An article I saw yesterday has me thinking about supply and demand for talented employees. That article, which ran in the Chicago Tribune, reported that more than a third of all employers globally face a shortage of skilled workers, according to the results of a new survey. That survey, conducted by Manpower Group, also found that not only is it challenging to find skilled employees, but companies are reluctant to hire until people with the right skillsets are found.
Manpower’s survey of more than 40,000 employers across 41 countries found that the hardest jobs to fill globally are skilled trade workers, engineers, and sales representatives. Among the most frequently cited reasons employers say they can’t fill roles is a lack of applicants—that response was cited by 33 percent of the respondents this year, up from 24 percent in 2011. An equal percentage complain they see a “lack of technical competencies/hard skills”—especially when it comes to industry-specific qualifications in both professional and skilled trades categories.
The news is worse for U.S.-based companies. Another Manpower study found that 49 percent of U.S. employers are experiencing difficulty filling critical positions within their organizations. Indeed, according to the more than 1,300 U.S. employers surveyed, the positions that are most difficult to fill include skilled trades, engineers, and IT staff.
While it’s getting worse, this isn’t exactly a new problem, and it has been discussed for the past few years. Robert J. Bowman, managing editor, SupplyChainBrain, recently wrote that in 2010, MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics released a white paper titled “Are You Prepared for the Supply Chain Talent Crisis?” In that paper, global communications consultant Ken Cottrill speculated that the recession was a contributing factor. Eager to cut costs in a down economy, companies went too far in shedding themselves of valuable—albeit expensive--supply-chain expertise. They took for granted their ability to pick up suitable talent from a supposedly deep pool of applicants, when things got better. Meanwhile, baby boomers, who make up the lion’s share of supply-chain professionals, are beginning to retire, and younger replacements are in short supply, Cottrill wrote. Add to that a discipline that’s ever-changing and more challenging than ever before, and the situation borders on becoming critical.
So the salient question then becomes: How can companies address this labor shortage? In Bowman’s article, he wrote that David Ecklund, program director of the University of Tennessee’s Global Supply Chain Executive MBA program, recommends taking what he calls a “dual development path,” which focuses on core supply-chain skills while simultaneously embracing cross-functional capabilities. The transformation of talent requires a focus on standard competency models, career and succession planning, and continuing education. Also, Ecklund says global networking is absolutely critical. Companies must look outside their own industry.
Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup president of the Americas, adds that wise corporate leaders are already acting on the talent shortage. For example, he says the firm increasingly sees companies developing workforce strategies and partnerships with local educational institutions to train the next generation of workers.
I’m reminded by that of the Skills for America’s Future program, which is an industry led initiative with the goal to improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nation-wide network to maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs, and job placements. Central to the program is a Manufacturing Skills Certification System, which will give students the opportunity to earn manufacturing credentials that will travel across state lines. I am interested in watching the program develop, and in seeing results from the initiative.