Where Has All The Talent Gone?


Where Has All The Talent Gone?

By: Alan Davis

The Recruiter’s Lament (2012)

Where has all the talent gone?
Long time passing.
Where has all the talent gone?
Long time ago.
Where has all the talent gone?
In retirement – everyone.
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

I recently had the privilege of chairing a two-day high-level conference on Succession Planning and Leadership Development for government. It was a sobering experience. Without a doubt, the biggest concern raised at the conference was the size and composition of the future talent pool. In support of this concern, speakers referred to The Conference Board CEO survey titled “The CEO Challenge: Top Marketplace and Management Issues”. In this survey, North American CEOs ranked the shortage of skilled labour as their number one concern. Coupled with their concern is the demographic reality that there are too few younger workers to replace the baby boomers as they retire. Many of the speakers shared their latest demographic nightmares. Here are some

  • By 2004, 65% of Senior Executives will be eligible for retirement
  • By 2005, 57% of Executives will have retired
  • By 2007, 40% of all Management level staff will be expected to retire
  • By 2008, 69.2% of staff are eligible to retire

And it doesn’t look like it will get any better! According to the analysis of the Statistics Canada – 2001 Census, the Canadian population aged 45 to 64 increased 36% between 1991 (5.4 million) and 2001 (7.3 million). Consequently, Canada’s working-age population has become more dominated by older individuals. A major factor contributing to this statistic is the decline in birth rate since 1991. These examples coupled with today’s demographics prove that the future shortage of skilled labour is a reality more than a possibility. So my first post-conference
conclusion is that anyone having trouble sleeping at night should not read up on workforce demographics because it will keep you awake all night. The sheep will be jumping in overtime.

After returning home, I picked up the local newspaper and was faced with these headlines “Nursing in Crisis” and “RN shortage cripples ER”. So we can conclude quite safely that this phenomenon is not going to go away anytime soon and that it is indeed a ubiquitous problem, which affects individual contributors as well as Managers and Executives, within the public and private sectors.
The conference focused on the impending bubble about to burst within the next five to ten years and on ensuring that capable talent with leadership potential was currently being suitably coached, developed, mentored, and generally cosseted. But it begs the question – what happens ten years from now? We can safely predict that the bubble will indeed have burst by then.

In the private sector, we can predict that knowledge-based organizations will not have the talent to enable them to compete. They will be forced to merge just to gain the critical mass of talent needed to survive and grow. The obvious result would be a reduction in competition as monopolies are created. Can we imagine a Microsoft scenario in every sector of the knowledge industry?

In the public sector, due to labour shortages, we can predict that the Governments’ ability to deliver services will be seriously compromised. We may be forced to rely exclusively on internet-based services supported by call centers! My biggest, personal scare is in the Healthcare field. I do not want to be told in my retirement “We think you have a serious problem but there is no doctor available”. With failing eyesight and trembling hands this is not the time for “do-it-yourself” surgery!

These are somewhat doomsday scenarios but are they really too much of a stretch?

The two big questions are:

  • What can be done?
  • Who is going to do it?

Generally speaking, the people in most pain (an expression heard often at the conference) are the people who find the solutions first. The expression that leaps to mind is “necessity is the mother of invention”.

The Health sector is already facing critical shortages but there are too many stakeholders and level of governments involved. There appears to be no cohesive approach and, as far as I can see, no clearly identifiable leadership has emerged. Although many studies have been commissioned, there appears to be no viable, short term solutions. In the meantime, ERs continue to be crippled.

A recent example of a short-term solution gone wrong is the move by the Quebec government to force ER doctors to work in hospitals with critical manpower shortages. In some cases the hospital in need has been 500 kilometers from the ER doctor’s residence. It’s no surprise that the ER doctors affected are currently considering legal action against the government.

As for other Government services, I imagine that nothing short of citizens’ revolt might force the government to act when services diminish to an intolerable and/or unacceptable level.

In the private sector, some industry leaders are already lining up talent from their competitors’ ranks to meet their future needs. However, external recruiting, albeit as strategically as you can make it, does not increase the size of the talent pool.

In general, the overall tendency has been to focus on the short and medium term but nobody appears to be thinking beyond five years.

In terms of what can be done to increase the size of the talent pool, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Get industry and government working together with the educational sector to encourage our youth to enter careers that will be in demand.
  • Adopt, in the public sector, the private sector model of improving working conditions for workers with key skills in critical demand (nurses would be a good start).
  • Modify work force participation rates by offering older workers reduced and/or flexible hours instead of retirement.
  • Develop effective mentoring programs to transfer knowledge from older workers to their younger replacements.
  • Encourage qualified immigrants with key skills to come to Canada (which is still rightly perceived as being a great place to live).
  • Ensure the process for immigrants to upgrade their qualifications to meet

Canadian certification requirements is simple, affordable and fair.

No doubt there are other initiatives that can be taken. What do you think we should do? And who should lead the charge?

I believe that the impending crisis demands leadership of the highest order. I also believe that it is the responsibility of our industry leaders, in conjunction with government, to ensure the talent pool – both present and future. But who’s going to tell them?
Alan Davis & Associates Inc. (450) 458-3535 – www.alandavis.com

The Author:

Alan Davis is founder and President of Alan Davis & Associates Inc.(Picking Winners Search), a specialized recruiting practice with offices in Quebec and
Ontario. He has 22 years experience in recruiting and has managed many recruiting campaigns, both in Canada and overseas. Alan was the Program Manager of the
1992 Canadian Astronaut Recruitment Campaign. His company provides specialized services in strategic recruitment & selection, succession management, and interview
training. Alan is a regular conference speaker and a frequently published author on recruiting and selection topics. Hudson, QC: 450-458-3535 Ottawa, ON: 613-224-9950

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