Business Impact

Caught Between Recruiting and Development

The division between the two is the reason there's a war for talent, writes CLO columnist Mike Echols.

The U.S. government scanned job posting sites such as Monster and CareerBuilder and identified more than 43,000 job titles companies are seeking to fill. As of Jan. 10, 2017, the Department of Labor reported 5.5 million job openings in the U.S. economy. As a learning leader you might be asking: “So what? I’m in charge of training not recruiting.” Well, let’s examine that “so what.”

The challenge for your organization is to have the skills it needs to successfully compete in the global market, to provide the products and services your customers want. There are only two ways for your organization to acquire those skills. To use a manufacturing metaphor, you can buy them or build them. These represent the two action options in talent management, recruit or develop.

Mike Echols

Because the talent issue has become so critical to performance for our companies, most medium to large enterprises have specialized talent departments. One of the functions is learning and development, the other is recruiting and retention. Paradoxically, I have never met an executive with a title combining the two, like: “recruiting and development” or “development and retention.” It’s nonsensical, really. Consider, the Gallup Organization has hundreds of thousands of data points on the importance of providing employees with the opportunity to learn and grow as one of the most important factors impacting their retention. But I would be willing to wager that retention is not one of the key performance indicators discussed in the learning organization’s performance review.

Worse, this fragmentation of critical talent strategy is only one part of the puzzle. Of greater importance in the face of proliferating job titles and massive numbers of unfilled positions is the issue of what organizations are really trying to accomplish with their talent strategies. I would argue the real objective is not described by commonly used verbs like: to hire, to recruit, to develop, to train, to retain.

These “to do” verbs are dictated by job scope precisely because of the complexity of the environment our organizations operate in today. These verbs are actually a reductionist attempt to manage that complexity. They are actually a means to an end, not ends in and of themselves. The real objective is to have the talent required today and tomorrow.

With that objective in mind, let’s return to the 43,000 job titles and 5.5 million open positions. The job titles and related position descriptions define a talent demand function. Some subset of this vast job posting pool is what you and your organization’s competitors are looking for in the labor market. On the other hand, the 5.5 million unfilled positions reflect the supply side of this talent market supply-demand equation. All of this brings us back to the original question: “So what?”

From a broad strategic perspective, viewing talent and skills in the context of sufficient supply to have what’s needed for today and tomorrow, we return to the buy or build, recruit or develop part of the talent equation. What the aforementioned U.S. Department of Labor data tells us is that the fragmentation of skills (43,000) and the massive scope of unfilled positions (5.5 million) are not being adequately fulfilled by recruiters’ actions. There is only one other option available, to develop the talent and skills required in an organization’s existing workforce.

One implication of the “so what” question, one your learning and development organization might want to discuss with senior management, is that the big data we examined here is ultimately about resource allocation. It is clear from the supply-demand discussion that recruitment is not a right now or even a wholly right solution. And with 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, it’s even less likely to be a complete solution for tomorrow, particularly as a means to obtain the talent and skills organizations need.

In the end, this is about your budget. Data shows that more resources are required to win the war for talent. With recruiting falling short, development is the only game in town. The key will be to connect the dots between recruiting and development, and the resulting dotted line is the answer to the original “so what” question.

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