Unemployment is still high, although the trend is improving. I’m noticing a couple of other trends in this protracted unemployment that are a bit curious to me. This is not a scientific study, just what I’m seeing anecdotally from my network. I notice that headhunters and search firms are still targeting those who are employed when trying to fill positions; those in transition are considered, but usually “second” unless there is already a relationship. Similarly, companies seem to be hiring new graduates when they hire instead of looking for the unfortunate graduates who weren’t able to land a job in previous graduating classes. This seems like a bit of a shortsighted set of tendencies to me. So how are we all adjusting to this present reality?
I get why we might be picky in “normal” employment times. Yet I wonder if we are missing the boat on some better staffing alternatives when it comes to putting winners on our teams as the economy continues to improve. And if we are hiring to success factors for the position, there is no reason to screen out candidates ahead of time. It shouldn’t matter if someone is presently employed, recently let go, or in the case of this past recession, out of work for awhile. If they can demonstrate being able to perform to our success factors and fit the culture of our companies, then they should be considered for the position. Same is true of the entry level college graduate, right?
I see lots of folks in transition who are referred to me through my professional network. For most of these folks, it’s simply a connection relationship. For some, it winds up being a coaching situation. In all these cases I see more of a willingness to consider being part of the “Free Agent Nation” to use the title of Daniel Pink’s 2001 book. Commensurate with that trend, I see more companies willing to hire people as contractors for a period of time to determine if the person can actually deliver on the success factors. In the case of students, I see more willing to “intern,” or engage in a consulting capacity as well.
Business leaders have several opportunities here. The first is to make sure we are doing what we need to do now to make sure we retain our top talent. As the economy improves we are seeing more folks quitting their jobs and moving on to new assignments, and as I said, your folks are being targeted first by those looking to hire. Next is to seriously look at being selective in hiring the right people and getting them on the bus. In my opinion, the way to go about that is to develop strong success factors for the position you wish to fill and screen candidates to those factors. Another opportunity is to consider using contractors for some of the more autonomous positions. Of course you want to make sure you comply with all the employment rules and regulations regarding Independent Contractors. State are coming down hard on those who are trying to escape employee taxes.
However you go about this, I would encourage flexibility and caution. If the economic forecasts I see are correct, then we will be in for another downturn in the economy (certainly not as bad as this last one) beginning around the second half of 2013 and coming out in the end of 2014 or so. That means making sure we are ready for that eventuality by controlling costs and lining up our cash sources again. This makes exploring the use of contract employees that much more attractive in the short term. This is an opportunity for many of us as the economy reaches an inflection point.
In summary then; On the individual side, I see more folks willing to retrain themselves to improve their skill sets. I also see many people deciding that since they will be looking for a new employment every 24 to 36 months anyway (that seems to be the average,) they might as well become independent contractors. I see students going back to school and waiting out the employment market. I see companies getting new talent on board as they re-engineer their product and/or service offerings.