill development will allow for individual and technological advances pushing human potential to the next level.
  • Technology will continue to change where, when and how we work.
  • Companies must develop new strategies to attract and retain scarce talent. 

About the Author
David J. Baker is founder, president and CEO of Human Capital Advisors Inc., which offers executive recruitment, compensation, benefits, management training, workforce and organizational development services. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Industrial Relations. Contact David at or visit


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