Why can’t you fill my vacancies?

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We all hear about the politicians, The REC, the CBI and other commentators that have opinions talk about The Skills Shortage, as if it is a living thing, in generalised terms, yet does anyone actually know what this Skills Shortage is that they talk about? In the real world employers do not generally tend to have too much trouble finding staff to fill their vacancies, certainly not where I have worked. However there are times when filling a vacancy does prove difficult.

I think every recruiter whether working for an agency or doing it for real in-house, as well as most HR practitioners will have come up against a specific real world skills shortage every now and then. This is typical when there is a huge demand for skills required as a result of legislative or processing change. Examples of this might be the major changes in how programs were developed in the 80’s and 90’s from linear coding to OOD (what we take as pretty standard and has moved on to how programs are written today). Computer Operating Systems changed drastically in the 90’s from mainframe and centralised computing to distributed Windows and UNIX platforms. Then you have the business applications that required major process overhauls or innovation; changes to Pensions administration in the 80’s, Y2K (this was when the dates changed from 1999 to 2000 in case you didn’t notice), SOX and more recently Solvency II amongst a shed full of others. Technical skills (not necessarily IT skills) needed to address these business processes or requirements are varied but at the time tend to be either in high demand or non-existent in the job market. But is there ever really any need for it to be this way.

One thing that has been common over the last three decades and remains unchanged today is there always seems to be a lack of planning by business to accommodate these changes. Typically changes to legislation that affect business processes come with plenty of notice to allow businesses to prepare, train and deliver. Its common sense to realise that whenever significant changes need to be implemented there is always a drastic demand for specialist skills. Yet if every company in your market space wants the same limited resources, or the specific combination of requirements that just never existed before, what are you supposed to do, as recruiters and as businesses?

I suspect that many recruiters continue to try and find that elusive candidate or two to acquiesce a hiring manager that has a wish list of demands.

I also suspect that hiring managers hold out for the perfect candidate that can perform and deliver from day one.

Recruiters – Just saying we can’t find what you are looking for is not good enough.

Hiring Managers – Just asking for experience that is not available in the market and leaving a vacancy open for longer than 60 days or more is not good enough either.

Neither attitude helps though does it? It doesn’t get the job done!

Yet despite the fact that so many companies are chasing the limited resources, how many are thinking longer term and looking at ways to actually get the job done?

I can’t understand this. Consider the cost of an empty seat for 3 months, offering zero productivity and a zero prognosis on when it will be filled as well as the impact that empty seat has on other members of the team. Then consider taking a ‘not quite perfect’ candidate and training them over the same period. Not only have you got someone who is taking some of the work now, you will have someone who will fill the seat in 3 months. Surely it’s better to train someone to be productive in three months, than it is to wait for three months then still have no one to do the job.

Very simple logic.

Whilst the hiring managers own the process of business process delivery the recruiters are responsible to ensure that the right skills are acquired for the job. Typically recruiters will have a good feel for the market; if they are doing their job properly they will do anyway. They should have the information, confidence and the trust of their customer community to advise, consult and provide the information to the hiring managers. Be brave say it as it is. If a hiring manager can’t have what they want because of non-availability of and competition for skills or money or any other influencing factor then you need to tell them. It won’t be good enough to just say it, you will have to outline the potential implications along with the options available and how you would propose to ensure that their business plans stay on track.

And just engaging with more agencies won’t work either. If the skills don’t exists how are they going to find them?
The solution however lies in the advanced notice and planning, being aware of changes and the impact to resources both in-house and in the job market that these changes will demand. In the HR community we call this Talent Demand Planning. It should be taken seriously by the business leaders and planner, by the HRBP and by the Recruiters, planning potentially up to 18-24 months in advance, yet I suspect it is not.

Why not?

Who knows? Complacency, laziness, nativity, arrogance or worse ignorance of the job market and available talent pools. A combination of the above I suspect comes close.

There is no such thing as The Skills Shortage just poor planning and limited vision.

    • Natalie Weaving
    • March 6th, 2011

    So true. You hear this excuse all the time.

    In my field of Education Recruitment you know when the ‘quieter’ periods of recruiting are and ‘plan’ to over recruit during the bouyant times i.e graduation?

    When there is a demand from a school for a certain type pf teacher with ‘x’ amount of experience it is then the job of the consultant to make the school understand the market and who is around now.

    If the relationship is good between the consultant and client this conversation should prevent them calling other agencies.


  1. I guess in the emerging In-House recruitment sector the challenge of Talent Demand Planning is testing the new Talent leaders. I agree with your proposed planning solution although I suspect it will be difficult to introduce in practice.
    However I do not agree that engaging more agencies will not work. Hearing from your (limited and protectionist) PSL that the skills do not exist does not mean they do not exist. You should check with a multi-agency portal before drawing that conclusion.

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