When I read about the looming talent shortage, I sometimes see dramatic words like “unprecedented” and “crisis” thrown around. The terms seem to imply that organizations in developed and even developing countries are being challenged by a severe (perhaps existential) threat, the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Not so. In fact, U.S. organizations probably faced an even greater shortage of labor throughout much of the 1800s. In one part of Amy Chua’s new book, Day of Empire, the Yale law professor recounts the seemingly insatiable thirst for talent required to grow the industry and infrastructure of the recently established American republic.!@! This demand was so great that President Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the American Civil War, spoke out about the need for more people who could perform skilled work. (Of course, in Lincoln’s case, the fact that he had recently conscripted hundreds of thousands of men to fight in the Union Army might have had some impact on the talent available for these positions.)
So how did the young nation attempt to resolve this problem? In a word, immigration. Between the early 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 30 million people came to this country – predominantly from Europe – amounting to the greatest mass migration in human history. Early on, this was highly coordinated, with American “agents” actively recruiting workers in certain industries (such as textiles) in Western European nations to essentially steal their techniques and technologies. However, as the decades passed, this flow of people opened up dramatically, with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and from all corners of the globe emigrating without any coaxing whatsoever.
Today, immigration seems like a possible solution to the looming talent shortage, and indeed it is. But for reasons ranging from political infeasibility to the globalization of business operations and recruitment, it can’t be the only solution. To make up for this shortfall, organizations will have to rely on a number of techniques, which can range from retention of retirement-eligible employees to flexible job roles and schedules to rapid development and performance-support solutions.
So in spite of the alarmist rhetoric, I believe modern enterprises are more than up to the challenge. After all, our antecedents managed to survive a talent shortage that lasted for decades, and they didn’t even have online learning portals, telecommuting or performance dashboards.
What creative solutions are your organizations implementing to deal with the talent shortage? Let us know about them in the Comments section or on our Discussion Board.
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