The CDO – Overseeing the Next Big Jobs Growth

As we approach the threshold of the next big phase of jobs growth, it is becoming clear that one C-Level role could well be in the middle of the fair majority of this growth. By virtue of this, they will need to be as in tune with the jobs market as their impact on the business.

The Chief Data Officer, or CDO, sits at a strategic position in an organisation. As the curator and wrangler of one of the most important (and until recently, though, largely not properly maintained) assets, they will be as critical to strategic success, if not more, than the COO or CIO. This is incredible to see, given there was really no concept of data as a business asset up until only several years ago

So now what? Firstly, there is increasing recognition of the importance to retain, manage and manipulate data as an asset, structure it in a far more strategic and decision-influencing way and use it as a predictor for where the business is, where it’s going and what the competition is doing.

Secondly, the need to facilitate this new enthusiasm for data and bringing together the talent to properly utilise it is now down to the new position of CDO.

What happens now really can point to success or otherwise of an organisation’s data policy. Here are 4 points all CDO’s, or those aspiring to the role need to keep in mind.

1. Know The Market

Putting together an idea of what the talent market is like in data management is perhaps more difficult than most other areas of the organisation. Where clear ideas on the available talent within the likes of Finance or Marketing or IT are readily available, pulling information on the market in the data space is not so detailed.

For starters – and this is more pointedly aimed at the Australian market, it is a relatively brand new area. Aside from some hybridity with IT, the more focused analysis and analytics are the new tenants in the data warehouse (see what I did there?).

Then there is largely unfamiliarity with this emerging (or emerged) offering for business, leading to the simple ‘don’t know’ when market questions are asked.

The CDO has a great opportunity to corner market knowledge, to understand exactly who is doing what and where the data trends are heading. Put all of this together, and the CDO is starting off well.

2. Know The Person

Who makes a great employee and what does the CDO need to be aware of when hiring?

Technical skills are, of course, vital. Thorough experience, clear knowledge of relevant toolsets and a background that offers evidence of competency paint a good picture of how an individual will apply themselves to the role, and offer the CDO solid information to base hiring decisions on.

So, this is the only thing that should be considered when hiring, right?

Yes…and no.

Thing is, the data structure of an organisation bridges front and back end development, as well as having more than a passing requirement for external stakeholder contact – at times over and above that of their cousins in IT.

This is why a proper (and thorough) examination of a potential candidate’s fit into an organisation is needed. Cultural fit, the ‘soft’ skills (communication, interpersonal, presentation) and attitude all go towards profiling the best candidate. CDO’s need to have this knowledge in their arsenal to properly and effectively build their teams.

3. Know The Roles

What makes a great Data Analyst? An awesome Data Scientist? Modeller? BI Architect? ETL Developer? Report Writer? Or any other role, for that matter? There is no straight answer to that question, as there are so many variables. As CDO, the role of knowing what will work for their organisation is the first rule in identifying what is the best employee.

These roles will ultimately point the organisation in the direction of their data strategy. Yet, without this properly defined, the chances of the CDO impacting overall business transformation will be slim. It should come as no surprise that the CDO must have the ‘finger on the pulse’ of how roles impact this.

4. Know The Future.

What do you mean you don’t have a crystal ball? Shouldn’t that be in the pocket of every CDO (and technically every C-level)?!

Nice though it would be, knowing the future is fraught with danger. I mean, how many of us would’ve thought we would be even discussing a CDO role 10 years ago…even 5? Not all of us did – but some others recognised where data management was heading and worked to make businesses ready for it.

For the purposes here, the CDO will need to have a real eye for what is happening and be prepared to jump on new tech, or practices or methodologies to embrace the new wonders of data management. The general rule here would be stay on top of the industry and you won’t get left behind.

Finally… 

The bottom line to all of this is if businesses really will go down the CDO path. There are many views one way or the other as to if this will be a universally held position. Thing is, though, if there is to be any constructive focus on data management in the future, getting the resourcing basics right will prepare any business for the new world of data. The way CDOs find talent will be the next big challenge. How they do it and what help they get will be the difference between a fantastic talent pool and a data program going nowhere.

My Story…and Why I Believe Humanising Hiring and the Workplace Matters

handsBefore I publish the next instalment of Humanising Hiring, I wanted to take a step back and reflect on why I see this as so vital and how that realisation was made. Believe me when I say this wasn’t a recent idea I woke up with one morning, it has been something I have learned, developed upon and understood for a long time and now it is the time where it needs to be a tangible and credible argument, one that can really change the way a business not only hires but engages with their staff. This is my ‘why’.

It is the beginning of the year 2000. We had survived the Millennium Bug and getting on with the new century. I had recently moved back to my home town of Newcastle, NSW from Sydney to move in with my then-girlfriend, now wife. I was still working in Sydney and commuting from Newcastle (2 hours each way) but was looking for something closer to home. I found a role with a Job Network provider. Job Network (or Job Services Australia as it’s called now), for those who don’t know, is the Federal Government program designed to help unemployed people return to work or training. The program was administered by a wide array of private sector firms who were actively involved with assisting the more vulnerable in the community.

I am not sure I could’ve been adequately prepared for what I was about to face over the next four-and-a-half years. As a twenty-something it was an eye opening insight into what happens when people are forgotten by society.

I was placed in an agency in the city of Maitland, some 45 minutes out of Newcastle, in the beautiful Hunter Valley. Maitland had a staggeringly high unemployment rate (always above 25%) with very few industries in the local area, and poor transport to the city. It was really feeling the effects of drought, closure of the BHP, a huge employer across the Hunter, downsizing of local businesses and a general unwillingness of governments of all persuasions to invest in the city and surrounds. On top of that, I was also given the outreach role in the small town of Dungog, a further hour’s drive into the Hunter region and with an unemployment rate of nearly one in two.

Moving into the role of ‘Employment Consultant’, I was responsible for assisting clients who were classed as ‘Intensive Assistance’, or those with significant barriers to employment or who had been unemployed for over 12 months (some may know that as Stream 4 in today’s JSA).

IA clients came from all walks of life. Some had never held a job before and came from generational unemployment. Some were professionals, with impressive qualifications, skills and experience who slipped through the cracks for differing reasons. Some were parents, some university graduates, some had never been in this situation before. Some were ex-prisoners, ex-drug addicts or people with mental health issues. Each, though, was a person, with a story and a desire. Not once did I come across a stereotypical ‘dole bludger’ that the media like to portray taxpayers as subsidising. A lot of clients were placed into sustainable roles, where they were happy and finally motivated. I remember receiving flowers and boxes of chocolates from relived clients as they restarted their own dreams and futures.

But there were also times when nothing can prepare you for. I was working with a lady in her late 30’s. Very intelligent, a good career and some excellent skills. It was also clear she was battling some real personal demons, and it was hard seeing her consumed with this overarching sadness. At times, she would come into our appointment visibly wretched from crying. She was desperate. She could not find work, and the debts and stress and lessening self-worth were compounding with every week. It was difficult for her to even attend interviews with employers, as this would mean she would swing between elation and downright terror beforehand and would not be in a state to put her best foot forward. All conventions and tasks required under the Job Network rules were thrown away as I tried to comfort her, reassure her that it will be better and we will work really hard to get her something to regain her own personal importance. During one appointment, we talked for well over an hour (eating into the next appointment – but necessary) as a way of giving her some hope and purpose. We made a new appointment for the following week and she left seemingly better than when she came in.

Two days later I received a card from her thanking me for taking the time to listen and to help (as much as I could). It was a heartfelt gift and I displayed it prominently on my desk.

The following day I took a phone call. It was mid morning, and I was between appointments (we always scheduled 7 per day, for each hour, bar lunch, so it was always busy).

Everything stopped.

It was the police. They asked me if I was her case worker. No, just her Employment Consultant I responded. Then they told me: she had taken her life.

I stopped, stared at the card sitting on my desk, then with my head in my hands, wept. I cancelled the bulk of appointments until mid afternoon. All the training I did in suicide prevention failed…I felt I failed her.

Nothing prepares you for that to happen. In total we had three people take their lives whilst I was there. To be faced with such desperation, such vulnerability, such sadness and then trying to explain it rationally is incredibly difficult.

The thing is, Job Network couldn’t prepare you for the numerous issues that would be present. As an Employment Consultant, you had to wear many hats. You were a resume writer, an interview guide, a counsellor, a financial advisor, a carer, a career guide and a friend. You learn quickly that above all, you have to be there. Some clients saw you as their only hope and a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. It was up to you to guide them through the treacherous waters in the hope of finding a safe harbour. All this on me in my mid-20’s was indelibly life-changing.

It lead me to my first conclusion: Job Network (and JSA) is abhorrent. Focused on punishment rather than assistance, it is almost like the government is deliberately washing their hands of the unemployment question and telling someone else to fix it. No responsibility. No care.

It is inhuman to force people into further desperation by having to jump through hoops and demand compliance. These people are human, they have different influences and they cannot be given a blanket response. They are individuals. It was that experience that taught me of the intrinsic value of treating everyone as human.

From there, I matured into my second, and most significant and lasting view: being human matters, from where they come from, what circumstances they are faced with or the challenges that have to overcome. They need to feel respect, dignity, to belong and have a future they can grasp. We need to treat people as humans, not numbers or statistics or entries on an applicant tracking system.

This is why I now fervently believe that as a business / employer, we must bring the human side to the way we hire and the way we build our businesses. We must bring in a clear understanding what makes us who we are and what challenges and successes we face and why it is vital there is ample consideration for all that when we are firstly bringing on new employees and how we treat them when they are with us. To some it is a revolutionary thought…but frankly it should be the basis of how a leader operates. Incorporating this philosophy into our business will see a reinvigoration of the people within it, an attractive proposition to any potential employee and a real sense that we are changing people’s lives for the better.

THAT is the real reason why we do what we do…and that is the reason I believe it.

6 Lessons From Myer’s Bad Hire Fiasco

myerThe recent revelations of a bad hiring decision by Myer has put a spotlight on executive recruitment practices. The issue of a candidate, seemingly lying on his resume, then assuming a very senior role only to be exposed for lying and losing said role offer a clear lesson for businesses in any hiring situation to learn.

So what can the average business learn from the mistakes of Myer? These six points to take away from it will point most selection process in the right direction.

1. Background checks aren’t just Reference Checks

One of the major issues with the Myer fiasco was that the background checks conducted by both them and the recruitment firm who presented the candidate, failed basic process. The extent of background checks seems to have started and stopped at reference checks. What was lacking was suitable gauging of credential through various other means. Simple verification via publicly available business records, social media or by utilising industry knowledge that people working at that level must have would have sufficiently shown some problems with the candidate.

2. Know Your Candidate

Following on from expanding your background check, a clear picture will emerge of the candidate. Any decisions to hire must be made with full knowledge of who they are, what they’ve done and where they did it. Remember, in hiring – knowledge is power.

3. Probe and Qualify

If you are in a hiring process, a little deeper digging into a candidate’s past can really improve the abilities to make a clear decision. If the candidate has listed roles on their resume, find out more about them: why did they leave? What did they do? Who did they report to? All of which will get clear information, creating a path to confirm these details and qualify their veracity.

4. Don’t Fall For The Slick Operators

One thing to come out of this decision by Myer was the fact the candidate cam across as competent, well spoken…and slick. Inexperienced recruiters or hirers will get taken in by slick operators who can lie about their work experience and background, but do so in a way that is so unequivocally convincing. The thing to take away from this episode? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5. Verifiable, Documented and Relevant Proof

When candidates say they have worked for a particular organisation, or have achieved a certain level of results or can boast an impressive track record, always, always, always make sure they can back it up with hard proof. In some cases, and depending on the role, a referee will not suffice. You must be able to see the impact on a business of the candidate’s work as verified and demonstrable.

6. Don’t Assume

One of the clear problems to come out of the Myer bad hire was that a lot of assumptions were made that were not backed up by evidence. It is a clear and salient point not to assume something the candidate says to be true, unless is can be shown to be so. The higher the role, the more assumptions need to be dismissed before making a final decision.

Finally, Myer is learning a very big lesson in how the hiring process needs to be positioned in such away so that all information about candidates have been gathered and that a decision is clearly formed and made. It does, however, give other businesses the keys to make sure it doesn’t happen to them, and for that we can thank them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Reasons Why HR Needs to Change

The Human Resources department in any organisation is having to learn the hard way that change needs to be thrust upon them if they are truly going to regain the prominence it once had, and still deserves. There is no way to put this nicely: HR has been pushed aside and given a role that does not bear much influence to the way a business is run. It has been pilloried as a worthless department in any business, with regular talk of it’s demise.

Here are six points that must be considered if HR is going to regain it’s rightful spot as a major part of any business.

The Role of HR

Is the role of HR suitably defined? Such is the level of ambivalence within some businesses as to what is HR,  that they have been reduced to nothing more than administrators – paper pushers – and box tickers. Major decisions around hiring, ER and terminations are handled externally to HR and the only contact they have with any of these decision-based areas is to sign off on the actions. They will handle questions on awards, payroll or legal issues central to the people-related areas, but won’t have the advisory, leadership or control within these issues.  I’ll mention here, though that whilst it is true in some cases the case is HR does have a central role to play in these matters, the fact is a large number do not.

The role of HR is to be focused on the management of issues surrounding employees. They have to be integral to the way employees are hired, engaged and retained and must be acknowledged as being the ones who look after the engine room of any organisation. The definition of HR – or Human Resources – should not be dismissed. ‘Human’ implies the people in the business, and ‘Resources’ involves how they are utilised. How simple is that?! There must be a realignment to what HR stands for. Their highly relevant, hugely responsible role is integral to a company’s success, and by handing the full people-related strategy back to them – across all areas of hiring, ER / IR, policy development, implementation and management as well as grievance / termination procedures – and in turn giving them the confidence of the whole business to implement and control these areas, their clearly defined place will be restored.

HR, though, does not need to be an advocate for employees. As Allan Harcrow mentions in his look at the “360-Degree View of HR” for Workforce.com, HR: “Advocating for employees pits [them] against senior management, which is not strategic”. In other words, HR must build a bridge between employees and the business, with both equally prominent in dealing with both key areas. If their role is going to be one that is strategically focused and aligned with the structure of the business, it must ensure it approaches employees and the business with equal sharing.

The Path of HR

What do I mean by this? Put simply it is the career path of the average HR practitioner. Yet, here is the point to be made, and the question to be answered: how does the average HR career path affect overall standing and relevance of HR to overall business strategy?

Firstly, what is the usual trajectory of an HR career? Primarily it goes like this: University –> HR Administrator –> HR Analyst / Officer –> Senior HR –> HR Manager –> HR Director.

OK, that is relatively simplistic, and these days, some use of ‘Talent Manager’ or similar is used as substitute to HR, but overall, the point to be made here is that from university, the role is pretty much HR focused and that’s it.

So what? Isn’t that what is supposed to happen? This is true, there is a claim to be made that HR is a career path from one end to the other, yet one fundamental point is often ignored – and it is this point that gives some HR departments a bad name: where is the business acumen? I love that term ‘acumen’. It’s one of those terms that supposedly means a whole broad range of things, but generally has no real definable meaning. Where, then, is full knowledge on how a business runs, how it’s branding affects its place in the market and what role people play in the two. This is my definition of acumen (and I’m sure there are others). Does HR really have full knowledge of the inner workings of the business and how decisions impact it? I am of the opinion it does not – but the blame for that should not be laid on HR.

The fact is that throughout the years that HR has been a feature of a business, there has been no concerted efforts by a fair proportion of businesses to allow HR to integrate into greater decision making processes – and to allow them to see what these decision mean for the overall health of the business. It doesn’t seem to impact them until an employee knocks on their door to report issues. By then it is usually too late to understand the full circumstances outside of the issue and have any impact on them. They remain insular as they move through the ranks of the department and don’t grasp the finer points on the running of the business.

This is at a huge detriment to any business because HR must be made aware of what is happening within all aspects of an organisation for one simple reason: the people, again, are the driver of all areas and HR must be the guides to address how their work impacts areas beyond their station. They must move beyond transactional and into strategic.

Simple.

The Voice of HR

OK, well we have a couple of ideas what HR is facing in the greater business and market. How do they then get the message across? There seems somewhat of a general inability to voice these concerns or to trumpet the vital nature of HR to the greater business community. The Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) do an outstanding job of giving HR representatives the tools and knowledge to make a success of their roles. However, it is only to an extent they are involved in advocacy on HR matters to the wider community. Can they do more to push the actual role of HR in business? Indeed. Perhaps expansion of AHRI to include advocacy to business groups on the greater role of HR in business is needed.

Several years ago I was involved in an advocacy program with the Australian Information Industry Association – an advocacy body for the ICT industry. This program was around workforce challenges and looked to work with government to build acknowledgement of issues faced by ICT employers and employees alike. This model is a great one to borrow for the HR industry, and a great way to advocate the role of HR and its importance in the greater business world.

Social media, too, has a place in advocacy and creating a voice. As it is now a powerful tool to get a message across, utilising this power to showcase HR should be fundamental. There are indeed a number of areas where HR is gaining a larger and larger voice, particularly with LinkedIn where a number of large groups do exactly that. Recently, I was involved in a Twitter discussion about getting communities of HR professionals together. Harnessing this instant messaging system that the likes of Twitter  and similar allow a quick gathering of like-minded people that can action something in a matter of moments.

Whatever the tool, it is about a voice, advocacy and influence. If HR is going to regain the ground lost and promote itself back into the boardrooms and decision-making areas of business, it needs to regain these three elements if it is going to have a hope of restoring it’s place.

The View of HR

Let’s be honest, the reason the Voice of HR needs to return – and be a loud voice – is to counter a number of negative views the industry receives across the employee base, wider business and even wider-still community. Understanding the views held will give purpose and direction to the voice.

The opinions are out there, and, boy, are they brutal. Here’s one from a few years ago, but still echoed today: The thrust of the argument? HR is past it’s used by date and has to go.

More recently, this report looked at whether the HR department is there for the employees or not. The anecdotes are hard to swallow, but whilst they don’t necessarily paint HR in a harsh light, it is still questioning their function.

Finally, this recent article on Linked In called for a full overhaul of HR – to the extent of removing it entirely from businesses in preference to an outsourced model – the fact it was written by a HR outsourcing specialist notwithstanding.

This is what HR must deal with – poor perceptions based on employee, candidate and external feedback, and an increasingly loud chorus of those wanting HR to be removed from core business and outsourced. Of course, only negative points grab headlines, but the commonality of these issues strikes as something in need of addressing.

Does HR need some sort of PR exercise? A ‘HR Professional Day’ or similar to focus on the worth they have? Whilst that would be fun, truth is it needs to start with the department and improving its perceptions – starting locally to improve globally, if you will. Far better cross-engagement with staff and management, increasing the view that HR is there for the business by supporting its employees – which in turn improves the status of management and the greater business.

What it needs to do is to break down the stereotypes, and actively identify the value of HR. It needs to be more vocal, more engaging both inside and outside of the business and throw some clear light on what role – and the significance of that role – HR plays in a company’s success. Harness the power of social media fully (it happens to some extent, but needs greater activity) and really push against the naysayers that converge there to bemoan the role.

Above all, HR needs to lift its game. Seemingly content to be pushed into the ‘administrative function’ it has become, the need to regain control of the human approach is paramount. Engagement as mentioned above is real basic stuff, and vital if it is going to build its vitality in business. It is not going to get there by complacently allowing subjugation and final outsourcing. This is offsetting eventual death of the department, and if there is no one willing to push against it, then there might as well be a whimpering, pathetic death.

The Worth of HR

So why is this voice needed? Why should HR engage with businesses to improve their lot? Put simply, HR is vital for any business, and until it understands its full worth, it will be stuck with permanent complacency.

I’ve heard many people suggest name changes to reflect more people-focused approach. That is fine, and incrementally that could happen. However, changes occur not around name but around function. HR will always be HR and the stigma it has can only be changed by investing in what it actually is and what it has to offer.

HR is about people. There is no other way to look at it. People are the lifeblood of any organisation. If a business has a business plan and a financial plan and a marketing plan and whatever other plan, the key ingredient in getting these plans off the paper and into action is the people – employees, managers and directors alike. Making sure that these people are happy, engaged and safe gives them a sense of belonging and will lead to increases in productivity and job satisfaction. Sure, managers are there to provide that, but HR ensures it is happening. As the organisation gets bigger, based on growth from a jump in productivity due to engaged workers, the significance of HR’s role should become more and more evident.

Active HR professionals are there to keep tabs on engaged employees as well as ensuring the business benefits from this. The establishing of benchmarks, policies, procedures, methodologies…and then ensuring they are all implemented all head towards the business benefiting from a workforce geared towards goal realisation and values adherence. This isn’t a one-off thing. It’s a continually evolving entity, and the impact HR has on ensuring there is compliance from all areas of the business is fundamental. No amount of outsourcing will make up for the intimate knowledge great HR professionals have as to the inner-workings of their business. And those HR Professionals who have solid relationships across all areas of the business are more likely to have their worth clearly identified and, more importantly, seen in a worthwhile light.

The Risks of HR

Without the voice, the worth, the proper role identification and a more substantive path of HR, what could happen to it?

Very simple – it will disappear. HR will either be absorbed into the business by managers, or handed over to administrative staff. Or, as mentioned before, it will be outsourced.

Not moving approaches, not redesigning or not redeveloping HR will see it fail. The warning signs are everywhere, yet precious few see them or refuse to ignore them. HR’s vitality will be lost to complacency, and ultimately the people function of a business will suffer accordingly.

Additionally, businesses who allow HR to fold do so at the risk of their business. As mentioned in the Worth of HR, the engaged workforce is imperative to a businesses success, and as growth happens, the burden on managers to have this on their plate alongside every other pressure will see it pushed aside – to the detriment of the people-related strategy.

Take-Away Points and Recommendations

OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way first: why is a ‘recruiter’ leaping to the defence of HR? The gatekeepers to any possibility of recruiter /employer working together, why the heck would I want to defend their position? Well, it is true I am a recruiter, and have come up against plenty of HR professionals in my time. Yet the bottom line in all this, across recruitment and HR, is people. We are in the people industry, and it is my firm belief that a business, any business, needs to get their people strategy spot on if they have any hope of success. So whether it is sourcing the right candidates or giving them the tools to be a solid part of any employer, it is combined efforts that give businesses the best ways to build and grow. That’s it. Pure and simple.

So with that in mind, these are my views on what HR needs to do to maintain and increase relevancy.

  1. Activity breeds success. Be far more engaged with the business. Do the administration, of course, but develop better engagement models, growth models, development programs and employment structures and processes to articulate why the role of HR has a clear business focus required for further growth
  2. AHRI needs to be more vocal. Advocate the role of HR within the likes of ACCI, BCA and CoC around the country. As the peak body for HR Professionals, its role can be broadened more to push HR’s status in business
  3. One idea I heard was to develop clear divisions in HR across People, Culture and Training, allowing clear, discernible separation of activity, under the banner of the broader HR (or whatever term is best).
  4. Businesses need to think more about the role of HR, and more importantly, incorporating it within greater business strategy. This sounds like a pipe-dream, but surely there are businesses that recognise the value HR brings and are able to demonstrably improve perception based on activity.
  5. The role of HR needs to be more defined. There must be better screening of candidates to ensure business ‘acumen’ exists. That is, they understand the fundamentals of how a business operates and are likely to be more engaged as to how operations and HR interact. This is likely to show HR as being far more engaged within the business.
  6. Following on point 5, HR practitioners need to increase their business savvyness. This is especially and critically important for those new to the industry and in their first role. Be actively engaged with how the business operates, runs and is run. Give HR a presence in all areas. It’s the best way to improve preconceptions.
  7. Finally, an acceptance of the new frontiers of HR information must be embraced. As Chris Stevens of Melbourne-based TalentFlow suggests, HR needs to be “innovative in the digital era in continually adapting  its core processes of hiring, payroll, talent etc” as it reflects the “changing world around the organisation”. It is incredibly vital that businesses, and HR, look beyond HRIS as the start and finish of its information activity and look at adaptability within the newer realms of digital, online and cloud, and start to really innovate ways in which complete alignment of its various processes are integrated into the business. In other words; HR needs to be more clever.

Like your average car, the People Strategy in any business needs proper maintenance and on-going care and only then will it work well and continually work brilliantly. HR, for all its perceived issues and faults is the maintenance and care division of any business, and it is these businesses that recognise it who get the best out of their people. Whereas those that do not, continually fail to recognise that success is people based, not strategy or marketing or cashflow. It’s people. If they cannot be properly engaged through the HR functionality, then that car will be permanently in the garage.

Is There an IT Talent Shortage?

Can't find the right IT talent? Are you looking hard enough?

Can’t find the right IT talent? Are you looking hard enough?

Over the 9 years I have been around IT and IT recruitment, one constant that comes up time and time again is the apparent shortage of quality candidates to fill a variety of roles. When I work with IT businesses (usually small), their first comment to me is: “We simply can’t find top candidates”. Then I read of IT companies (usually large) who end up importing IT talent from overseas, after having roles open, apparently, for ‘weeks on end’.

All this leads to an obvious conclusion that the IT industry is suffering a distinct lack of talent and cannot continue to function properly unless the right talent is found.

Seems like a logical conclusion to arrive at, right? There is simply not enough talented IT candidates out in the market to fill every role available in these IT firms, yes?

Well, actually, no. There is an apparent constant battle for talent…but the evidence and what businesses actually do should suggest otherwise.

War on Talent? Really?

You see, some 16 years ago, some bright spark in McKinsey and Co started the term “war for talent” and ever since, whenever an apparent candidate market is dry, businesses are somehow taking up arms and dropping bombs over other business’s bows (see how I joined up the three defence forces in one analogy? Clever!).

In other words, everyone is scraping to get the best candidates.

The evidence does seem to be there: Australia is recording significantly low unemployment, businesses are still importing talent, and wages remain level.

Wait up…’wages remain level’? IF there was a talent shortage, and IF there was a war on talent, surely wages will be increasing so firms can keep their IT talent close at hand? Seems not, as the underlying trend suggests that rates and salaries haven’t “increased dramatically” (http://social.hays.com/home/australian-salary-trends/) whilst demand across cloud, mobile tech and outsourcing (Managed Service Providers and System Integrators) remains constant. It isn’t reflective of the talent shortage that is, according to some, out there.

So, by indication, there seems to be a solid demand for a somewhat broad range of development skills – java, .Net, Sharepoint ( as per the Hays trends analysis), but also, from my experience, a solid amount of infrastructure and data-based roles as more and more business seek to control and utilise and control data and access streams. Then there is the constant demands across Project Management and it’s various levels. Regardless of all that, the point is that demand is there and it seems to be constant – with peaks and troughs as with any sector of the economy – yet does this mean there is indeed a talent shortage? Should war be declared?

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Answers to Unemployment…Or Is It That Simple?

Talking with some contacts lately, I was challenged to offer solutions to the unemployment situation facing Australia. Instead of writing an exhaustive synopsis of my thoughts there, I have decided to put something together here. Now, not being in any sort of position of influence, the ideas I have are just that; ideas. However, the exposing of a few home truths, facts and open-eyed revelations can be the catalyst of influence…or at least that is the hope.

At present, unemployment sits at around 5.4% or roughly 660,000 people of a Participation figure (those of an employable age either working or looking for work) of around 12.1 million people. This figure, statistically and historically speaking, is relatively low, but nowhere near the definitions of ‘full employment’ (between 2-3% unemployment). Even coming off the back of a global fiscal downturn, Australia seems to be doing OK.

Say that, though, to the 660,000-odd people out of work, as well as a sizable number considered employed, but under-utilised (the under-employment we hear about sometimes). How then do we address this situation and increase employment?

The simple answer is of course ‘get a job’, and it is the carelessness of that comment which embeds itself into the overall psyche of the average un(der)employed person causing frustration and feelings of worthlessness. It also is very easy to say, but not so easy to implement.

So what is the answer? Simple: there is no clear answer. There is no magic wand; no cure-all that that will instantaneously resolve unemployment. There is, however, things that can be done, on both sides of the fence to help better a person’s lot.

Idea 1 – JSA and Advocacy

Now, step back a bit to a  little bit of history of myself. At the turn of the century, I worked for a then-Job Network member (now Job Services Australia) in the old Hunter Valley mining hub of Maitland. Mining had long-since moved further up the Valley, and now Maitland was in a flux. A still-burgeoning population, but with diminishing employment opportunities, the unemployment rate was in the 20% range and coupled with this were increasing situations of generational unemployment – that is people had not experienced their parents working, much less themselves. An unreliable train service could connect them with the larger centre of Newcastle, some 40 minutes away, but with irregular timetables, it was hard to judge it’s worthiness.

So people were stuck in the city itself, and in the middle were several JN providers. Here we were given responsibility to not only find work for these people, but make sure they had the basics covered and were able to work. We are indeed talking the basics here – proper hygiene, clothing, communication skills, simple job searching techniques, including use of online job-boards and similar and most importantly, attitude. The problem was there were plenty of good people looking for work who had for one reason or another been unable to find any. They just needed a break. Often, they would become despondent and often I would have to counsel people, trying to encourage them, get them to carry on. On occasions, we were incredibly saddened to learn that a couple of our clients had committed suicide due to the overwhelming depression unemployment caused. This was the desperation in this city, and it made the job incredibly difficult and heart-breaking. But we plugged on. We turned around the lives of many, many people. We got them into work, and they flourished as a result. In the face of this desperation, it was wonderful to see so many lives changed.

How did we do that? We simply did the basics. We talked, we listened, we understood. We found where their strengths lie and played to them. We found the roles, advocated to employers and made sure these people were given the best opportunities.

Therein lies one idea to get the unemployed back to work: give them a voice. Far too long, the unemployed have been silent, there has really been no one to advocate or to help or to listen. Sure JSA do a great job, but there is only so much they can do, and believe me, the compliance requests from Centrelink make it difficult for them to do a proper job without simply going through the motions – and one major failing of the JN / JSA model is it’s propensity for it to be running the motions, in the name of compliance and failing to actively consult and help. Additionally, they only really assist more long-term unemployed and certainly not the underemployed. We have employer advocates, we have employee advocates in the form of Unions, but where is the voice of the unemployed? A non-government, non-employer-funded advocate would be a fantastic idea.

It also uncovers another problem with the perception of unemployment and the services available to help these. Far too many people are unemployed, but are not ‘officially’ recognised as such. Those that have lost their jobs through redundancy, retrenchment or similar are not considered unemployed until they receive benefits from Centrelink. Until then, they are part of the Participation Rate only. If we are going to be serious in tackling unemployment, we must be fully aware of exactly who is unemployed and how we can help. If we do not recognise those unemployed people whom are not yet part of the official figures, how can we properly deal with it? Let’s be under no illusion, whether you are unemployed for 12 days or 12 months should not make one iota of difference. Issues around self-esteem, anxiety and depression affect people who are unemployed regardless of time, and to properly address this is to fully understand that unemployment does not ‘officially’ start when you receive benefits. So as a result, if we are going to provide advocacy for the unemployed, it should be for all unemployed, and should encompass cross-development with business / business groups to ensure it is a viable option.

Similarly, there is a lack of correlation between businesses and the unemployed it getting recognition of the skills possessed by these unemployed people, and how they can be integrated into any business. There is far too much emphasis on recent work experience, and not enough on long-term, intrinsic or underlying skill sets. I had one client whilst working in Job Network who came from a management background, but had burnt out as a result. By pulling apart his skills we found areas that he enjoyed more than others. It was this we concentrated on and eventually found work that played to these more enjoyable skills. This can be replicated easily for the unemployed. Pull apart your experience, the roles you held in the past, identify what it is that you do well and you enjoy, formulate your resume that highlights these and go to market.

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