Thursday, February 25, 2010

War For Talent: Desperation

Over the past few days, I've read more than a few articles detailing either expected or occurring talent shortages. In Canada, foreign-born students graduating from university in Quebec are promised fast-track citizenship. Of particular interest are students from India who might feel unwelcome in Australia given the recent nativist backlash against foreigners. However, Quebec residents aren't necessarily behind the initiative. Seems that institutions of higher education stand to benefit from the policy, but there is no guarantee that the new citizens will stay.

While Canada is looking ahead in anticipation of acute talent shortages, for China the future is now:

After 14 months of year-on-year declines, the value of China’s exports finally increased in December. According to the General Administration of Customs, China’s foreign trade figures for January recovered to 2008 levels. Then confirmation this month that China had pipped Germany as the world’s largest exporter reinforced confidence that the country’s factories are back.

The workers they rely on, however, are not back, in spite of ever greater inducements for them to return. Galanz was seeking 1,250 workers for a range of posts paying between Rmb1,700 ($249, £161, €184) a month for entry-level positions and Rmb2,800 for more skilled technicians.

“We haven’t found anyone today,” Ms Liu admitted, clutching flyers that smacked of desperation. They boasted of complimentary food for the first month of employment, cooling herbal teas on hot days, free dorm rooms with en suite washrooms and hot water, and computer, library and leisure facilities. ...

... Early Light has had to source workers from as far afield as Xinjiang, in China’s far north-west. A riot at the toy factory in July, pitting Han Chinese workers against their Muslim Uighur colleagues left two of the latter dead and was the spark for an even worse bloodletting in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, where an additional 200 people died in inter-communal clashes.

Back in Guangzhou, companies such as Fortunique are adapting to the more challenging human resources environment by turning to temporary workers who, Mr Hubbs says, “are not looking for a career in the factory”. Temps account for just over 10 per cent of his factory’s 400-strong workforce and provide a “short-term shot in the arm when you need it”.

At the other end of the talent spectrum, the American entrepreneur has begun hiring university engineering graduates for supervisory positions previously filled by older workers with experience on the manufacturing lines.

“We want to review how we do things and how we can do things with less hands,” Mr Hubbs said. “We think we can do that with better educated university graduates who come in with a fresh approach.”

The Hubbs solution is a good microcosm for the evolution of industrial labor in the United States. Productivity went when way up while the numbers employed went way down. The strategy suggests increasing stress on the already small pool of university graduates.

Despite the still high rates of employment, the talent shortage is already upon us.

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