It’s the Skills, not the Labor!


By Guest Blogger, Dr. Lee Meadows

Inaccurate messaging, like locusts, grows in direct proportion to the amount of weeds available to feed upon. Within the world of talent acquisition, development and retention, the plague appears to be one of not being able to hang onto the talent acquired as opposed to the acquiring of talent itself. So, for many who work the acquisition side of the equation, the real worry and frustration comes from watching all of the effort that went into acquiring talent rotate out the door after having only spent 6 months to a year acquiring skills that will now benefit a competitor who just saved on their training costs. Some of the broader messages articulated by pundits, professors and politicians is that we are in the midst of a massive labor shortage that is affecting our ability to compete, both, domestically and internationally! Where are the bodies? Why can’t we find enough people to fill the available jobs? Should we consider cloning to address the labor shortage? While the screams for answers bounce from cube to C-suite, ongoing reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics paint a different picture. There are more than enough bodies available to address any ‘perceived’ labor shortage, so the inaccuracy of the message leads to a misuse of effort and a misalignment of priorities. The issue is a deficiency of skills, not labor!

In an 80-hour work week-24/7-digitally blended lifestyle, in which higher turnover rates, once seen as reflective of a bad culture, are now viewed as a badge of honor in which only the strong survive, it can be argued that the strength of one’s survival is one in which the value of the skills learned far outweigh the commitment to remain. Is it possible that the mindset is one of ‘Learn and Leave’ as opposed to ‘Stay and Survive’? The consequences of the former is one in which the effort to acquire talent consumes more time and energy than the commitment to build the talent, once acquired, from within. So, 30% turnover rates are accepted as the norm for the marketplace because of competition and “they just don’t make em’ like they used to.” While there is an argument for the ‘hands-on, learn-as-you-go’ mindset that was prevalent during the industrial age, the technological age makes different kinds of demands on organizations and their cultures. Specifically, the organization has to commit to building a retention strategy that highlights skill acquisition, development and mastery supported by a culture that is strong in building for the future. It has already been confirmed that generation X, Y, Millennials and Z have a completely different mindset about the nature of work than Boomers and the Greatest Generation. The focus, as a general pattern, is one of building skills by spending shorter time spurts in many organizations. The thinking being to sharpen one’s career trajectory by broadening the path. While this may bode well for the individual, it places an understandable burden on an organization that is less committed to skill development as a strategy for employee retention.

Perhaps those individuals, who take pride in and value their high turnover rates, should spend a year or two on the road with the talent acquisition staff members. Take some time and attend the Job and Career Fairs being sponsored by some many different agencies. Beyond going to college campuses, which should never stop, but travel to the heart of the issue. The first thing one realizes is that there is no lack of bodies available to work. Even better is when time is spent in selling a prospect on employment with the organization, the follow up recruiting, the background check, the interviewing process, the onboarding and placement of just one individual, then one may not be so quick as to celebrate their high turnover rate and look more toward facilitating the development of their skills.

Dr. Meadows is a professor at Walsh College, teaching online and on-ground management and MBA courses. In addition, Dr. Meadows is a keynote speaker, training and development consultant, and motivational speaker for corpo­rate and community groups and professional associations.

In 2006, Dr. Meadows published “Take the Lull by the Horns: Closing the Leadership Gap”. He is also the author of numerous articles on leadership, management, diversity, career paths and projections and education.