By Barry Waldman
The issue of recruiting and retaining talent is important to institutions of higher learning not just as employers but as a primary conduit of new employees into the workforce. Given conditions today, that function may be more important than ever.
But are colleges and universities prepared to produce instantly employable graduates?
Every company understands the concept of supply and demand. The concept works in the labor market just the same as with goods and services, and today, in many fields and job functions, demand for workers vastly outstrips the supply. If every American adult were working, we would still have 5.4 million unfilled jobs, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even in those industries and job titles in which supply and demand are more in balance, finding the right employees with the requisite skills and attitude for a good cultural fit remains a struggle.
In short, it is a worker’s market. And labor force trends suggest that is not going to change during the work life of anyone in the workforce today.
The Labor Shortage and the Great Resignation
With Baby Boomers retiring and expected population growth declining below half-a-percent over the next 40 years, the chasm between available workers and vacant positions is expected to persist for decades. Employers that can exploit technology are likely to require fewer, better-trained employees, but that is insufficient to close the gap. Moreover, while automating simple tasks will benefit the most educated members of the labor force who must design and run the machines, it will harm those with little training or skills, finds Harry J. Holzer, Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University and an Institute Fellow at the American Institutes for Research.
Covid played a role in accelerating the labor shortage by forcing many Americans, especially women, to reprioritize their lives and leave jobs that were not conducive to maintaining good mental health or raising a family. Combined with a rising stock market, generous unemployment benefits and government stimulus checks, more than four million Americans felt empowered to check out of the labor force between November 2020 and August 2021, in what was called the Great Resignation.
What Can Employers Do to Recruit Employees?
Employers can insulate themselves from the squeeze of the labor shortage by creating a stronger candidate experience and remember their internal candidates when they have open positions to fill, says Jackie Kohlhepp, an HR consultant and co-founder of RezRev, an app connecting employers and job seekers using video.
“We advise clients to make the hiring process as frictionless as possible,” she said. “Make it easy for candidates to find the job listing and understand your employee value proposition. Double down on your mission and make it clear what you offer. Find ways to communicate that louder and more clearly.”
Kohlhepp observes that emerging workers – Gen Zers raised on Snapchat and TikTok – may be more comfortable with images and video. Employers should consider tailoring their job advertisements to their communication styles. Her video-based RezRev app is redesigning resumes to speed up the candidate pre-screening process.
Common Hiring Mistakes
Once hired, this generation questions authority and expects to be taken care of and recognized for their contributions. Failing to do so could hurt retention efforts, relegating recruitment to the futile act of filling a leaky bucket.
The resume review and interview process needs to change too, says Kurt Johnson, CEO of Peak Performance, a recruitment advising company. He sees hiring managers focusing on years of experience without measuring the quality of that experience or the skills developed. “Is it 10 years of experience or one year 10 times?” he asked. Experience, he says, is not predictive of success, but skills possessed are.
Higher Ed’s Contribution to Employee Success
Colleges and universities are producing the next generation of labor and endowing them with the tactical skills to enter their professions. Hiring managers and HR professionals have observed for years that higher education is not adequately preparing graduates for the workplace. Covid and remote learning exacerbated the deficit of soft skills that job applicants increasingly need – e.g., critical thinking, teamwork, professionalism and communication – to succeed in the workplace. Indeed, more than a third of all college graduates are underemployed and a Gallup poll found that three-quarters of hiring managers see little connection between college and job performance.
HR managers acknowledge that academic institutions are beginning to recognize the disconnect and focus more on their students’ 21st century workplace skills. Internships and co-ops outsource these lessons; soft skill lessons like group activities and problem solving can also be incorporated into the classroom. This is becoming increasingly important as students’ social interactions move onto their phones.
Professional skills and soft skills are the two-headed monster of recruiting, because, says Kurt Johnson, “You can’t train poor behavior out of people.”