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Talent Shortage or an Unwillingness to Teach?

High unemployment yet companies say they are unable to fill their vacancies with talented people. Is it a paradox or simply a change in the way companies do business these days? Companies used to have a wide range of trainee programs and showed a willingness to teach new employees the skills necessary to do the job. However in this new normal economy the trainee programs are gone and companies will only hire employees that can hit the ground running. Hence we see this big gap in the job market. So how do we fix it? Improve college education which many companies say doesn't teach students the right skills? Re-introduce expensive trainee programs with a doubtful success-ratio? Or should we re-find the willingness to teach our employees the necessary skills to do the job? In my opinion companies have a lot to gain by simply doing the latter.

Answers

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I definitely think the solution is the latter. Individual practices in business are too diverse for college level education to solve for this. The issue is the persons who possess the knowledge and experience to teach new employees the requisite skills have loaded plates themselves. Without the right coaches, employees that might have a higher ceiling potential-wise will tend to get overlooked for an employee who can jump right in and add immediate value.

There is an element of "turf protection" in these uncertain times as well. What loyalty is shown to a more seasoned employee who imparts their knowledge nowadays? Companies leap at the opportunity to fill skilled roles with lower salaried people, which is a further disincentive to a mentoring environment.

Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

Ken,

I understand and see the turf protection going on, but I have never really understood the part about someone having a plate too loaded to invest in young talent or improving their own work. To me that is just an excuse for not wanting to change or perhaps even wanting to show that there is enough work at hand to fill the current job (if one is afraid of losing the job).

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Well its both. Technology has created the Paradox. HR ATS systems (applicant tracking systems) are now coded to exclude any candidate not currently employed. The resume may be accepted but human eyes will never see it. Big companies use Sharepoint to track all online behavior even down to the zip code on your resume. If you live too many miles away or your house on zillow.com looks to be underwater, human eyes never see the resume. If management has never seen the resume then there is no liability for not considering it. Isn't technology grand?

When less experienced people inherit the reins, the reason they don't hire skilled workers is not always protectionary. Usually it is simply lack of experience and looking to cut costs. Little do they realize all their time will be used to manage the less-qualified. The quality of new management is usually dependent on who their managers were that trained them. If their managers were weak or unable to make good decisions, some of those traits are passed on and are displayed as poor decision making by the newly promoted until they learn more from their peers and so on.

Training programs teach people to follow the rules of policy. They are not a succession program.

I've been impressed by some people that are younger than I lately, so I don't believe there is a formula. But certainly the technology issue needs to be recognized and revamped. NPR had an interview with a Wharton professor two years ago that really highlighted this issue.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I think this is the new normal. Things are too fluid for companies to see the advantage of investing in training programs. And, did they really pay off anyway? Or, was it really just a back up for a good hiring process to judge talent? Are companies really having trouble finding talent, or do is the real issue they are unwilling to "pull the trigger" as they want to keep headcount from increasing in these volatile times.

Steve lewis
Title: Principal
Company: Peak Business Solutions
(Principal, Peak Business Solutions) |

"unwilling to "pull the trigger" as they want to keep headcount from increasing in these volatile times"

Mark, you nailed it. There is simply too many risk factors present in todays marketplace to take on the risk of new hires. Once things settle down, hiring will pick up in earnest.

Also, job applicants need to be more proactive in their own CPE program. Once you graduate from College doesn't mean the learning stops. Continual learning may be just another buzz word but IT is also the new norm. Stop waiting for companies to train you, just not going to happen, and train yourself.

Is this fair? Who knows but it is reality.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Recent Experience - I am trying to hire a position. An ad was placed. I received 116 responses. I sifted through the resumes personally (old school). I pulled two potential candidates to interview. There were many individuals that had good backgrounds, but not for the position I was looking to place. One individual applied for the position four times. I wouldn't say my experience signified a broken education system, i.e. 2 out of 116. I believe my experience showed a problem with the hiring process.

It will be a long time before any one company will re-introduce a training program, in a large scale. But after years of downsizing or not hiring to contain costs, there is no excess to spend time mentoring or training. We all want an employee that will be productive on day 1.

Hopefully a byproduct of this situation will be a preference to spend training funds on internal resources, to groom, to higher positions, i.e. grow internally.

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

A successful candidate for an entry level or even mid-level position would have some knowledge of the job (a degree, or experience in a similar position), but more importantly the skills to problem solve, investigate, and understand the larger concepts. When I find someone with these skills and a passion to learn, I have no problem investing my limited time to train them in the nuances of what I am looking for. They pay attention, make connections between activities, ask questions, do their own legwork, and communicate. Some of my recent hires have talked a good game, had the degree, gotten detailed professional references (directly contacted by myself) but after being hired they present me with something incomplete and don't even recognize that they aren't finished. A training program might give them the tools to complete the work, but if they don't get the big picture, they will never really have the skills to do it right.

John Harmon
Title: Owner
Company: John Harmon CPA
(Owner, John Harmon CPA) |

Sara,
When delegating tasks, it may be worth the extra question "Do you know why this needs to be done?" or "Do you know where this fits into the project?". If the answer is not what you're looking for, you can explain further. If the person doesn't doesn't put sufficient effort in understanding at that point, you have a person in the wrong role.
I mean this to be helpful. My own experience in administrative tasks, including accounting, is that when a person is dismissed as "not getting it", 9 times out of 10 the task was not communicated clearly and/or feedback was not encouraged.

Niru Irukulla
Title: Sr. Financial Analyst
Company: Guidewire
(Sr. Financial Analyst, Guidewire) |

Sara, I am sure many managers can sympathize with your experience. As we all know degrees and references aren't sure indicator of how successful a candidate will be in the role. I think John makes a good point that before dismissing someone as not a good fit give them a chance to understand the point, perhaps rephrase instructions etc. I have had several instances where I thought my instructions were clear, however colleagues have taken different intrepretation.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

We have struggled with what Valerie mentions repeatedly. We struggle because if we promote from within the company, they already know our culture and our product, the problem is they have no prior management experience. Then we can't figure out why they can't lead their staff.
If we hire outside the company they always struggle with fitting into our culture or don't seem to have strong enough leadership skills. I have seen time and time again managers not wanting to hold people accountable and I don't understand it.
In reviewing coaching logs we could see where a manager would have the same exact coaching conversation with one employee multiple times with there never being any consequences.

To John's point we have broken through a lot of communication barriers over the past year by explaining the "whys" behind changes. People need to understand why we have them do things or why we are changing a process. Great Discussion!

Roger Whitham
Title: Managing Director
Company: Bassett Bridge Associates
(Managing Director, Bassett Bridge Associates) |

The choice between an inside or outside hire has plagued me every time. As is rightly pointed out, the inside hire knows the company culture yet lacks experience/knowledge. While the outside hire has experience/knowledge but struggles with fitting in. With a lack of comprehensive training and the funds to make programs available companies are caught in a catch 22.

To over come the barriers of a lack of training programs and funds I've tried to anticipate forward hiring needs against my strategic plans and encouraged existing staff to self learn the necessary skills. In doing so I learn, through interaction and observation, who is motivated to advance and who just gives it lip service. If an employee demonstrates self improvement in the right areas I can work with this individual and risk getting them to the next level. This allows me to back fill a lower level position were the hiring requirements are less stringent.

If none of the existing staff is willing to step up and develop themselves then I turn outside. Finding the right candidate that can fit requires patients so planning the next hire well in advance is important.

The key to making the above strategy successful is understanding your needs before hand and communicating to the existing staff what is necessary to advance. There is the risk that once someone self improves they will look else where for better opportunities. By delivering on the promise to promote loyalty is established both ways and the likelihood the employee leaves is lessened. If you have to look outside, knowing your needs well in advance will afford you time to seek, investigate and select the right candidate.

Keith Johnson
Title: Principal
Company: Keith E. Johnson CPA PA
(Principal, Keith E. Johnson CPA PA) |

I hate companies that say they can't find talent because if they reject even ONE applicant who meets the magic 80% of the qualifications in the job description, then the company is lying through its teeth. If you complain about not finding talent, but reject the next qualified applicant that comes through the door, no matter what (pending legal and health checks, that's acceptable) then the problem is on YOU, not the talent. There WAS talent, but YOU just didn't want to hire them.
I said it five years ago and its just as true today, in this environment, if the demand to regenerate the economy is ever going to be increased, companies must be forced to break open their cash hoards and hire people with the long term unemployed first in line. When you hire someone unemployed, you convert that person from a taker to a payer and the economy is improved. If you hire someone who is already employed, you're just replacing a payer with a payer and no net improvement is seen.
Companies cannot be trusted to make good hiring decisions and they turn around and complain they can't find the talent when the talent is in front of them all along..
I wish we were in an economy where we could hire based on "the right fit" or "hiring the best qualified", but we can't. People need to be working NOW.

Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

Keith,

Companies should hire the best candidate not the one unemployed the longest unless that person is the best candidate. I don't see why companies can't hire best qualified or best fit however when that person is not 100% available then I agree companies should do much more to fill the gap from 80% to 100%.

Rich Pellegrino
Title: CFO & Treasurer
Company: "P&C" Insurance Company
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO & Treasurer, "P&C" Insurance Company) |

Keith - I whole-heartedly concur. In the "old" days if the hiring firm had a list of 10 'must-haves' and a candidate had 8 of them, you were in. Now if the company has 10 must haves, it seems the candidate better have 12 of them. Further, is it really that companies can't find the talent ... or can't find the talent at the (perhaps) absurdly low price they're willing to pay? Having "too much on one's plate" to train employees is a cop out. We, as an entire country, are failing to invest in the future and it seems the private sector has become a microcosm of this narrow view. Not only are we paying the price for such incredible short-sightedness but the cost is going to become infinitely more expensive in the future.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Anders - I think it's important to call out the difference between "training" and "mentoring". Most have the time to offload work, few show an inclination to develop people and see them through to the next step in their careers.

Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

Ken I don't disagree and would call it out as a severe lack in leadership in today's business.

Keith Johnson
Title: Principal
Company: Keith E. Johnson CPA PA
(Principal, Keith E. Johnson CPA PA) |

The only problem is that we need to get the economy going again and the only way to do that is through hiring the unemployed so they can start paying taxes. Hiring someone who is already working might bring an incremental amount of economic activity, but since that person is not a taker (receiving social services and drawing on charity) that's not allowing for reduction of social service demand. We have to look at what's right and the big picture. I'm not saying hiring an accountant for an engineers job, but preference needs to be given to the reasonably qualified people who deserve it the most. Otherwise, the blame for the continued recession falls squarely on the employers

Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

Keith,

While I agree that one of the way's to get the economy going is starting to hire then as a company you can't make your hires based on CSR alone. While CSR can certainly play a factor companies need to see it as a clear competitive advantage as otherwise it will not be economically viable in the long run. Maybe what you would need then is a campaign similar to hiring veterans, which I think is great, that focus' on the benefits of hiring unemployed.

If consumer's start to favor companies hiring unemployed over companies that are simply "stealing" employees from each other then maybe your argument has a case.

Chris Holtzer
Title: Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis
Company: Sargento
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis, Sargento) |

I have to disagree. I think the economic theory is fundamentally correct, but theory has the luxury of operating in a vacuum. There are way too many other factors in reality that have driven the desire to "steal".

For example, some percentage of the unemployed, are that way for a reason. Even those who may be "reasonably qualified" aren't necessarily the best candidate for the role.

Isn't it the best practice to put the best person in the role regardless of employment status? This may only increase their personal tax benefit marginally, but what if they make an extra $10m for the company who then is taxed on those additional profits? That's much better economics, right?...alright, we both know there are a thousand other factors that play into if that is better or worse, but it illustrates the fact that we can't focus on just one factor like employment status. It should be a blip on the radar at most.

Companies have social and economic responsibilities to their communities, but they also have responsibilities to their investors and stakeholders, and when push comes to shove, the latter trumps. Is that right or wrong? You guessed it...."it depends!"

Brian Kennedy
Title: President
Company: peerformation.com
(President, peerformation.com) |

Companies complain that colleges are not providing candidates with the right skill sets. Colleges are supposed to know what specific skills will be needed for the thousands of companies across this country years ahead of time? That is crazy. And it is an excuse.

College was never intended to be a job training program. This is an excuse by companies to pass the buck.

I also believe many companies think a bit too highly of themselves and how special the job in question is. Were the hiring managers all perfect, or were they good enough to at least get a chance to prove themselves?

Martijn Heijboer
Title: Strategic Planning and Development Analy..
Company: Allied Mineral Products Inc.
(Strategic Planning and Development Analyst, Allied Mineral Products Inc.) |

I landed my dream-job right out of school at the only company that was willing to hire me and go through the hassle of getting me a work permit (as my name suggests; I'm a foreigner). How I got there and what I do is a long story but here is something that I believe was very helpful:

My education in Europe required internships; I did many of them and became very familiar with a number of companies and professional life in general. I was hired only because the company knew me and my skills through means of internships. Internships are also very helpful once a student starts taking business courses as now the student has some references and practical applications.

My advice to companies who want the talented kids and want them to stay; get interns and give them an interesting research project in their field of interest, coach them through it, and make sure other people notice the efforts (and for goodness sake; at least pay them minimum wage, it's really not that much). I can't think of a better way for a company to get to know an applicant, for the applicant to get to know the company, and for the applicant to get to know him/her self. And then once the internship is successfully completed don't just lock the applicant up in a cubicle with a desktop and a phone; rather make sure he/she continues with at least some responsibility in their field of interest and opportunities to develop themselves.

I keep hearing that "those young people" have no patience and move around as if they're at the mall (and I agree), however figure your first year fresh out of school staring at a screen, unnoticed by higher ups, thinking "if I don't do something this is going to be what I do for the rest of my life". Btw, this is not my experience, I love doing what I do and I am incredibly blessed by the opportunities this company is giving me to develop myself and my career.

Chris Holtzer
Title: Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis
Company: Sargento
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis, Sargento) |

I agree that formal training programs are dead, but I am not certain I agree that it is a major problem. Limited talent pool is driven by many things, and I think formal training or lack there of, is a ways down the list.

In my experience with formal training programs, I would have to say they are nothing short of a joke. They don't teach skills (perhaps that is why they died). I would say they closer resemble a high school pep rally, than training. Lots of who-rah, but not much meat. Perhaps that is just my experience and generation of training though.

I think on-the-job mentoring / shadowing is the best training available for the same reason many have already stated. Every job, every company is different.

There is just too much diversity of responsibility in the accounting/finance world with a very limited diversity in job title / description. The disparity between skills needed and job titles is what leads to Regis's 2:116 ratio. It's not that the people aren't out there, it's that we have no good way to focus on them, or reach them. This is where a recruiter (a good one, not the used car salesmen that flood the interwebs) is worth their weight in gold. They can really zero in for you, and get the right people in front of you. But, it will cost you!

And we are back to the fundamental problem. Good people and robust skills are expensive. We are constantly trying to skirt that realization, and that isn't a bad thing. It's our job to get the best for the least, but everyone needs to realize that is a give and take relationship. As we cut the corners for costs (training etc) we also cut the quality of performance we get.

Niru Irukulla
Title: Sr. Financial Analyst
Company: Guidewire
(Sr. Financial Analyst, Guidewire) |

Good question Anders. Unfortunately I do not think there is an easy answer. But I do feel teaching/mentoring is great way to bridge the gap. As someone already expressed above, there is no way for a university to teach everything that future employers want. Every company has their own culture and set of processes. Every manager has their expectations of their employees, but may not communicate such expectations well. As such they do not get the results they intended. Everyone plays a part in success, it is collaborative process.

Daiv Simcic
Title: Accounting Manager and Integration Speci..
Company: UATP
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager and Integration Specialist , UATP) |

The talent is neither better nor worse and the jobs are not harder nor easier, they are different. Unfortunately, no one can see what is right before their eyes. There is and there will always be risk in hiring. Every career averages 4 years now-a-days. No one is to blame. It is your choice on whether it is worth risking a position that will only be filled for 4 years. Too many choose to say it isn't worth their time because the person will leave, but that is a bad argument. No matter who you hire, they are going to leave. You have to have this mindset. Is it worth the risk of leaving the position open or losing out on 4 years of talent because you fear the person leaving? Absolutely not.

This is business. Why would anyone who is really talented want to work for someone else longer than 4 years? Fear? You pretty much learn all you can in four years anyway, and it is better than a college education.

Once you figure this out, and the individuals you hire think this way, your talent pool will get much larger. And you, your staff, and your new hires will be much happier.

Chris Holtzer
Title: Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis
Company: Sargento
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis, Sargento) |

Why do you think that filtering to "already working" is going to kill companies? Many, if not most 'Blue Chip' companies have an ATS program in place (and I promise, most will be there 3-5 years, that's why they are called blue chips). I can't say what they do or do not filter, but 9 out of 10 people are working. I don't think they are really limiting their talent pool to the point of driving major failure.

David Smith
Title: Senior Manager
Company: N/A
LinkedIn Profile
(Senior Manager, N/A) |

In today's performance management processes it seems to be all about up or out. Training, coaching and mentoring have fallen off dramatically in the past twenty years. Companies have created their own problems by not developing people managers to manage and really grow people. Stack-ranking and other similar methods have made many people managers ineffective in developing a strong core team and then creating knowledge and skills continuity. Churn and burn policies seem to be more the norm to the detriment of the corporation. The stronger the core is developed the fewer resources are needed to handle the same work.

True professional managers have become a dying breed. Building a culture of high performance takes effort. Companies need to assess their culture and policies and make the change to increase performance through building true core strength, stability and continuity. Develop people to ensure long-term capability and weed out those managers that shouldn't be managing people.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I just met a young woman working for Scottrade. When I asked what she did, like most people, she told me her title. After 20 questions on my part I found out that she is basically a sales person, but with no products per se, besides maybe churning.

Scottrade just paid for her MBA. I asked what she was going to do with the MBA and Scottrade. Her answer was to leave, because the MBA was useless at the company because there was no where to use the knowledge she learned.

Here is an example of a company out of touch with its own culture, jobs and education. It was great for this young lady (free MBA), and bad for the company.

On the flip side (sequestration aside) the Military encourages education. It will pay for education. But if it pays, it requires the military officer or enlisted person to contractually agree to spending additional time (extending their enlistment/tour).

Who wins, both parties. The military wins because they have a more educated workforce. The Solder/Sailor wins, because they have obtained an advanced education, which helps them when they enter the civilian workforce.

All it takes is (and it is easier to write this than to execute) a strategic vision of what skill sets the company wants/needs, an agreement with the employees on obtaining that skillset.

Anonymous
(Founder, CEO, CFO, Accountant, and Consultant) |

Businesses these days have become very shortsighted and so have their employees, evidenced by the lack of loyalty from both sides. With the paradigm shift from long-term employment to switching jobs and companies every few years, the views on mentoring and training have changed. People change jobs like they change their ties, shirts, or socks, and this has impacted training and mentoring.

Mentoring traditionally involved a long-term relationship where a more senior person would guide a more junior person to take over his/her position. This is gone because people change jobs and companies too quickly. Furthermore, training is something that a lot of companies don't offer nowadays because of the time commitment and expense. Unless they’re hired and can hit the ground running, which is usually how people are hired nowadays, employees have to train themselves. Employees are expected to figure out many things on their own, which they do so to keep their jobs, but then have difficulty advancing because they aren’t “qualified” for the next level. There is no career planning or career path.

The work environment isn’t really conducive to mentoring and training. Overall, I think the work environment is in a viscous cycle. The lack of mentoring, training, and loyalty increases employees' stress and creates feelings of lack of support and commitment from their leaders and company. The result of this is increased employee dissatisfaction, causing many employees to lose motivation, enjoy their jobs less, and look for other work at companies where they would be more valued and appreciated. Employees have needs that aren’t being met in the workplace. Employers as a result aren’t getting people passionate about their jobs and aren’t getting the most out of their current employees. The cycle continues. I think that in general, this is how the work environment and the relationship is between employees and employers.

David Smith, I agree with your points... Building a culture of high performance takes not only effort, but lots of commitment and time as well.

Brian D.

Jacky Hood
Title: Account Manager and Engagement Manager
Company: RightWave, Inc.
(Account Manager and Engagement Manager, RightWave, Inc.) |

Industry can and should contribute much more to educating the workforce. U.S. companies fare poorly in comparison with their European counterparts who have apprenticeship programs for nearly every position. The American companies are like the National Football League; they expect the colleges to groom the talent. Let's encourage the companies to become more like Major League Baseball that runs a farm club system that trains and provides practical experience to the athletes.

Industry can learn to share educational resources and take advantage of technology just as academia is doing. Open licensed courseware and textbooks greatly reduce education costs and improve quality. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide very high quality education and training at very low cost per student.

Best regards,
Jacky Hood
Director, Alliances and Sponsorships
Open Doors Group

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