Everybody wants to improve the quality of their workforce, don’t they? Well, there are two basic ways of doing it:
- You can go out and recruit top talent
- You can take the employees you’ve got and make them better
The first way costs more, but if you choose that road, you’re getting people who already know how to perform at a high level. All they need is a little orientation to your organization to start doing exactly that for you.
The second way is slower and, you might conclude, less certain. It takes time, energy and money to train employees. And many of them won’t justify the expense.
So it’s pretty clear that the first way is the better choice. Except for one little thing. It doesn’t work.
Here’s the problem, according to Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Over the past several years, with high unemployment and slow growth, companies have assumed they’re in a buyer’s market for talent. With so many qualified people looking for work, they think they can afford to be choosy. They’re looking for people they don’t have to train, who have exactly the right skills and experience for the job they’re trying to fill.
But guess what? Most of those people already have a job. And it looks pretty much like the job these companies are trying to fill. Same skills. Same duties. Pretty much the same pay. So why would people want to switch?
This disconnect, Cappelli argues, is what’s really behind the widely reported “talent shortage” in American business. Companies — 52% of them, according to one study — say they can’t find people with the skills they need. They blame schools. Or job seekers. Or the job seekers’ choices. (“Why didn’t Joe plan the last 20 years of his career so it would match the job description we created last week?”)
‘I’ll take a carton of great performers’
The problem isn’t with the candidates, Cappelli argues.
So who does have a problem? Employers, he says. Employers who think the job market is like a big box retailer, where they can pick up blister packs of perfectly qualified employees at everyday low pricing. Is it any surprise they’re coming up empty handed? Prospective (and current) employees don’t want a new job just like the old one. They want to advance their careers. Which means, by definition, that they won’t be a perfect fit for their next job. They’ll need to grow into it. That, in turn, means you have to train them.
Here’s the crux of Cappelli’s argument: Whether it’s about new employees or existing ones, organizations can’t avoid training. If they’re hiring new people, they’re going to have to develop them. And while they’re at it, they might as well invest in improving the skills of the people they have on board already. You can’t buy an all-star team; you have to build it.
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