Willie’s Woes

Web 2.0, Web 2.0! That’s all Willie is hearing from some of his recruiters, and the words seem to pop off every page he reads. This morning he picked up the Wall Street Journal and there was a big headline espousing the many benefits of social networks and Web 2.0-enabled websites.

Willie is a progressive guy, usually the first to try out new technology or bring new ideas into a conversation. He was one of the first recruiting managers to adopt an applicant tracking system years ago, and he is an advocate of maintaining close relationships with candidates via email. He is just not sure how to go about implementing a Web 2.0 strategy or how to create a social network.

Willie’s organization is a construction company with over 1,000 employees, mostly all located in the United States with a handful in China setting up a new operation.

Despite the economy, they have lots of work. Many of their contracts are local and state government jobs that are funded by tax dollars and have strict deadlines. Revenue is excellent and the firm projects to earn more than US$1 billion this year. The future looks bright given the poor state of the U.S. infrastructure. They project doubling revenues within 5 years as more roads, bridges, airport runways, and water systems need to be replaced.

But Willie faces some major challenges.

The average age of employees is around 45 and the most valuable ones are the oldest. In fact, some of the key project supervisors and head engineers are approaching retirement and the CEO is worried about replacing them. As the competition for experienced project supervisors, civil, and mechanical engineers grows the pressure will definitely increase on his recruiting team.

His staff is centralized and large. He has two recruiters who focus on sourcing. They are expert at Internet search and generate a lot of names and potentially good candidates. He has another 10 recruiters distributed by function. Most of them are recruiting hard-to-find and hard-to-hire supervisors and engineers.

There are a few recruiters who focus on other types of hiring needs including IT and human resources and there are a few administrative and coordinating staff members to help out. Willie has resources, staff, and senior management confidence.

His senior recruiters are mixed in their interest in Web 2.0 and social networks. A couple of them are old-school and are opposed to any technology solution. They think that engineers and supervisors are not computer types and don’t surf around the web. They want to spend more time and resources on face-to-face meetings, attending conferences, and even dropping by construction sites. They would support adding more seniors recruiters.

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But the rest see value in setting up a social network, especially if it could become a forum for discussing construction problems or for finding new projects. They are advocating a site that has lots of content and is less obviously a recruiting site and more of a site that generates interest and answers questions. They think it would be a way to begin attracting younger engineers and help them develop skills.

He has a colleague at another company that has used Ning to start a social network for prospective candidates. It really hasn’t been very successful. It has a few hundred members who are mostly passive.  They sign up and then never are heard from again no matter how many emails he sends or provocative chats he tries to get started. Willie suspects the problem may not be a Web 2.0 or social network issue, but more about how it is being used.

There are other factors that give him pause about social networks. For example, most people over 35 are not active on social networks, not everyone has the “Internet habit” and only log on occasionally, and some people are reluctant for privacy reasons to put personal information on the web.

But the looming retirements, lack of a strong current pool of qualified candidates, and projected robust hiring environment are real cause for concern.  Willie needs to ensure a supply of this talent for at least a decade. Current recruiting methods are working today (actually quite well) and any diversion might cause a problem.

So Willie’s woe is complex: Would a social network be useful for his organization? Would it give him any return on his invested time and money? Or would it just divert attention from more urgent recruiting challenges? Is it worth investing in today or should he wait for some commercial applications to arrive (if they ever do).

What would you do if you were Willie?

I will collect your responses and print some of them (anonymously). I will also provide my own opinions about what Willie should do in a future article.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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