If you’re a CMO in a pharmaceutical or biotech company, then I have a question for you: Is your company facing a talent shortage?
Scratch that. No matter what business you’re in, please go check your company’s public position on talent: Is it having a hard time finding the people it needs to hire?
Luke Timmerman, editor of Xconomy.com, blasts two specific industries for their incongruous claims about “talent” in the face of their layoff practices in “Biotech & Pharma Whining About Talent: That Makes Me Mad”:
“Pharmaceutical and biotech companies axed something like 150,000 workers from 2009 through 2012. Now guess what? Those same companies are now complaining, in a recent report from the consulting firm PwC, that they are unable to find enough qualified workers to fill key positions they need to grow.”
What’s Timmerman really bitching about? The incongruity of it all. The disconnect. The suggestion by these employers that 150,000 workers are suddenly worthless, and that what employers need is some sort of talent that’s entirely different from what they needed a few years ago.
Companies seem to think it’s smarter to dump highly educated, sophisticated workers—he cites a medicinal chemist and a senior quality-control worker for in vitro biology and biochemistry—than to develop and train them to do other kinds of work.
Peter Cappelli, director of The Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources, said in a now notorious Wall Street Journal commentary that, “These days, many companies simply don't believe their own workers have the necessary skills to take on new roles. But, once again, many workers could step into those jobs with a bit of training.”
Timmerman says he’s “irked by the ‘oh-woe-is-us-we-can’t-find-enough-skilled-people’ message” in reports like PwC’s. (We discussed aggressive recruiting strategies in a recent CMO.com article, “Ferocious Recruiting.”) Cappelli suggests the answer is staring employers in the face, and it’s called training and development:
“For example, a marketing manager may not know how to compute the return on marketing programs but might learn that skill while working on a team project with colleagues from the finance department. Pursuing options like these vastly expands the supply of talent that employers can tap, making it both cheaper and easier to fill jobs.”
Timmerman and Cappelli deliver similar suggestions to employers that are whining about not being able to hire the talent they need:
- Invest in developing your existing employees rather than wait for schools (or the market) to deliver the perfect candidates while valuable work remains undone.
- Stop assuming that unemployed professionals from your industry lack the skills you need or the ability to develop them quickly.
- Actively recruit unemployed, skilled “people who have been disengaged from the industry” rather than hire from scratch.
- Take some the cash you’ve got sitting in bank accounts and pump it into workforce development to ensure the health of your industry’s talent pool.
Is your company taking these kinds of initiatives?
Timmerman says he’s “regularly confronted with smart, experienced, hardworking people who are unemployed or underemployed.”
Meanwhile, our economy is confronted daily by employers whining they can’t find experienced, hardworking people. It seems these employers may be their own biggest enemy. Maybe the talent that’s lacking is in human resource management—not in the talent market itself.