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Economic Woes Yield a Talent Search Lacking Urgency
America’s got talent. So why is it so hard to find?

By Joseph Coombs  7/6/2012
 

Maybe it wouldn’t be great theater, but why not develop another reality-based television show based on marriage—one that would tie the knot between those elusive skilled workers and job openings at thriving U.S. employers.

You can have your manufactured pop stars and your weight-loss champions. And please, keep your dancing celebrities. Give me something that’s a little more connected to reality—the continuing struggles of those who make up the U.S. labor market, showing how the short- and long-term effects of the latest recession are truly damaging the country’s future.

New research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows that this is not going away anytime soon. Of manufacturers that are hiring full-time staff, more than two-thirds (67 percent) said their organizations are having a difficult time recruiting for available positions, virtually unchanged from the summer of 2011 (68 percent). Naturally the process becomes even more strenuous for highly specialized positions: 74 percent of those surveyed said they’re struggling to fill jobs that require “new and different skill sets in manufacturing,” up from 72 percent in 2011 and 43 percent in 2010.

What makes this scenario even more frustrating is that many of these companies already are doing quite well, but business likely would be booming with a full staff. Nearly three-quarters of manufacturers surveyed (73 percent) reported “mild to significant” improvement in their organization’s financial health compared with a year ago, up sharply from 59 percent in both 2011 and 2010. Of that group, 24 percent reported a “significant” financial recovery, up from 19 percent in 2011 and just 6 percent in 2010.

Simple math will tell you how harmful the skills gap is for the U.S. economy in the near term. Fewer people employed means fewer dollars being spent on goods and services and fewer taxes being collected.

Now for the scary long-term news: Some companies are getting quite complacent about the skills mismatch issue, according to research by staffing services firm Manpower. The company’s 2012 Global Talent Shortage Survey showed that 56 percent of employers indicate that unfilled positions are expected to have “little or no impact” on constituents, such as customers and investors. That’s up considerably from 36 percent in 2011.

Why the sharp rise in that metric? Manpower’s analysis suggests that the data could be revealing a “new normal” for the workforce—companies operating at higher levels of efficiency due not only to technological improvements but to cutting labor costs by employing fewer workers and increasing productivity of existing staff.

Will the time come when skating by on the bare minimum doesn’t produce the results desired by consumers, stockholders and others with a stake in corporate America? Possibly. But given the painfully slow progress the country’s economy has made, it’s suddenly easy to see why many companies aren’t extremely worried about filling a few slots on their payrolls.

This is incredibly shortsighted, though; as Manpower’s analysis correctly points out, “failure to understand the impact unfilled positions can have on the client experience and stakeholders . . . is a monumental mistake . . . it is an unsustainable approach to addressing talent shortages in the Human Age.”

Now there’s a dose of reality for all HR professionals to consider.

Joseph Coombs is SHRM’s workplace trends and forecasting specialist.

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