Winning the talent war

As employee expectations of the workplace evolve, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to attract and retain talent in Australia. In fact, a third of Australian employers say they can’t fill open jobs.

Australia Post recently co-hosted a breakfast event with IPAA Victoria, Preparing today for the workforce of tomorrow, to explore what this trend might mean for HR professionals.

In his keynote address, PwC Australia Partner Ben Neal emphasised today’s reality; “As the stewards of workforce capability, HR needs to change the planning horizon to allow for the fundamentally different skills we will need in the future,” he said.

Then there’s the challenge of finding, attracting and retaining those ‘new’ skills. “Supply of specific skills has not yet caught up to demand,” Ben explained. “For example, there is a significant under-supply of cyber-security, data and analytics skills. As a result, the labour market for people with those skills is becoming ultra-competitive.”

So how can you avoid losing your prized candidate to a hungry competitor?

Meeting the demands of a multi-generational workforce

It’s important to recognise the different needs of a workforce, where five generations are working together – for the first time in history.

“This represents a fundamental change in the nature of employee expectations,” noted Ben. “Notions of being an ‘employer of choice’ no longer apply: it’s how you deploy tailored employee value propositions to specific segments that matters.”

Panellist Sue Davies, Australia Post’s Executive General Manager People and Culture added, “Our engagement and retention strategies have to meet the needs of our different generations.”

“It’s more complex than placing people into demographic ‘boxes’ – we also need to focus on our leadership so we’re adaptable to their needs. We have people just starting their careers to those who have worked with us for more than 40 years.”

For Australia Post, that includes re-thinking the skills future leaders will need.

Telstra’s HR Director Rebecca Holden also shared how Telstra is adapting to these changing conditions as it evolves from ‘telco to techco’, creating an employee value proposition underpinned by technology.

“We need to retire some skills, and bring new skills in. We are making a big investment into frontline customer service teams and changing technology,” she said.

Streamlining the recruitment process

Consumers expect to be able to complete day-to-day tasks on a mobile device, and recruitment is no different. Ben shared examples of how technology can automate the initial stages of recruitment, such as matching jobs to candidates.

“I see smart recruitment apps that provide that intuitive ‘swipe right’ experience that helps candidates self-select their interest areas becoming more common,” he explained, “it will reduce the dependence on human judgment, and might ensure a better candidate.”

Technology aside, human instinct is still needed to assess whether a candidate is the right cultural fit for an organisation.

Another important aspect of mobile recruitment is meeting increasing expectations for speed. “It can’t be burdened by bureaucracy in a long-winded three-month process,” suggested Ben.

According to a 2016 survey, 67 per cent of Australian HR managers in large organisations have lost a qualified candidate to another opportunity because the hiring process was too lengthy.

However, any urgency to fill a role (or automate routine pre-selection tasks) must be balanced with the baseline need for robust checks to verify this is indeed the ‘right’ candidate.

HR’s role in leading change

It seems inevitable that HR’s model will have to evolve to focus more on workforce composition and planning. There is also a proven relationship between good workforce planning and successful change management.

Ben suggests this augmented view of capability will need to include non-human labour as well as part-time and contract staff. “Offshore labour will also play a part in this as will the requirement to lead global and virtual teams.”

His advice to HR is not to wait for change to happen. “HR has a responsibility to look after people. We can’t protect jobs that will be made redundant by machines, but you can reskill and redeploy people who are affected by this change.”

Ben noted in his address that the majority of employees (74 per cent) are ready to learn new skills or retrain to remain employable in the future.

With expectations of significant change in the composition and required skills of our workforces, winning the talent war needs to be a vital aspect of an organisation’s strategy.