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The Skills Gap: Creative Ways to Manage Talent Acquisition

The Skills Gap: Creative Ways to Manage Talent Acquisition

Recruiters at large employers are fine-tuning their talent acquisition efforts for positions with stringent skills requirements that are very hard to fill.  It’s a wide-spread trend, even in a 2010s labor market better known for its vast oversupply of overqualified candidates.

In functional areas ranging from sales jobs to engineering, IT, accounting and finance, identifying and reeling in the right candidate is a steep challenge in an era when business requires that more and more workers to be multi-talented professionals.

Talent Acquisition Heats Up
In this heated talent environment, even the most highly-educated candidate may not be the best match.

“We were looking for new or upcoming graduates with internships or college experience showing that they could write concise and compelling code,” says John Caffrey, vice president of human resources at business-to-business weather forecaster WSI Corp., a Weather Channel company in Andover, Mass.

The company was recruiting software engineers and developers and looking for people with C++ and graphics programming skills. “We flew in a person from Texas who had just earned a Ph.D., asked her ‘How many bits are there in a byte?’ and she didn’t know the answer.”

Still, major employers utilize savvy recruitment strategies to make thousands of hires each year, meeting the needs of their hiring managers and often generating record profits. How do they overcome the skills gap?

Three corporate powerhouses told us something about their own approaches to talent acquisition and landing the best hard-to-find talent.

Microsoft: “We find out what our employees enjoy here”
It’s been a while since MSFT was the sexiest symbol on the ticker, but the software maker is still a marquee employer that must keep stretching to reach the specialized talent needed to compete in its many hiring markets.

“I think that it’s the most competitive that it’s ever been for software engineers,” says Rupert Bader, staffing director for Microsoft Business Solutions in Redmond, Wash. “We have to compete for every single hire that we make.” The business-solutions unit is hiring about 250 software development and test engineers this year to work on offerings ranging from ERP and CRM systems to financial-management tools and sales force automation software.

And those software engineers -- the company’s core employees -- must have much more than IT skills and IT talent -- they must also be savvy business professionals. “We’re looking for people who have demonstrated the ability not just to write code, but to understand customers’ businesses,” says Bader.

How does Microsoft successfully recruit the hearts and minds of candidates who might also be considering offers from Google, Facebook or that 14-geek startup that nobody’s yet heard of?
“We do research studies with candidates throughout the year,” says Bader. “We find that what they enjoy here is the work environment. They love it when they get to showcase their work and have it looked at by the most senior people in the company.”

PwC:  “We look for connections to the people we want to hire”
PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s top consulting firms, also must harvest a rich crop of in-demand talent year after year. “It’s harder for us to fill high-level positions in Oracle and SAP, to find people with deep financial-services expertise, or executives who can use their own networks to build a book of business,” says Holly Paul, US recruiting leader for the firm in New York.
Paul’s team of 300 sourcers, recruiters and other staffers helped bring on about 11,000 new employees in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ top recruitment strategy is working its manifold network. “For the toughest jobs to fill, we depend most on our referral network and our employees are partners,” says Paul. “It really takes a very concentrated effort to unleash the connections of your network.”

The firm’s recruitment efforts depend heavily on internal resources. “Our recruiters are responsible for heavy lifting on the sourcing side,” says Paul. “We encourage our recruiters to go with business partners to conferences or networking events. Sometimes we keep in touch with a potential candidate for a year or more before they’re ready to begin having a real conversation.”

And each incumbent employee is recruited to actively join the firm’s recruitment strategies. “We sit down with new hires within a couple of months, talk with them about how they are also recruiters, and ask them who they know. We look for connections to the people we want to hire.”

TD Bank: “We teach them what they need to know”
TD Bank has taken a different approach to bridging the skills gap, mounting a strategic employee training effort to grow talent from within. Through its TD University, the bank offers more than 5,000 courses to its workers, most online and some in the classroom, in a broad array of functional areas including accounting, finance, sales, marketing and technology.

TD Bank’s credit analyst training, for example, is “an intensive 32-week program that provides a thorough overview of the industry, credit analysis, underwriting, cash flows, and write-ups,” according to a company document.

TD Bank boosts the skills of its employees at many levels, from new college grads who need basic onboarding to senior executives who need coaching to take their management skills to the next level.

For midlevel positions, for example, “we will sometimes hire a person with 2 to 3 years of experience and teach them whatever else they need to know,” says Ted Nouryan, a senior vice president and head of organizational development at TD Bank.