Bridging the Skills Gap

After years of debating whether the skills gap is real or simply a notion promoted by frustrated recruiters, evidence clearly highlights that American employers are facing a genuine, widespread and worsening gap between the skills they need and the skills the workforce possesses.

In a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, over half of small-business leaders said they faced a “very or fairly major challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees.” Among recent Inc. 5000 CEOs, 76 percent said they were experiencing major problems recruiting qualified people. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now predicts the number of unfilled jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields will climb to a historic high of 1.2 million by year-end.

Such numbers are leading many people to the same conclusion: Companies will need to become more deeply involved in workforce development in order to avoid critical skills gaps within their own talent pools.

Spot the ‘high potentials’

Studies warn that some employers are exacerbating their own skills-gap problems through their recruiting practices. Specifically, too many employers keep doggedly searching for experienced candidates rather than hiring individuals with the right education, core skills and potential—and then developing those people.

Companies need to identify those high-potential, but less-experienced people and create training sessions, mentorship programs, project-experience opportunities and other professional development offerings to accelerate their growth.

At the same time, companies need to provide existing and mid-career employees with increased professional development opportunities – an item that was cut in many budgets during the recession.

In both cases, professional development program should stretch beyond hard-skills training to develop “whole persons” with solid interpersonal and communication skills, business acumen and management competencies.

Partner with educators

Greater corporate participation in the educational community is also needed to help reduce the skills gap. By supporting STEM classes in middle schools, innovative courses in community colleges, apprenticeship programs, industry-university joint endeavors and educational efforts by professional associations, companies can help foster a more highly skilled workforce and establish themselves as progressive, desirable employers.

This may all sound like a lot of extra work to heap on top of the daily demands of operating your company. However, analysts increasingly argue that heightened training efforts by employers are not just desirable, but essential. Stressing that “education and workforce systems in the United States are failing to keep pace with the changing needs of the economy,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently called on employers to apply the same importance, rigor and skills used in supply-chain management to talent-pipeline management

Culture Clash: Don’t let corporate culture issues derail your merger

Corporate culture may be a soft concept, but some days it packs a very big punch.

Consider the impact of corporate culture on mergers. In the rush to complete due diligence and seal the deal, few companies conduct a cultural survey of both legacy firms and develop plans to effectively blend the two cultures. Fewer still delay, alter or abort mergers based on findings that cultural differences could jeopardize the deal’s success.

Yet studies show roughly 75 percent of mergers fail to meet financial performance expectations. And, executives often point to incompatible cultures as a prime cause of those financial shortcomings.

Mike Monahan – who executed nine mergers and acquisitions as CFO of the private equity firm, PetroChoice Holdings and now serves as the CFO of NutriSystem, Inc. – offers some advice on how to prevent corporate culture from derailing your strategic growth plans.

Setting clear business goals for the merged company and quickly showing progress in achieving them is essential to creating an effective culture and a successful merger, Monahan says. That focus helps employees understand their role in the merged company and the reasoning behind its culture, and fosters confidence that the company is capable of achieving its goals.

Leaders of the merged company need to be dedicated communicators. During its acquisitions, PetroChoice implemented several communications practices – including weekly e-mails about company accomplishments, annual meetings and travel schedules that gave company leaders face time with employees in distant offices – in order to discuss merger benefits, address operational issues, and keep morale high.

Finally, leaders of merging companies need to be willing to adjust their expectations for the new corporate culture even after the merger is complete.

“You have to be willing to be flexible after the deal closes, and open to new ideas because it’s impossible for both companies to fully know each other and their strengths and weaknesses until you merge,” he said. “There are always surprises. We were most successful when we had the right leaders who were flexible, open-minded and respectful of the different partners. In those situations, you end up getting to the right place, even though it may not be exactly what you outlined at the outset of the merger talks.”

Corporate Social Responsibility Programs

Fostering “impact careers” to benefit your company – and the world!

As competition grows for top talent, companies are realizing that one of the most compelling things they can offer talented workers is the opportunity to create an “impact career.”

Beyond competitive compensation and professionally satisfying work, many workers want their jobs – and their employers – to have a beneficial impact on the world. In one a Stanford University study, MBA graduates expressed a clear preference for jobs at socially responsible companies—and reported they would sacrifice an average of $13,700 in salary to join such companies.

Many companies are working to satisfy that desire through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Many programs, however, aren’t thoughtfully implemented and, consequently, aren’t impacting the world as desired or delivering full recruitment and retention benefits.  A few practices could improve that situation.

Crowd source your CSR

The CSR programs which inspire the greatest employee engagement and generate the biggest impact don’t come from the desk of the CEO.  They come from the employees.

Whether you are starting or revamping a program, involve your employees in identifying key CSR goals that fit with your company’s products, operations, markets and corporate culture. Ask employees for ongoing suggestions about ways to achieve those goals and for their participation in putting ideas into action.

Combine training and CSR

Whether your CSR goals involve lowering your company’s carbon footprint or improving working conditions in a developing nation within your supply chain, CSR programs can generate opportunities for employees to tackle different challenges, develop new skills and foster leadership abilities.

Enable employees to step out of their comfort zone and lead a work crew on a Habitat for Humanity house, organize a charity golf tournament or drive efforts to eliminate work-site waste. You will end up with an employee who is more stimulated, more skilled and more committed to the company.

Communicate, communicate

Mentioning your CSR efforts on one page of your website or once in your annual report isn’t enough. Make CSR part of your employment branding and frequent in-house communications. Post updates on your Facebook or Twitter account, your intranet, bulletin boards or company newsletter. Frequent, short communications can sustain excitement and drive accomplishments in your CSR initiatives.

A few thoughtful measures could both improve your impact on the world and make you a more desirable employer in the process.

Employer Branding

Developing an Employer Brand

An accomplished HR professional with such industry giants at DuPont, ARAMARK Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals, Karen Piraino faced a formidable challenge when she became Global Director of Talent Acquisition for a newly formed company with aggressive growth plans.

Executives at DuPont had decided to spin off their performance coatings division – a thriving business with 120,000 customers worldwide and 2012 revenues of $4.3 billion. The Carlyle Group acquired the division, transformed it into Axalta Coating Systems, and launching the Philadelphia-based company onto an aggressive growth track.

Suddenly, Piraino was responsible for efforts to fill Axalta’s corporate offices, 35 manufacturing plants, seven R&D centers and 12,000-member workforce with smart, passionate, fast-moving, risk-taking professionals who could successfully drive growth across 130 countries.

To help achieve that objective, Piraino engaged in employment branding – a tool that is becoming increasingly important and potent in talent searches. Successful employment forges closer ties between a company’s marketing/communications and human resources departments in order to apply the best practices of corporate/product branding to attracting great employees. Together, those departments expand the company’s branding efforts to deliver a “employee value proposition” – a clear and compelling depiction of what employees could expect to get from the company and what they would be expected to deliver as staff members.

At Axalta, Piraino and other executives strengthened their employment brand by embedding it in the company’s overall branding and all corporate communications. To deliver the right message to employees and potential employees, they focused on the company’s core values and the key behaviors desired in its employees.

“Our culture is fast-paced, aggressive, results-oriented, highly accountable, risk-taking but with smart decisions about risk,” Piraino said.

Consequently, any communications related to employment at Axalta – including its corporate web site and product descriptions – began to convey that work culture both through words and visuals.

Developing an employment brand and making it a cohesive component of all corporate communications requires talent professionals to stretch beyond traditional recruiting activities. However, the effort also lets talent professionals tap powerful tools. After all, if branding can fuel enormous demand for Apple devices or other consumer products, it could also spur the best talent on the market to seek positions in your company.