Friday, September 21, 2007

If You Had To Pick Only One

This past week I had the chance to share some of our Executive Job Market Intelligence data with the members of ESIX (Executive Search Information Exchange) who were meeting in New York. The group, which was organized in 1996 and is chaired by David Lord, who prior to founding his own consulting firm in 1995, many remember as the former Editor at Kennedy Information, publishers of Executive Recruiter News and The Directory of Executive Recruiters among other things. Needless to say, the focus of our discussion was on the challenges of recruiting and retention in today's environment and beyond. It was a very stimulating morning.

Much of what we talked about was still on my mind as I headed back to ExecuNet's offices via Metro North. Rather than the morning's discussion fading into the background as I started to wade through my email, it was immediately brought back into focus as I came across Pete Weddle's newsletter (always of interest) and read the lead piece. It was entitled: What Do Employers Want?

The piece was prompted by Pete's reaction to a joint survey by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and SHRM. Essentially it was a survey of what U.S. employers felt were the most critical skills needed by employees going forward. Pete took exception to some of the conclusions of the report, and I can't say I blame him. Of the issues Pete raised, one in particular caught my attention when he said:

"The fact that employers in this survey did not cite such skills for college-educated workers is incomprehensible, especially in light of the problems we've seen at Enron, Worldcom and other organizations. Whatever this poll may suggest, therefore, you can be sure that honesty and ethical behavior are prerequisites for employment regardless of your educational background."
It wasn't just the comment on ethics that got my heart rate up, but the whole issue of education college or otherwise, especially as it relates to our ability to compete in a global market.

Pete's point reminded me again of something that I had shared with the ESIX group earlier in the day. It was a list complied in a book called Workforce Crisis by Ken Dychtwald, PhD, Tamara Erickson and Robert Morison. If you are concerned about recruiting and retention and our ability to stay in the game, I commend it to your attention. Here's the list:

Tightening labor markets: As the rate of labor force growth plummets to 2-3% per decade, labor markets will tighten and competition for talented people will intensify.

Shortages of skills and experience: As the Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age, organizations face a potentially debilitating "brain drain" of skills and experience.

Shortages of workers: Overall demand for workers is already beginning to exceed supply. The gap is projected to grow to millions, perhaps tens of millions, of workers, with potentially profound effects on economic output and standard of living.

Shortages of educated candidates: Despite continuing progress in average educational achievement, colleges will graduate too few candidates to fill the technical, information-intensive, judgment-intensive jobs five years from now.

Aging: The average age of employees will continue to rise, and the workforce will become more multigenerational. Proportionately, mature workers are the fastest-growing age work segment, and large employers can expect to double their percentage of workers over 55 during the next 5-10 years.

More ethnic diversity: By demographic standards, the racial and ethnic mix is changing very rapidly, with minorities now accounting for one-third of younger workers.

More women: The proportion of female workers, already high, will continue to rise slowly.

Tension around HR policies and practices: The whole range of management practices — compensation, benefits and especially work arrangements — must appeal to the new workforce and accommodate the expanding variety of workers' needs and preferences

Pressure on training and development: Employers must not only encourage employees' continuing education but also provide that education directly to maintain needed skills levels.

Strain on organizational coherence: As the workforce diversifies and disperses — adopting flexible schedules, telework and other technology-enabled arrangements — leaders must find new ways to cultivate and nourish organizational culture and identity.
As you look over the list, one could pick any one of the ten issues and be challenged for a long, long time, but if I only had to pick one, my vote is the shortage of educated candidates.

Education, of course, is not a panacea, but having said that, I absolutely believe it is the most potent weapon we have as well as our best hope to continue to be a world leader socially, politically, and economically.

What would be at the top of your list?


charles63 said...

Hi Dave, the thread on education in recent posts is fascinating to me. I have a PhD in physics, and to be honest it seems to be a hinderance rather than a help in landing a job. There seems to be little value placed on the PhD title. I'll relate two stories and propose an explanation.
I was hired doing engineering management for a small high tech company and I was the only PhD in the building. One day, after I had corrected one of the mechnical engineers, I overheard in the cubicle maze, "we don't need no f***ing PhD telling us what to do". It was not the engineer who said it, it was the VP of engineering, sitting with a handful of engineers commiserating that I had been hired in the first place.
The second story is that I recently searched for 'PhD physics' on one of the largest job boards and in all of the US, less than 100 matches were found.
It would seem to make sense that companies and recruiters should value a PhD, but obviously that is not the case. I believe that the reason is that the average person without a PhD has no idea what it takes to get one and therefore has no idea how to place a value on it.
Having done it, here are some things that are gained by getting beyond the masters in a good PhD program.
You are on your own for about three years, in charge of your time completely. (Beware the guy that takes 8 years to get his PhD.)
You must do something innovative that has never been attempted before.
You must teach yourself whatever subjects that you need to complete your tasks. No more depending on teachers and classes.
You must figure out how to get funded for your project.
You must present your findings at large scientific meetings and defend your decisions and conclusions against experts in your field.
As you struggle through this process, you will finally realize that you are not going to 'get' your PhD, you are going to 'take' your PhD. Once you finally cross that line, you realize that you are a PhD. (That moment for me will be etched in my memory forever.)
If I translate these skills into a simple list, I don't think that a company or recruiter in the world would argue the value that such a person could bring.
So why don't companies and recruiters actively seek PhDs?

Dave Opton said...


A fascinating albeit somewhat depressing comment and I hope some others will share their thoughts regarding your question.

Maybe I am too much of an optimist, but I would like to think that if you are looking in the right places (both companies and recruiters) you might well find different behaviors and attitudes.

There are many companies whose very survival in the marketplace depends on their ability to hire and retain top tier technical talent of one stripe or another, and they are more than willing to pay top recruiters to help them find them.

I also believe that both companies and recruiters have learned that the mega job board is not where to find them. Most of these companies and recruiters focus on a very specific niche and the name of the game is to network your way into the niches.

As an aside, your list of what it really takes to obtain a PhD and the degree to which it demonstrates attributes that any employer or recruiter would value is the best explanation to a lay person that I have ever seen.

My father is a PhD in both Zoology and Physiology, and until I read your list I don't think I really truly appreciated what it took for him to get there. I guess maybe the three syllable words and soft voice masked the discipline.

I do recall his telling me that when he was taking is final exam (I don't remember if this was the oral or written) the question put to him was: "Discuss the eye."