New Zealand’s unemployment rate of 7.3% for the September 2012 quarter was the highest in 13 years. Yet organisations are still complaining about the difficulty of recruiting quality candidates.
Back in 2002 Ira Wolfe, a leading US recruitment specialist, said he believed labour shortages would not blow over, and that they had no industry or geographic boundaries. He put this down to several factors: continuous growth in economies since the early 1990s and therefore higher demand for skilled labour; falling birth rates; a higher percentage of older workers combined with longer life expectancy; also fewer working adults as a percentage of total population.
For New Zealand it meant re-defining what we perceived as people’s productive years as the working population aged. It meant the growth of non-traditional working arrangements driven by downsizing, outsourcing and so on, with more people going into self-employment and an explosion of small businesses; fewer skilled workers, especially in trades; and the collapse of career paths. Finally he mentioned the issue particularly relevant to NZ – cultural diversity.
We’ve done that. Many organisations now recognise the value in their older workers; some of our entrepreneurs have gained worldwide recognition for their products/services; there has been a belated recognition by the Government of the lack of trade skills; and there is growing acceptance that an organisation’s staff should reflect the ethnicity of its customers. And we have been through a punishing recession (arguably are still in it) but still we bemoan recruitment difficulties.
Peter Cappelli (24th October 2011, Wall Street Journal) placed the blame fairly and squarely on unrealistic employer expectations. Too often they want prospective employees to be able to hit the ground running – no training or learning curve factored in. I believe that he is right. The change has been very gradual, but change there has been. Organisations have become so lean and mean they no longer have manpower available to mentor and train someone on the job, and training programmes are a luxury in terms of time and cost.
But when things are as tight as they are, these things become necessities, not luxuries. Employers need to shift their thinking. If you can’t find that perfect candidate (the “can do” person with the right degree and experience), consider recruiting for the “will do” person who has the right attitude and potential. Their salary expectations will be less and the money saved can be invested in their training. A bonus is that employees who are trained and nurtured in their roles very often show increased loyalty to the employer who opened doors for them.
As it’s likely there will continue to be a shortage of quality candidates, employers will need to think more flexibly and creatively if they are to recruit the staff that will improve their competitive advantage.
Wyatt Sargent & Associates Ltd are HR advisors to UHY Haines Norton www.wyattsargent.com