February 19, 2013

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Restless Legs

The Pending Talent Shakeup and What Your Business Can Do About It

Gaylen Webb | Illustrated by David Habben

February 19, 2013

Tom Henderson (not his real name to protect his current employment) is hungry for a job change. He lost his software sales job when his company downsized during the recession. Desperate to make ends meet, Henderson took a job far below his abilities just to get by. Now he has what you might call restless job syndrome, and with an increasing number of openings that fit his skills set, he feels confident a move is close.

“I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself,” he says.

Henderson is not alone. During the recession, with jobs scarce, many of the people cut from long-standing positions had nowhere to go but down the career ladder. “The alternative is not getting another job, so they take a job they don’t want, but once the economy starts to improve and job growth picks up, things look a little better so they start to move,” says Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Pressure has certainly been building in the workforce since the recession abated, and Carly Hazen, director of recruitment for Prince, Perelson & Associates, a recruitment and placement firm that handles both local and national searches, expects a busy 2013.

“Now that we are out of the recession, many of the companies we represent are ramping up their hiring,” she says. “As jobs become more plentiful, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that unhappy employees will jump ship. In reality, many workers could be planning their exit strategies right now.”

The Coming Shakeup

Hazen explains that while most employees carry a genuine sense of loyalty toward their employers, when push comes to shove the employees are willing to push back, especially as the economy heats up.

“It’s often tempting for companies to assume that during a rough economy their employees will just be grateful to have a job—that they would never want to leave. That can be a costly assumption,” Hazen says. “As a private recruitment and placement firm, we have a unique perspective on the job market. We can see the talent shift. We know that people with tremendous abilities and diversified skill sets will always be in high demand. If these people feel they are disrespected by their employers, or if office politics or organizational segmentation gets in the way of creativity and productivity, they will seek other employment and the company’s competitors will profit from that mistake.”

With job growth expected to reach a stellar 4.5 percent by mid-year, some business leaders are watching for the signs of a talent shakeup.

Knold describes what he sees as a vast army of under-employed or unhappy workers who are feeling increasingly confident they can find better jobs. “We have to make the assumption in this economic environment that a lot of people are in that situation,” he says.

There is always an ebb and flow to hiring, says Hazen, but the recession put a lid on much of the hiring until recently. Now that lid is off. “We are seeing strong demand for candidates in engineering, IT and temporary services. Candidates in these fields will be the first to make their moves.”

Moreover, she says companies that already hire in large volume will find it increasingly difficult to recruit the kind of employees they’re looking for.

“There is a higher demand for skilled positions and more of an emphasis on recruiting for soft skills—the ability to forge social relationships is more important than ever before. You can train someone if they lack a particular technical skill set, but how to articulate through email, demonstrate leadership and gain a quick knowledge of the marketplace…those are the traits that companies struggle to find and the lack of qualified workers with soft skills is often the largest threat to their growth strategies.”

Employee Engagement

Is your business prepared for a talent shakeup? Rather than be blindsided by it, businesses should be prepared for the shakeup and take steps now to retain their top talent. Any tumultuous period of hiring and training can be an enormous drag on productivity.

“Turnover is costly,” says Jared Olsen, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “It can easily cost you $50,000 to get someone new caught up to where the previous person was before they left. It obviously depends on the position and details of it, but it can easily cost that much to lose someone and have to replace them.”

One of the best ways to retain your top talent is to keep them engaged, according to Olsen. For that reason, when the 440 members of the Salt Lake Chapter of SHRM gathered for their monthly meeting in December, the central topic for discussion was how to improve employee engagement and avoid the pending talent shakeup.

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