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Overcoming the technical talent crunch

July 8, 2014

By Dan Van Slambrook, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Frustrated with trying to find good technical talent?  You’re not alone!

Michigan may still have a 7.5% unemployment rate, but when it comes to technical talent it is closer to 3% or even lower. In some specialty areas it is as low as 0.5%. A lot of technical workers left Michigan during the Great Recession, and many of them have not returned. The result is more openings for technical jobs than qualified job seekers.

There is no “silver bullet” for locating high-tech talent. But take heart—technical candidates are recruited every day.  Someone is hiring that talent.  So….how does that someone become you?

The companies most successful in finding technical talent execute a consistent, multi-faceted approach.  Consider trying the following:

  • First, create a strategy.  If you have to dig for a precious resource, you don’t start digging just anywhere. Oil companies, for example, develop specific plans to determine where they will dig, how far down, and which tools are best suited for the job.  High-tech talent is also a rare commodity. Develop a strategy that spells out whom you will target and where, the tools/resources you will need, how to best get your message out to potential candidates, and who will be responsible for doing what within that strategy. 
  • Have a hunter mentality.  “Post and pray” rarely works with high-tech talent.  While posting can certainly be part of the overall strategy, you’ll be most successful by going out to find the skills you need.  Where?  Job fairs, professional networking groups, social media sites like LinkedIn, traditional job boards, niche job boards, institutions of higher learning, and referrals to name a few. You must actively pursue candidates. 
  • Create a sourcing plan that spells out specific places you might find specific technical candidates. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet that lists the organizations, schools, professors, websites, networking  groups, similar firms and other sources where a specific skill area can be found. Make it accessible to others on your team, and update it regularly. It should be a “living document.” 
  • Involve hiring managers in the search strategy. They will likely know which schools turn out solid candidates, belong to professional organizations that can yield referrals, and know other companies that employ similar talent.
  • Involve employees. Your own technical employees can be a great source for surfacing technical candidates. Review your referral bonus program. How well are you communicating it? How easy is it for someone to submit a referral?  Is the bonus high enough to reward good referrals?  Some Detroit-area companies are paying $1,000 or more to employees for successful IT and engineering referrals.  
  • Cast a wide net.  Consider other industries that employ transferable skills (e.g., aerospace-to-automotive). Recruit in areas outside the local market—some candidates will relocate for the right opportunity. Consider retired employees looking for project-based work. 
  • Be open-minded—and realistic.  Hiring managers often ask for everything but the kitchen sink in their personnel specs.  Review the specs with the hiring manager to boil down what is absolutely required versus “nice to have.” Is a mechanical engineering degree really required, when a degree in engineering technology is likely enough? Do you absolutely need someone with full experience, or could a sharp recent graduate grow into the position?
  • Engage earlyMany technical candidates have offers before graduation. Consider an internship or co-op program to help stock your talent funnel.  If there is already one in place, review it to ensure that it’s engaging with technical majors. Form relationships with college teaching staff. They know who the strong students are and they will steer them towards strong employers. Companies have even hosted awareness programs for school-aged kids to plant the technical “seed” and create an association with their brand as a provider of technical jobs. 
  • Move quickly. Technical candidates are not candidates for long. Impress on everyone involved the importance of moving quickly—or risk losing your next hire to one of the 4 or 5 other companies who are undoubtedly courting them. 
  • Be competitive.  High-tech talent does not come cheap.  Be prepared to pay competitively or even above-market to attract the best. And consider perks such as flexible work schedules or plum work assignments.
  • Enlist assistance.  Technical recruiters spend many hours building their networks.  Consider using search or staffing firms that have strong track records in recruiting technical talent. 

By themselves, none of these techniques are revolutionary. The “secret sauce” is really just consistent execution.  Deploying them in concert will help give you the edge in finding your next great technical hire. 

Sources:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Engineering – The Talent Shortage

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