Barriers to growth: recruitment and training (May 30th 2012)

An old post from May 30th 2012

Perhaps the greatest challenge that an interim contractor or permanent jobseeker faces is that of ‘specific experience’. To help match costs with revenues budget holders in many organisations have be forced to ‘downsize’ headcount, and ‘Human Resources’ are as affected as any other functional unit. Demand of course has not actually fallen so there has been both a need to reduce services, and to provide the remainder in more effective and efficient ways. Many organisations have introduced a hybrid HR consulting and transaction service type approach, involving advisory services at the ‘coal face’ and an outsourced shared service for more transactional aspects such as recruitment.

Recruitment is none too easy in this current environment. The 2008 credit collapse has produced an increase in unemployment and a concomitant increase in jobseekers. There are simply a lot more applicants for reduced human resource departments to handle. ‘Method improvements’ have been required to manage all this additional volume; in other words automated and outsourced solutions. We have now entered the world of CV software screening, already having taken root in North America and now starting to catch on in Europe.

CV scanning involves searching and matching words or phrases against a job role definition or specification. Thus the program might be instructed to look for specific job titles, sector or management experience. Alas therein lies the problem for our freshly minted graduate population. As new entrants to the job market it is unlikely that they have any experience; it is also likely that due to the nature of the jobs they are looking for, they will form a significant proportion of the ‘volume’ problem, and will be software screened. We are therefore left with a situation where we have more qualified, and arguably capable, candidates than ever before but also have one of the highest graduate unemployment rates in history. The universal law of unintended consequences has delivered the resourcing world into a situation where employers complain about the quality of candidates, and yet we have an enormous pool of willing, well qualified and capable individuals desperately looking for their first jobs.

Further up the experience ladder the same problem manifests itself, albeit in a slightly different way. Software scanning is far less prevalent for middle or senior management roles but other more subtle barriers are created. Middle and senior managers have not been exempt from the travails of the employment market. Reduced human resource departments have often elected to ‘outsource’ initial filtering to external recruitment agencies; in essence the volume problem has been outsourced. Agencies and head hunters are now two-steps removed from the employer need (Internal client and HR department). They want to provide the best service they can, to delight and please the client. Recruitment risks are to be avoided, especially in the highly competitive and lucrative employment world; volumes must also be dealt with. So the recruiter will often take the client job specification in a very literal sense. Very detailed and arcane experience and qualification filters are used to manage volume.

The result of course is a mechanism which only delivers individuals with specific qualifications, sector and functional experience. Inter-sector cross-pollination of experience has all but ceased. An emphasis on what an individual has previously achieved has almost completely supplanted competency and capability based filtering criteria, with the effect of closing the job market to thousands of individuals and vastly reducing choice for the end client. The omnipresent law of unintended consequences strikes again. Client timelines are stretched in the search for the perfect candidate. Furthermore, while a short term objective of ‘hitting the ground running’ may save that first three or four months of a learning curve, that rare opportunity to inject fresh thinking into the organisation has been permanently lost.

It could be time to look again at the recruitment process. Instead of eliminating all those perfectly capable but experience-lacking graduates perhaps that training strategy and those training budgets ought to be reviewed. Ultimately, the future of any organisation rests on the quality of the people being brought in. Experienced based recruiting may solve an immediate problem but the right people are not always available, and in the long run it may be better to invest in your future growth rather than think only for today.

The same could also apply to those middle and senior management roles. A remit prioritising ‘hitting the ground running’ will certainly resolve current challenges. But will it facilitate the innovative and lateral thinking required to survive in a future of uncertainty and economic turmoil? Where will those new ideas and fresh thinking come from?

For a look at a possible future the Wall Street Journal published an article on the subject in May 2012:

In a world of structural change an impact analysis of any proposed method or process ought to be undertaken before pressing the ‘implement’ button.

Mistakes are not always easily rectified, and may not even be recognised until many years in the future.

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