Slouching Towards a Labor Shortage, Part 3

If we as a profession in HR/staffing accept that the pursuit of true talent is hindered by a lack of that talent, and further accept that, despite the current reprieve due to the recession and offshore employment trend, this is an issue that will have profound consequences in the years to come in successful staffing strategies, then action is on our part is required. Procurement is a word often avoided in the HR/staffing community, as it runs counter to our humanistic tendencies and founded in our belief that we are faced with unique circumstances. But we are in the procurement game, and there are lessons to be learned from our brothers and sisters in the purchasing profession. Awareness A good purchasing department does not wait for the requests for parts and services to come in to begin their end-user “education process.” The better departments I have worked with in the past maintain continuous contact with their business partners, with updates on:

  • Pricing
  • Lead-Lag (anticipated procurement request fulfillment timeline)
  • Quantities available
  • Historically successful suppliers
  • Alternative resources
  • Alternative products

All too often we accept the role of the supplier without supplies, rather than forecasters accurately predicting issues and equally effective as those with alterative recommendations. We have inherited a plethora of online tools that we readily use to develop reports on what we have done. But rarely do we use these tools to forecast what cannot be done, or indicate what cannot be done easily. Based on the groups you support, develop a traditional “supplies list” comprised of those skills and professional or education profiles most often sought by your business partners. Using your resume search databases, develop an available inventory list that shows how many candidates, at what level, in your immediate geographical search area are currently “in the market,” and further, how many openings are currently available for those skills. For example, there may be a sense of security in knowing that within a 50-mile radius there are 2,347 candidates with on-line accounting experience using your companies tools of choice. However, if there are currently 2,348 posted openings for this skill requirement, what appears to be an abundant supply suddenly becomes less ample. Further research outside your preferred geographical boundaries may show a larger supply less stressed by demand. A good supplier may recommend for future procurement needs that the end user consider either adjusting their demands to accept relocation or “off site” employment in certain areas. The solutions may be rejected, but if your client has access to this information before they commit to a course of action your role in the process has at least predicted alternatives and forecasted supply issues rather than merely seen as incapable of meeting supply requests. Further research with employment support groups at universities and other learning centers can be an effective way of predicting short-term and intermediate supply issues, as well as long-term trends. Contact the learning centers you most often recruit from or appear most often on the resumes of those you hire. Ask them for information on the number of students currently pursuing degrees or certificates in those areas you most often seek in candidates. In addition, ask them about their current placement rates and the number of “openings” they are supporting for other companies. Is the activity up or down? Is the number of enrollments in these areas up or down? Is your supply stream, even if currently adequate, going up or down? Functionaries eagerly develop reports and grand charts on what has already happened. Professionals develop information profiles to predict the future. Realistic Procurement If finding talent is going to be an issue in the future, then it is necessary that you work with your end user in the development of realistic procurement requirements. In the absence of “stainless steel” parts and a subsequent increase in cost, would this not be a good time to engage in a dialogue with the end user on the true importance of stainless steel as opposed to other materials? The job description is that procurement request that we all too often allow ourselves to distance ourselves from in the development stages to guarantee our right to complain about unrealistic demands. It also ensures our right to be viewed as inadequate. It is essential that, having made your hiring managers aware of the sate of the supply stream, you manage the process of ensuring this information is used. Are the critical skill requirements truly critical? What is the list of viable alternatives, and what is the availability of those alternatives as opposed to the skill of choice? Is the difference worth the added effort and increased likelihood of certain difficulty or possible failure? If a certain skill requirement has been the reason for a job search to average 90 days, but the skill can be taught in a 30-day certificate course, is the former still the preferred course of action over hiring without the skill and incorporate training as part of the procurement process? Although we all want to have a positive “can do” image with our end users, the truth is the statement has no value if in fact the traditional outcome has been “sort of done randomly.” Suppliers cannot make parts out of thin air. The raw material either exists or it does not. HR/staffing cannot fill orders for materials that either do not exist or are in demand beyond the supply chain’s ability to manufacture them. But we must be willing to be the predictors of bad news rather than merely accept our role as part of the failure message. Communicating With Suppliers Because of our self-generated image of being too busy today to worry about tomorrow, we usually treat our suppliers with disdain or impatience when we do not need them. We expect the water to pour out of the faucet when we decide to turn it on. If the water does not gush forth, obviously it is due to a poorly motivated supplier. But suppliers have a finite resource with a limited shelf life. Without input from the end users, they will continue to supply those who communicate with them. Lead-lag is a function of communication. A good customer never ceases to broadcast their current need and their forecasted requirements. They constantly provide feedback to their suppliers on their level of satisfaction with the inventory maintenance of the existing supply. Suppliers will respond to input by working their lines of supply to meet the demand of those clients who give them the input they require to remain relevant. Although this effort can and should be done as individual procurement professionals, there is a need for us to consider taking this effort to another level which will be discussed later. Re-Engineering Existing Supplies Every company has an existing inventory of parts and components. As the needs of the company changes, many of these parts become obsolete, or automatically assumed as such. The natural instinct is to “unload” the old parts to make room for newer components ordered. A good supply department also tracks the cost of re-engineering those components, as opposed to writing off the original cost of procurement and replacing them with other components also doomed to one day become an inventory issue. In our field, this re-engineering is a function of training. In the past we have relied on and assumed our hiring managers were already taking this alternative course of action into account when making their procurement decisions. The truth is, sadly, all too often they do not. Equally as sad, we do not recommend they do it, usually out of ignorance.

Article Continues Below
  • What is the greatest “new” skill sought by your hiring managers?
  • Where can this skill be taught?
  • How long does it take?
  • What is the cost?
  • Can the supply issues you face be resolved by re-engineering/training?

But all the above actually fall into the category of HR 101 for thinking HR professionals. The time has come for us to stop thinking small, and consider the total issue of supply and demand and learn how to “demand as an industry” and not merely satisfy ourselves with “asking as an employer.” This will be the focus of the final installment in this series. It will require mentally and physically leaving the confines of your cubicle, office, and the “me and my company only” way of thinking and taking your first bold step into the world of business, and impact and influence in that business world. You know, taking action ó like all the other professionals. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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