As national employment reaches capacity, a skills shortage is set to reignite the war for talent. Clever employers will rethink traditional job design – and make the most of who they have. Tom Washington reports
Just when you think you’ve got rid of one problem,
another one tends to come along to disrupt the
First there was the good news. Last month’s
Australian Industry Group/Deloitte CEO survey, Industry in Recovery Mode in 2010 underlined
Australia’s economic recuperation. It suggested that
growth in the manufacturing, construction and
services sectors, which represents 90 per cent of the
economy, is set to be solid in the coming 12 months.
Indeed, Australia’s unemployment has reached
5.3 per cent and is falling, compared to 7.8 per cent
in the UK and nearly 10 per cent in the US.
But, as always, there’s a caveat. If Australia’s recovery continues at this
pace, in its so-called V-shaped form, the demand for skilled workers will
grow faster than its supply. Full employment is seen to be at 4.5 to 5 per
cent, meaning the talent pool is almost at stretching point. Last year, even
in the midst of the GFC, the Australian Industry Group estimated there
was an ongoing shortage of around 250,000 full-time employees,
particularly technicians and tradespeople.
So as the well-oiled machine of industry clicks into life, an altogether
new test for organisations arises in the form of a talent war.
Fighting the talent stretch
Nicky Wakefield, partner at Deloitte’s NSW Human capital consulting
practice, doesn’t believe 5.3 per cent unemployment is an accurate
unemployment figure to start with. “I think there is a much larger pool of
people out there that has not been tapped who are educated, skilled and
capable,” she says.
“They might be retired, they might be mothers at home looking after
their children; people who have opted out of the workplace because it’s been
too complicated or stressful. It’s become unattractive due to a lack of
flexibility and a lack of commitment from employers.”
Tapping into this pool of talent could be vital for employers searching for
specific skills. One of the best ways to do that is to make the working
environment so appealing that those people not actively looking for work
begin to realise there is a lot to gain working.
In certain industries, a return to the milieu of a tight talent market will
also drive workplace innovation to attract the best candidates. Jon
Williams, partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ management consulting
practice, says: “We’re at the beginning of what could be a reasonably
lengthy business upswing, so if employers are not doing something that’s
different to their competitors then they’re going to lose out.
“We know that with engineering, the mining firms are going to come
after staff with money and most other sectors can’t keep up with them
financially. Employers need to work out what it is they can fight with. If
you go down the money path, there will always be someone who can
Being an attractive, flexible employer represents
far more than simply offering teleworking or
flexitime. Recessionary times are a great time to
implement change, and savvy employers are
examining their current work practices and job
design to ensure they are effective and efficient.
Job redesign itself should primarily focus on
what Wakefield calls ‘critical roles’, or positions
that add a disproportionate value to the bottom
line of the business. It is crucial to ensure that
succession planning and recruitment into those
key areas is sufficient, but also to be certain
that those key staff members are satisfied and
motivated in their roles.
For example, in a high-performing sales team
that generates a critical portion of revenue for a
business, there might be a lot of administration to
be done. What employers must aim to do is
remove this administration from the duties of the
key salespeople, distracting them from their main
task: making money. This could ultimately lead
to job dissatisfaction and with relative ease these
menial admin tasks can be outsourced,
automated or given to an area of the workforce
separate to critical workers.
“Organisations need to be better at pulling
apart roles. Get processes more efficient, use
technology more aggressively to take menial tasks
out of key people’s responsibilities,” explains
When re-shaping post-GFC, many
employers are undertaking the task of de-
layering their workforce, removing middle
management and expanding the span of
control. Dr. Carol Gill, program director,
organisational leadership at Melbourne
Business School says that a larger span of
management eliminates hierarchy and ‘flattens’
the organisation, pushing power down so
employees can make their own decisions.
“If you ask a lot of employees if they could
still function without their supervisor, a lot would
say ‘yes of course’,” she says. “But you must
couple de-layering with a genuine empowerment
of the workforce.”
Goodbye 9 to 5
Furthermore, the traditional workforce consisting
of desk-based nine-to-fivers has started to give
way to a modern era, influenced in no small part
by communications technology and teleworking.
Employers are using communications technology
as a more prominent tool in their quest to work
more efficiently and be attractive to a broader
spectrum of employees.
Not restricted to simply allowing people to
work from home, technology allows work to be
distributed and managed with greater ease. For
example, if a business has a huge workload in
Perth but has staff twiddling their thumbs in
Melbourne, work can be re-distributed and
therefore easing any geographical skills shortage.
Flexible working practices have also become a
common method of being inclusive to groups such
as working mothers. For job roles that don’t
require an employee for eights hours a day,
organisations are more than ever looking to
groups such as students and working parents to do
the job part-time, be it in the office or from home.
Gill says that unfortunately, while men tend
to take up flexible working opportunities,
women often shy away. “This could well be
about the fact that women will only take up
policies offering flexibility that are endorsed by
peers and particularly managers. Sadly, women
feel they may be perceived as teleworking to
look after their children and that it will impact
career opportunities,” she says.
There is also much more fluidity in today’s
workforce and employers are increasingly
looking to boost their talent pool by outsourcing
work overseas, or indeed bringing in
With any of these arrangements, there are
two words that must be at the forefront of HR
professionals’ minds: talent management.
Attracting new and varied talent who are not
necessarily a traditional fit within your
organisation is one thing, but managing diversity
is a tricky task.
Williams says there is a burning desire for
authenticity amongst workers and any of these
new practices must be implemented from the top-
down. “Job redesign has to be authentic, not just
saying they’ll change something and then it not
happening. The same goes for flexible working.
When your managers don’t believe in it, it only
takes one person to tut when someone walks out
a little early to make it worthless,” he says.
5 WAYS TO RESHAPE YOUR WORKFORCE:
1. Job redesign - Dissect job duties to ensure they are efficient and that key staff are satisfied
2. Teleworking - Use modern communications technology to make the most of your entire workforce
3. Flexible working - A must to ensure your organisation is tapping into the full talent pool
4. Look overseas - Outsourcing work abroad is a great way to streamline, and keep an eye out for overseas talent to bring in, too
5. Offer a unique employee proposition - Don't just use money or you'll risk losing out
CASE STUDY: FEDERAL EXPRESS
Logistics services company Federal Express was losing an unreasonable amount of talent from its pool of truck drivers.
These employees were highlighted as a critical segment of the workforce; they had ultimate contact with the customer, they made the decision on what route to take and were in control of getting the package there in time.
Federal Express discovered one of the key reasons they were losing them was the way the job was designed. They had the drivers packing the vans and doing all the administration too. The job was divided so that the drivers only had responsibility for the most important things - driving and customer service, and the rest was given to other employees elsewhere in the organisation.
Deloitte's Wakefield, says: "Not only did the bleeding of talent soon stop, the change also allowed them to broaden their talent pool. It allowed them to recruit students, and less skilled groups of people who were just needed to pack trucks."