In the war for talent, executives say flexibility is key
There’s a war for talent amid the Great Resignation and a shift to remote work, and companies are grappling with ways to hire and keep workers across industries.
During a Fortune virtual conversation, leaders from tech to manufacturing discussed the corporate gymnastics necessary to retain and recruit skilled workers as they address the need for an often virtual staff and compete for a finite pool of candidates.
“In an economy where talent is the number one determinant of corporate success, we’re interested in hearing from all of you on how you can win this intense guerrilla warfare that’s going on both in the short term and the long term,” Fortune CEO Alan Murray said.
Hiring based on skills
For decades now, the standard for job postings has been to list required degrees for the ideal candidate. But doing so has prevented workers with the same skills from applying. As companies compete for talent, part of the shift has been to write skill-centric job postings to open the playing field.
“We find that 50% of our openings in the United States can be filled by skills first without specifying a degree,” said Arvind Krishna, chairman and CEO of IBM. “That opens it up to a lot more people to apply.”
Asutosh Padhi, managing partner for McKinsey & Co. in North America, gave that example more context.
“[We found] there [were] actually 100 million people in the United States alone who do not have four-year college degrees but are employable if we take a skills-based approach,” Padhi added.
Leaders at Hyatt took the same approach in recent years as they worked to fill vacancies in their ranks. They began hiring employees from colleges in the Chicago area where students were pursuing associate’s degrees versus four-year degrees.
“We are hiring people with slightly less experience than would be optimal for the job, but very much focusing on getting them trained in,” said Mark Hoplamazian, Hyatt president and CEO. “And in part that’s driven by an opportunity to really make a dent in the representation goals that we’ve set.”
Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham, pointed out that the shift to a skills-based hiring process has flipped the traditional human resources paradigm on its head.
“Traditional HR functions are not suitable for us anymore,” she said.
Instead, the hospital system has started to take a harder look at job descriptions and titles to see what roles can be covered by staffers with various skill sets who don’t necessarily have the same certifications.
“For example, what is a physician allowed to do? What is a nurse allowed to do? You have multiple people who work in different roles as physician assistants,” she said. “What is it the therapists do? What is it that psychiatrists do?”
Blake Moret, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, said part of the company’s new skills-based approach has been to link it to a social cause. Rockwell Automation launched a program to prepare returning veterans for work as technicians in its plants.
“Internal to Rockwell, people can identify with something we’re doing for the greater good—to be able to take service men and women and to prepare them for good-paying manufacturing jobs that they turn out to be great at,” he said.
Finding new recruitment pools
Once companies accept that a four-year degree isn’t required for most positions, untapped talent pools become an option.
Krishna said that once IBM looked at skill sets and job experience instead of degrees, they saw a shift in the number of college graduates they were hiring. Now, about 20% of hires do not have college degrees, which Krishna said is up from single-digit numbers about five years ago.
“You get incredible loyalty from these folks,” Krishna noted, referring to retention levels.
Greg Case, CEO of Aon Corp., said his company began hiring from community colleges around Chicago for the first time by focusing on skill sets. There were about 80,000 students in the area that Case said Aon hadn’t recruited from in the past, and the result was that the company brought on about 1,000 apprentices, most from minority backgrounds.
Case said these recruits yielded 100% retention and engagement, which wasn’t something other methods of recruitment had matched in the past. In addition, the hires were “lower cost” and “higher effectiveness.”
“It was a good thing to do for the individual and the community with the opportunities they wouldn’t have gotten, but it was better for us,” Case said.
But hiring new talent isn’t as simple as finding that talent. Most CEOs pointed out that the main perk employees expect in a post-pandemic workplace is flexibility. That means the ability to work remotely—whether from home or on the opposite side of the country.
David Burritt, president and CEO of United States Steel Corp., was skeptical of the shift to remote work early on in the pandemic, but he left the decisions up to supervisors to determine which staffers could do their jobs sufficiently from home. Now, he’s a big believer in the shift, refusing to call it remote work because “we’re distributed and more connected than ever.”
While many jobs with U.S. Steel have to be done in person, allowing for remote workers has opened up a new talent pool as well.
“We are hiring people that never wanted to work in Pittsburgh and wouldn’t work in Pittsburgh,” Burritt said. “And we’re getting people saying, ‘I don’t have the kind of flexibility that I have at my current company.’”
Flexibility to work from home, from other parts of the country or on days and at times convenient to the employee is key to many looking for new jobs.
“We are all going to have to learn to be far more flexible, and there is a balance between what the employer may desire and what the employee wants,” Krishna said.
Retaining current employees
For as much focus as companies have put on recruitment efforts, it’s important to keep current employees around as well.
Stephen Rusckowski, the chairman, president, and CEO at Quest Diagnostics, has started “stay interviews” to help retain employees who might otherwise have waited to note fixable grievances in exit interviews.
During stay interviews, supervisors ask employees about their personal lives as well as their career goals. Quest Diagnostics has also renewed its focus on training supervisors to better manage teams in order to retain employees.
“What we’ve found is that where we have better supervisors, we have less attrition,” Rusckowski said. “People do work for people.”
Klibanski has also noticed that many employees who left mentioned in exit interviews that they were pursuing new positions already available to them at the hospital. To combat this, Klibanski said fostering a healthy workplace culture is key. That means making your company a safe place to work, destigmatizing behavioral health problems, and checking in with employees from all sectors to see what it is they’re looking for in their current roles and within the company structure. Most of these retention efforts go beyond the salary, Klibanski pointed out.
Krishna said IBM has started to use artificial intelligence in recent years to detect employees who might be on the cusp of leaving the company.
“And if they are at risk of leaving you’ve got to sit down and then make an assessment of what’s driving them out,” he said. “Is it because of compensation? Is it a career path? Is it their immediate work team? Is [it] the work that they do? Is it that they need a different workplace experience?”
IBM started using the technology about five years ago, and in the past two years, it’s taken their attrition rate down by a third.
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