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Optimize your workforce

July 12, 2016

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE
Author: Ed Holinski

As employers it’s important to consider how we can contribute to economic growth and workforce optimization within our respective organizations. Many of us, in our people-related roles, have opportunities to influence growth through employee acquisition, organizational engagement, and workforce strategy. 

Unemployment numbers are a point of great debate. Of the unemployed, how many desire to participate in the workforce? That number can be debated indefinitely, but it does not fix a central problem – job openings are not getting filled due to workers not having the requisite skills. Long-term, this is an educational issue. In the short-term, it is about redeploying and retraining workers who are willing to rapidly learn new roles.

Let’s look at key factors that contribute to this challenge. 

First, on the acquisition side, many recruiters operate with a “check-list” mentality. They seek employees who can tick the boxes on what is perceived as required experience. If a candidate does not fit neatly into this “box”, they are quickly discarded. Secondly, there is a stigma associated with people who have transitioned employers several times, even though our economy experienced unprecedented upheaval in the last eight years. This bias has not changed much over the years. Third, employers are reluctant to take a chance on someone who is untested in their industries or in specific roles. Consequently, too many employers compete for too few people with relevant experience.

Next, let’s consider engagement and development factors. Many employers are not inclined to ask employees about transferable skills and experiences that might serve their organizations more broadly. As a result, there is significant latent talent in organizations that could be unlocked. Next, employers generally do a sub-standard job determining where employees’ interests lie and exploring how they might support employee development. Finally, there has been a reluctance to provide projects, shadowing, and job rotations to help employees broaden their skills. This is understandable given the cost associated with doing this. However, we are getting to a point where the cost of not doing it is becoming more significant.

If we want to become more adaptive and thereby attract and retain key talent, what is the answer? This is a multi-faceted problem that requires multiple strategies. It is worth considering a number of these ideas, which are expansive but not exhaustive:

  1. Adopt an employment mindset that is more reflective of our current environment. If job terminations are explainable due to disruption (I have been on the receiving end of these myself), be more willing to view the candidates positively, and take them seriously. Get past the “too-young, too-old (both illegal anyway), and not-my-industry” biases and start thinking more broadly.
  2. Determine the “bare-bones” requirements needed for an employee to begin contributing. If you are painting a picture of ideal competencies, and you can get by with less, consider doing so. You can develop the other skills once the employee is onboard. 
  3. Explore development “accelerators”. Many versions of employee boot camps and other employee development accelerators are emerging.  
  4. Provide current employees opportunities to accept projects that expose them to other business units. This provides fresh thinking and a better understanding of your organization. 
  5. Establish a job-shadowing program so employees can consider taking on other roles in your organization. If you create more movement, employees are more likely to stay. One of the main reasons employees leave is lack of growth opportunities. Even lateral moves, while not advancements, are likely to make them feel more valuable.
  6. Create an agile, learning organization. When employees begin to link activities to overarching organizational strategy, their work becomes more fulfilling.

This list is not intended to be a comprehensive plan. Instead, it is designed to inspire you to reflect and develop an employee development and engagement plan that is suitable for your organization. Any one, or a number of these may help you.

Thirteen experts will vigorously explore a number of these ideas, and others, on August 11th at the second annual ASE Talent Symposium at the Management Education Center in Troy. Please join us for an enlightening day. For additional information, Contact Ed Holinski at 

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