The world is moving from capitalism to 'talentism,'" Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said in 2011. This shift, combined with the challenges of the global marketplace, creates four issues that drive problems in recruiting workers, as well as opportunities in talent management: unemployability, a critical skills gap, information gaps, and public and private constraints.

"There is widespread unemployability across the globe, yet many employers say they have open positions but can't find the workers with the right skills to fill those, which speaks to the critical skills gap as well as the information gap on where to locate those people," Brian J. Kelly, a partner at Mercer, said during a recent webcast the consulting firm conducted on global talent mobility. "Further, many of our academic institutions are preparing a workforce of the future that doesn't meet the needs of the employers of the future."

While analyzing the skills of the incoming labor force is helpful, Kelly said beefing up the abilities of internal talent needs the lion's share of employers' attention.

"It involves some sweat equity, but I would argue that optimizing the flow of talent internally is a critical first step to making sure you can ramp up the supply of talent required to meet future demand," he said, adding that it's more cost-effective to fill positions with current employees because it doesn't involve paying large signing bonuses or spending capital on marketing to find talent. Further, turnover issues are minimized dramatically.

The Boeing Company, for example, has worked religiously for six-and-a-half years to develop its defined approach to managing talent, which is linked to overarching company strategy.

Boeing's approach is "about diagnosing gaps and identifying solutions. It's about analyzing and using sophisticated tools ... and it's about recommending gap mitigation," explained Dianna L. Peterson, senior director at Boeing.

Peterson and her team start with a constructive dialogue with company leaders to understand how to connect business needs and skills with workforce requirements.

"It's about keeping it simple," she said. "We're a large organization, and we tend to have a lot of processes. When we tend to overengineer things, we find that processes can die of their own weight."

 

Speaking in future tense

To identify critical skills, Boeing pinpoints and segments employee populations according their importance to the business. Leaders look for gaps between talent and critical skills, and discuss solutions with leaders to close and mitigate future gaps.

The workforce planning department reports to the senior vice president of HR, and "as the center of excellence in HR, we are responsible for strategies, policy, process, systems and tools," Peterson said. "We have a common process, common tools and common definitions and operating rhythm by which we refresh this process every year."

For example, if a business unit requires new critical skills one year, Peterson and her team tweak their process and solutions to fill that gap. All facets of HR (such as staffing, compensation, academic outreach) work to identify gaps and execute fixes.

The company also uses predictive workforce modeling to forecast the future. Among the items it tracks are: business trends and changes to workforce skills and needs, workforce demographics, trends and rates, changes in the national economy and workforce-related policy changes (like staffing growth and reductions, promotions, retirement).

Often, these factors are not readily translated into prescriptive program plans, but the firm's HR department takes a broader view to make plans to meet company demands each year. The team's yearly forecasts include: key workforce demographics (talent needed and talent available), personnel transactions required to achieve and maintain them and potential skill gaps and surpluses.

To fill anticipated skills gaps caused by resignations, retirements, layoffs, or employees transferring to new jobs or new segments of the organization, the HR team:

1. Promotes employees from the company population.

2. Transfers existing workers into the population of interest.

3. Approaches external talent.

Forecasting "enables us to have a sense of what's coming, it enables us to do our workforce planning with more confidence, it enables us to reduce risks, especially program risks, and it enables us to invest our time and money more wisely," said Bruce Ballard, senior manager for workforce intelligence at Boeing.

The group also has compiled a Global Workforce Intelligence Suite "to bring together in one place as many of the key workforce demographic trends, analytics and forecasting," he explained. "This helps increase awareness in the workforce and opportunities across our company. It provides a consistent, consolidated and comprehensive source message. By being the one-stop shop, everybody knows where to find these sources and see our company's baseline for moving forward."

"Many employers, including Boeing, are actively working to influence the academic communities and ensure that the right skills will be available and some level of supply," said Mercer's Kelly.

If a Boeing business unit has a new critical skill, leaders may work with a higher education team in HR and reach out to new schools for recruiting students if necessary.

Boeing determines specific schools for recruiting, as well as where to send current employees back to school for their tuition reimbursement program so as to ensure the company gets the skills they need from specific schools and departments.

For example, software engineering is a critical skill for many Boeing departments. While U.S. occupation growth in this area is estimated to increase by 30% by 2018, undergrad graduation rates have dropped 36% in the last five years. Since Boeing hires and employs many engineers, they are concerned about this talent pipeline.

The company has a robust relationship with higher education departments. Its Higher Education Integration Board sets a strategy for continuing education, recruiting and research with universities. The board looks intently at the quality of current hires, based on performance management, promotion and impact of past internships, and ultimately compares the success of employees from various schools.

"Our approach is about providing workforce planning and tools, identifying critical talent, providing data analysis to make good business decisions, coming to the table with solutions and taking a risk to have an opinion, and influencing the external pipeline," said Peterson. "It's about changing behavior across the company and bringing awareness through facts and data."

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