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Skills shortage - Casting a Wider Net

I recently attended a printing industry forum on the skills shortage, addressed passionately and with conviction by the former Federal Minister, Dr Sharman Stone. The debate included various strategies on attracting and retaining  employees, which I believe is a topic currently exercising all our minds.

It's an issue which affects us all - with no quick-fix solutions – and which will get worse, before it gets better.  More and more digital print businesses are facing restraints to growth , dislocated production schedules, and other distractions due to the lack of skilled talent. As a recruiter, it's an issue I face all the time - clients ring up and say they need a "such-and-such" - and they'll consider all possibilities ... but, then they invariably add their “preferences”. The applicant -

·  Must have been in the industry for "x" number of years,

·  They must have specific skills,

·  They must be of a certain age group,

·  They must not have "moved around" too much, and - if they're a sales rep

·  They must bring a million $'s of clients with them

Such narrow “wish list” definitions thereby exclude vast chunks of the available candidates. The new model ought to be to modify a job description to suit the particular strengths of a given candidate. 

I do concede that the digital segment is not quite so hung-up on these pre-conditions as our offset brethren!

Based on my observations, many of the high-quality candidates I meet (who are out job-hunting), are unfulfilled or frustrated because their boss doesn’t realise or recognise their hidden talents that lie within. There is a strong case that there isn't a shortage of candidates, so much as a shortage of imagination on the part of some employers - in recognising and re-deploying, or re-defining the job role, to better utilise these candidates’ potential. This may also involve training – often a dirty word, because it’s seen as a cost rather than an investment. Sorry, but staff development is part of our responsibility as managers.

As a rule: employees seek variety - bosses prefer specialisation. I appreciate the problem, but desperate times require desperate action. Right now we don't have the luxury of specifying that the candidate must be 34 years of age, have a mortgage, and has been in the industry (at least) "x" number of years.

The emphasis should now be on -

·  What are the intrinsic "qualities" of the person? (rather than their trade background),

·  Have they succeeded in other areas? (if so, they'll probably do so again), and

·  Do they demonstrate the right attitude? (ie, enthusiasm, ability to adapt, desire to advance, etc).

If so, you should grab them - and, add a little training to the mix. That way you won't have to wait months for the dream-machine - that never comes along.

So before we complain of a "skills shortage" - ask ourselves the following questions -

Are we considering older, more mature applicants?
Are we promoting "from within"? - the talent could be already on your payroll,
Are we considering applicants from other industries? - they may bring much needed diversity,
Are we considering women for more roles? – including on more flexible employment terms?
Are we providing training as part of the "attraction/retention" package? , and
Are we prepared to flex the job specs (a bit) to accommodate someone who may bring a different skills profile?
Hiring is always a risky and costly process at the best of times, with no guarantee of success. Unfortunately, digital print now finds itself competing in the broader market-place for talent. In so doing we must look outside the traditional boundaries for defining what candidate is “suitable” or not. A greater emphasis on their personal qualities would be a start, as “good” candidates from different backgrounds can usually adapt a lot quicker than most employers realise – if they’re given a little training and encouragement. Talent is out there, lurking in unsuspected corners - older workers, women, people from other industries (they may teach us something) - we simply need to recognise it, and double our chances.

 Your best ever sales rep or digital operator could be someone on your payroll right now – just waiting to be “discovered”. Think of the recruitment fees you’ll save.

W. James Cryer
JDA Print Recruitment