Go to Menu Talent Shortage, Or Poor Management?
By Nick Corcodilos

Part 1 of 2

A successful business is not based on hype. It's founded on the ability to produce profit. And that requires a kind of worker that's rare in the world. Is the perceived shortage of profitable workers in the high-tech world just a sign of poor management?

Few will argue that it has become difficult to find the right candidates for jobs in high-tech industries. In spite of large numbers of tech workers "on the street", the ability of schools and industry to train and develop workers with the requisite skills can't keep up.

But, I look at this another way. The lack of profitable workers isn't due to a lack of skilled people. It's due to poor management. While there may be too few "perfect" candidates around, there are plenty of good, talented candidates worth hiring who can do the work. I think the real problem is that short-sighted, unskilled managers are making too few hires when they could be making more hires that could ultimately lead to higher profitability.

New technology opens the door to weak management.
Jobs are evolving as quickly as the hot technologies that underlie them. The most desirable new hires are those who can ride a fast learning curve and adapt to new challenges. So, why do managers hire skills when they should be hiring talent? It's simple: managers won't hire talent if they don't know how to develop and deploy it. Here's how it often goes:

A company recognizes a new opportunity that is based on a new technology. In a hurry to capitalize on that new technology, the company addresses it ineptly, and in doing so creates inadequate managers. When a company promotes and assigns marginally-skilled managers to new functions, these managers know they must beef up their staffs with real experts to hide their shortcomings. Incapable of hiring and training people who require a learning curve, they specify overly narrow job descriptions that are un-fillable in a reasonable time frame. They're looking for specific skills rather than talent.

When candidates matching such narrow requirements don't appear, critical work goes undone, and soon the HR department -- unable or unwilling to haul these weak managers up by their britches -- is crying "talent shortage". All the while, however, there are plenty of good workers who, given a reasonable learning curve and some guidance, could do an excellent job -- if only the managers who need to hire them could train them.

Let's take a look at an old example we can all relate to: personal computers. When pc's started creeping into companies in the 1980's, anyone who could use MultiMate to write a letter or Lotus 123 to calculate numbers was an instant "pc guru". Whether it was a secretary who learned how to add a user to a Novell network or a sales rep who could create a dBASE file, the people who wound up managing entire areas of Information Technology (IT) were the ones who dared to get their feet wet early in the game. Upper management had no idea what this stuff was all about, and so was glad to promote anyone who knew anything about pc's. Some of these folks went on to manage enormous IT operations. Many of them were self-taught, but too many never got past the Novell administrator screen and the first two commands on the Word toolbar. These managers soon found themselves hiring teams without having the technical foundation necessary to manage and develop those teams.

Weak managers can't hire the right people.
It's no different today. Many of today's web masters, site designers and e-commerce managers were secretaries and junior marketing reps just last year. Not to knock initiative: these are the people who stepped up to the plate and learned the technology on their own. But, few of these early adopters ever got the chance to go beyond "fiddling with the technology" to learn how to effectively manage technology-based operations. While these earnest ones are truly interested in the technology, they often become the weak links as a company drags itself into the online world.

More dangerous than the earnest are the career opportunists who think that having "Technology" or an "E-Something" in their titles is a ticket to the future. You know these folks: they read the latest techno-babble books but can't recognize Perl script from HTML, or they mistake a mission statement for a technology strategy. In too many companies, these are the managers who negotiate their way into jobs "driving" the "e-initiatives" and creating "dot.com-ness". They're the people who are naively (sometimes desperately) promoted to handle the tasks no one else understands.

When weak managers are allowed to drive technically-based initiatives, they can slow a business down to a crawl because they haven't the foggiest idea about who to hire.

Go to Part 2:
Artificial "candidate shortages" and how to overcome them.

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