The world today is in the grip of the worst
recession since the Great Depression. At
14 months in duration it is already longer than
any since the early 1980s and, by all accounts,
we have not hit bottom. Since December 2007
when the recession officially began, more than
4 million jobs have been destroyed in the Unit
ed States alone. In 2009, job losses already
exceed 1.4 million, the worst start to a year in
more than three decades.
The war for talent
Yet, despite the depth of the downturn, talent
management challenges abound. The war for
talent in general may be in retreat, but the war
for talent with specific skills rages on.
In December 2008, the National Federa
tion of Independent Businesses (reporting on
its membership) said that nearly three-quar
ters of firms wanted to add workers but there
were “few or no qualified applicants for the
job openings they were trying to fill”. In a
late 2008 survey by Ranstad Corporation,
more than half of responding companies said
that they were “still experiencing skills short
ages in spite of the downturn”.
Many organisations are actually taking an
aggressive stance in this recession, according
to Human Capital Institute and Workscape re
search. When it came to firing, benefits and
bonuses, an alarming 60 per cent of the or
ganisations we surveyed have either frozen or reduced base salaries in response to the down
turn. Moreover, half have frozen hiring and more
than a fifth have engaged in mass layoffs.
Interestingly, despite the fact that it has
become an “employers’ market”, more re
spondents are concerned about employee
retention today (36 per cent) than they were
18 months ago, before the recession began
(28 per cent).
Despite wage, hiring and bonus freezes,
organisations need critical skills to keep pace
with a constantly changing market. Fifty-seven
per cent of respondents are currently hiring
new employees. Surprisingly, respondents in
the financial services sector report even
stronger hiring activity. At 69 per cent, finan
cial services firms were the most likely of five
key industries to be currently hiring. Further
more, government, education, electronics/
technology and professional services firms
are also more likely to be hiring than not.
Talent management initiatives
When asked to rank the talent management
initiatives they consider most important dur
ing this recession, not surprisingly, respon
dents said the emphasis has shifted from re
cruitment activities to a focus on driving greater
performance from the current workforce. By
a wide margin, performance management ini
tiatives are rated most important, followed by
learning. This was generally consistent across
all industries and company sizes.
There can be no escaping the fact that
economies everywhere are in a serious state
of crisis. Nonetheless, as our research shows,
hiring continues; as does talent management
in general. Most organisations realise that in
order to survive the recession and be poised
for growth when the economy rebounds, their
workforce must remain in good shape. Even
if headcount is smaller, critical skills and tal
ents are essential and performance is key.
The most surprising and encouraging
finding is our respondents’ strong note of
optimism throughout the survey.
Most employers are not reducing core ben
efits such as healthcare, for example, and a
full 27 per cent are either taking a business
as usual approach or are actually taking ad
vantage of the recession by adopting even
more aggressive strategies.