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Staffing 2010

Knowledge-management tools that connect talent with opportunity will soon be ubiquitous and, to be effective, those tools must combine high-tech with "high-touch." This is the futuristic account of Jaime Beth, a high-tech job seeker in the year 2010.

Thursday, November 17, 2005
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It was Monday morning and Jaime Beth, "JB" to her friends, was already having a bad day at Black Rock Inc., her high-tech employer located in Grass Valley, Calif.

The picturesque community she and her family had settled in two years before was still growing with escapees from Silicon Valley, but JB's mother had called just minutes before from her home outside Charlotte, N.C., and it looked as if Jaime might have to return to that area to care for her.

Jaime's tale, which continues below, shows the impact knowledge-management tools can have in the selected paths of job applicants and HR professionals. Productivity tools that connect talent with opportunity will soon be ubiquitous and, to be effective, those tools must combine high tech with "high touch."

In addition, corporate attitudes need to be adjusted if the organization hopes to remain successful. HR will need to convince employees thinking of retirement to stay on; to mine talent from oft-neglected candidate populations, such as the disabled; and to fit their jobs to the skills offered by candidates.

Selection processes will be changed. Career management will be necessary. Data collection, analysis and planning will drive staffing processes. How these processes play out will vary, but Jaime's journey is one possible future.

A Talent Crisis

With a few minutes left before her scheduled project meeting, Jaime checked her company's intranet for information on "support for relatives" and "elder care," clicking a "call me" link in her company's CRM-driven policy application. She used an audio-visual template to request a customized response from HR.

In seconds, the smiling face of Jason Hunter, one of three "HR client support" experts, appeared in the corner of her screen.

"Hi JB," said Jason. "Your inquiry suggests you need to handle a situation with your mom. Is there anything else you want to add?"

After talking about the situation affecting her mom, Jaime asked, "Are there any plans to open a center near Charlotte?" Jason said he would review the situation and get back in touch within 48 hours.

Jaime wasn't too worried about her tenuous job situation. With the continued decline in high-quality technical graduates from U.S. colleges during the '90s and the first few years of the 21st century, her skills were in demand.

The late '90s war for talent was more like a 1960s love-in compared to the 2008 talent crisis. Government, defense, health care, educational institutions, etc. were all vying for quality hires.

Driven by necessity, many companies began taking the longer view and seriously invested in looking at recruiting in much the same way major-league sports clubs developed farm teams. 

Professional and industry trade associations -- with corporate sponsors paying the bill-focused on educating high-school students about the value of careers that were most needed -- technology and health care being the most obvious. Federal legislation also offered corporate incentives for participation in the educational process.

There were plenty of M.B.A.s, accountants and business majors but they couldn't manage, finance and sell what they couldn't create and didn't have-new products.

Jaime knew it was the technicians, engineers and scientists in thousands of technical specialties who provided the real engine underlying a service economy.

To entice those skilled workers, leading companies offered many small networking workhubs rather than force core employees to work out of expensive locations.

"High touch" multimedia collaborative applications enhanced the quality of individual and team communications, as did the transparent management approach, which combined communication tools that evolved out of the instant messaging, audio streaming and blogging capabilities of earlier years.

The talent shortage forced companies to eliminate fears that employees of various gender, race, ethnicity, age or disability would hamper performance. Instead, they rebranded their career and corporate Web sites and publications with images and copy to show a more open culture.

New Solutions

Jaime knew her skills and experience could be valuable to many companies, especially considering the recent trend of fitting a job to a person versus selecting someone for a specific job.

Now, she knew, companies were replacing traditional job descriptions in favor of far more flexible arrangements that mapped and valued "jobs" in a way people with the interests and capabilities could understand and compare them.

And because of the talent crunch, Jaime knew she wouldn't have to bother with intrusive personality screening and other assessments -- tools that were dropped when the most wanted candidates refused to participate.

Job boards -- which had formed an industry consortium in 2006 to adopt a common set of requirements and format-as well as staffing agencies and others just weren't as effective as in the past, having lost much of their market share in the employment process. In the case of the major job boards, their quality suffered as a result of their attempts to extract more money or, as in the debacles of '04 and '06, their being caught selling the data they collected.

In addition to networking, Jaime knew she had the option of going to one of the third-party agencies that had been established to represent experienced IT professionals -- an offshoot of the creation of such agencies, which served pharmaceutical scientists, dating to 2003 -- as well as seeking career-management services from educational institutions and professional organizations.

At the Web site of her association's national technical society, Jaime updated her skills profile, interests and other key criteria that she kept in the association's "registry." She also noted her preference for jobs in the states surrounding the Research Triangle area in North Carolina.

When active, the registry feature allowed anyone to view it. Even so, a recruiter using the registry's search engine would access an anonymous profile (no name or contact information).

JB clicked on another link that led her to a Web-based help-wanted application endorsed by her alma mater. This tool claimed to search the ".jobs" domain that started in '05 and promised results approaching 100 percent of available positions posted to corporate Web sites within a given location or skill.

Jaime had more trust in such organizations -- because she paid for the services through her membership -- than in job boards, outplacement firms and staffing agencies, which were more likely, she thought, to serve the needs of the corporations that paid them -- no matter what they said.

She also researched the Web sites of more than a dozen companies high on her employer-of-choice list, and found that five were of immediate interest. All offered a glimpse of company culture, values, vision, benefits and a means to self-select (realistic previews, self-assessment, etc.) before requiring a visitor to register his or her interests (never personal or skill-related details).

Most companies had eliminated "resume builders" and simply captured the link to her "registered profile" along with permission to retrieve it-so indicating first-level interest was accomplished in seconds.

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Most companies also offered a feature that would instantly connect her to an "on-call recruiter" if her "Match Status" (required test scores) was high.

Meanwhile, back in HR, as Jason pursued possible relocation and elder-care help for Jaime, he also began searching for a possible replacement should that be necessary.

From a staffing control panel built into Black Rock's intranet pages, he checked an "Interest" database. The database was the result of visitors "driven" or invited to Black Rock's Web site who eventually ended up creating agents (company 'push' or personal 'pull' via RSS -- a Web-based syndicate tool) for position searches that weren't yet open.

About 50 people had expressed interest in such a position, and nearly half had completed a skills "contest" designed to help them become candidates and learn what it takes to succeed at Black Rock. At least 10 of the contest registrants were already qualified, and could be reached if necessary.

Curious about the source of potential candidates, Jason ran a report that showed -- as expected -- nearly 50 percent of all registered visitors had come to the site through referrals.

Several hundred additional individuals were registered by agencies Jason occasionally worked with that constantly monitored the company's newest openings. Many came from local library and college resource centers. Several were from a community-service agency specializing in helping the physically challenged, with which Jason had been developing a relationship.

Returning to the Jaime issue, Jason left a voice-mail message for his boss outlining his interest in discussing a retention issue and e-mailed Jaime to see if she might be available to meet on Thursday, hoping he might have a few options to discuss by then.

As Jaime worked, e-mail responses to her earlier messages were coming back acknowledging her interest and promising to keep in touch if her qualifications matched open positions. One message even described how to use the company Web site to track the progress of her application, even assigning an employee who volunteered to guide her research and answer questions.

A sudden flashing icon appeared in the bottom right corner of her monitor, indicating someone online was inviting her to "connect" for a quick discussion.

Clicking the flashing icon, Jaime found herself in an audio mode with John Singh, a recruiter located in India, who had received her profile via his wireless handheld device. After a brief discussion, Jaime agreed to forward a deeper transcript for review, and they set up an initial video screening interview the next day.

An unrealistic scenario? Perhaps.

Black Rock's size, human resource capabilities, location(s), staffing needs, budget, scarce skills, business plans, investment processes as well as its relationship with colleges, industries, communities, vendors, professional associations, etc., may never develop quite like other companies. Its technology however, is very real. All of the products and services implied in this story exist or are coming -- it's just the infrastructure and who the players will be that requires a leap.

Today, few companies claim they have seamlessly integrated their hiring process, but technology is not the problem. Vision, implementation skills and a solid business case for the return on investment are what are too often overlooked. 

The real challenge for HR executives: Develop a staffing vision for your company. Imagine the possibilities. Think about what could be. The first step to getting there is knowing where you want to go.

Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler are internationally recognized consultants, speakers, authors and experts in employment technologies and their application to corporate strategy and tactics. They co-authored CareerXroads 1996-2003, a leading reference guide to employment Web sites. Their CareerXroads Colloquium (gatherings) bring together corporate staffing strategists in small group "think tank" sessions several times a year. They can be reached at http://www.careerxroads.com or mmc@careerxroads.com.

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