LinkedIn's first CHRO: 'Supply of qualified talent isn't going to increase'

Steve Cadigan argues you’ll have to 'become a talent development business' to compete in 2022 and beyond

LinkedIn's first CHRO: 'Supply of qualified talent isn't going to increase'

With the Great Resignation continuing to wreak havoc on companies across the United States, it’s time for HR leaders to develop a new talent agenda.

Instead of bending over backwards to prevent employees from fleeing, industry veteran Steve Cadigan suggests companies “play offense with turnover.”

“Expect people are going to go and that it’s going to hurt,” Cadigan told a packed room of HR professionals at the Workhuman Live conference in Atlanta. “But more people leaving your company means more alumni than ever before. That’s a hidden force for recruiting. Let’s measure engagement by how many people come back to the company. Instead of retaining employees, let’s retain our relationships.”

Read more: Malcolm Gladwell: ‘The job of developing talent is really hard’

The founder of Silicon Valley-based Cadigan Talent Ventures, Cadigan advises several California heavyweights, such as Twitter, Cisco, Intel and Salesforce. Prior to launching his own firm, he worked as an HR executive for over 25 years at a wide range of companies, including ESPRIT, Allianz, Cisco and Redwood City, CA-based Electronic Arts. In 2009, he became the first CHRO for LinkedIn, taking the company from a private firm of 400 employees through an IPO and into the social media powerhouse it has become.

“If you want to compete, you’re going to have to be a place that grows talent,” Cadigan said. “The supply of qualified talent isn’t going to increase. You won’t find qualified candidates at scale any longer. The future of work is the future of learning – you have to become a talent development business.”

Cadigan recommends HR leaders target colleges and universities to fill the talent pipeline. Internships provide a two-way trial: the student receives hands-on experience in the business and the company determines if the potential long-term employee is a good fit for the culture. “I’m loyal to my learning,” Cadigan said. “If you grow me and develop me, I’m probably going to stick around.”

That’s why he’s in full support of tuition reimbursement, which is on the rise as companies compete for talent.

Roughly 43 million Americans have federal student loan debt, according to the Education Data Initiative. Even before the pandemic, the United States’ outstanding student loan debt balance exceeded $1.7 trillion, becoming a larger burden to households than even credit card debt. Two years after the federal government paused student loan payments and dropped the interest rate to 0%, as many as half of people with such debt may now be at increased risk of falling behind, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and fellow lawmakers have vowed to allocate $632 million for Middle Class Scholarship 2.0, a “debt-free” program for California State University and University of California students. An anticipated 246,000 CSU students and 114,000 UC students will receive the aid to help finance their educations starting in the fall. That hefty sum is just a portion of the program’s total cost, totaling $2.6 billion, EdSource reported.

Through 2025, employers can continue to make contributions of up to $5,250 per employee annually toward eligible education expenses without raising the employee's gross taxable income under Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code. In February, Herschend Enterprises, which oversees Dolly Parton’s theme park and resort Dollywood, announced that it will cover the full cost of tuition, fees and books for employees who want to further their education. Companies with similar plans include Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks and Newport Beach, CA-based Chipotle.

“If you have trouble recruiting, you have a creativity problem,” Cadigan said. “Who says you can only have full-time employees to be successful? You just want people who can add value to your company.”

Because the shelf life of a job description is shorter in today’s market than ever before, Cadigan argues that hiring strategy needs to evolve, too. Instead of limiting candidates based on their direct experience in a role or certain industry, he urges HR leaders and hiring managers to consider applicants with underlying, transferable skills. A great pool to choose from is the more than 70 million American workers who don’t have bachelor’s degrees.

“We won’t hire people based on what they know, but based on what they can learn,” Cadigan said. “Their capacity to acquire knowledge and apply it quickly is the differentiator. Hire people who have the capacity to talk about hard stuff. We’ve focused on candidates’ IQ and EQ, and now we need to focus on their AQ: adaptability quotient.”

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