Rethinking workforce strategy in a world of exponential change

Rethinking workforce strategy in a world of exponential change

29/03/2021

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There’s a saying in business that “nobody gets fired for buying IBM”. 

 

It’s true that going with the default choice has always been the safest option. And workforce strategy is no exception. But for how long?

 

We all know the world is changing faster and faster. Back in 2017, the World Economic Forum found that the half-life of a job skill was about five years – and falling. Three years later, their Future of Jobs report predicted the creation of 97 million brand new roles nobody’s ever done before by 2025. At the same time, 85 million existing roles may be displaced by technology.

 

This growing oversupply of roles, and the growing undersupply of people with the ability to do them, affects more than just hiring. It also causes a retention issue. At 13.2%, the tech sector has the highest staff turnover rate out of every business sector (Google has a median tenure of just over a year).

 

So, why act now? And what are the implications for the workforce strategy of the future?

 

Technological innovation has always left a skills gap in its wake, but as the speed of these advances accelerates, so does the skills gap. The prospect of “catching up” becomes less and less of a possibility. 

 

Organizations need to get ahead of the challenges they face, or risk being left behind. 

 

It’s a new problem that demands a new solution. 

 

As an emerging talent and reskill training partner for organizations, we’ve been in this arena since 2015. But it’s still a relatively new idea. Our services don’t tend to fit into a potential client’s mental bucket of “normal staffing” – yet.

 

The limits of the status quo

 

Traditional university education has always been a useful gauge for a graduate’s potential in the workplace. Now more than ever though, academia lags behind the needs of industry. Dennis Bonilla, Dean of the mthree Academy, remembers seeing this first hand. Before joining mthree, he was Executive Dean of the College of Information Systems and Technology and the School of Business at the University of Phoenix.

 

“It takes around two years to create, develop, get regulatory approval for, then launch a new degree in a technical subject. Two years later it’s already out of date from a business applicability perspective. Higher education Institutions have a different mentality about the intent of the learner experience. They take a more philosophical, holistic view. It’s valuable in its own right, but in comparison, tech training is like letting yogurt sit too long on a shelf these days.”

 

Think about the time and effort it takes an organization to get 20 graduates up to speed. From finding them to onboarding them to training them, at predefined times once or twice a year. It could be eight months before you start to get any results. What happens when you have an immediate need for junior talent? Or when you’ve poured hundreds of hours of operational effort into a brilliant graduate, only to lose them to another department? 

 

It’s no surprise that there’s a reliance on on-demand recruitment and contractors to make up the shortfall. They are an essential part of the mix. However, all the usual methods expose organizations to volatility in the talent pyramid, as well as placing a strain on resources. 

 

Tom Seymour, Senior HR Director at mthree, has worked in HR for over a decade. He’s noticed that it’s become more and more important for hiring managers to plan ahead instead of playing it by ear.

 

“If you just sit there and wait, you’re not going to keep up with your competitors or achieve your technology roadmap or your change roadmap. If you don’t align your workforce plan with your growth strategy, you miss out on the best talent. There’s such a battle for it these days.”

 

Month to month, a team’s requirements are increasingly hard to predict. Organizations need to be able to turn on a tap to add in skills and scale capabilities at short notice – but with the confidence that their investment will pay off over the long term too. 

 

A new approach to emerging talent

 

Classic rotational graduate programs serve a well-trodden purpose as a fast track to leadership. And for that, they work. But it’s only part of the picture. 

 

This is where Tom sees mthree’s graduate program – Alumni – serving a totally different purpose. 

 

“The point of Alumni is to feed emerging talent into the clients like a hypodermic needle. It complements a traditional grad program but is laser-focused on a particular skill set, so you’re able to tailor your hiring strategies in a really concentrated way. For example, if you’re doing a change project or a regulatory project, or you’re switching technologies or implementing new code. You can get really specific on the type of talent you need, then develop that talent with mthree.” 

 

At the mthree Academy, graduates learn to contribute to the success of a client’s team from day one. It’s an intensive, immersive schedule of custom training over 4 to 8 weeks. Pathways include Software Development, Production Support, Data Engineering, Salesforce and Banking Services, with a curriculum that’s tailored for organizational context. The graduates then go onsite with the client as an Alumni (placements can flex from 12 to 24 months). Afterwards, the client has the option to hire them at no extra cost. 

 

But industry-led training alone doesn’t go far enough to make up the talent shortfall. 

 

Many organizations still find themselves locked in an ongoing tussle over the “best” graduates. In this case, “best” is a very narrow definition, leaving a very tiny pot of people to fight over. 

 

That’s where diversity comes into play as a tool for future-proofing.

 

Overcoming diversity blind spots

 

Diversity does more than just deliver a competitive edge by bringing in new styles of thinking. It’s a targeted strategy organizations can use to tackle the skills gap. 

 

Why? Because it can – in theory – literally increase the number of people in the market who are available for in-demand jobs. The key is to spark an interest in people who might otherwise rule themselves out of a particular career.

 

Justin de Ferry, Head of Client Services at mthree, talks about the blind spots that stop organizations from accessing diverse talent they could benefit from. 

 

“There's an argument to say that someone who comes from a disadvantaged background, but is very intelligent and capable, may not consider themselves the type of person who “could” or “should” work at a global investment bank. They’re growing up in the type of socioeconomic environment that might not necessarily lead them to seek out a job at a corporate. So if we can go to them with an opportunity like this, we’re encouraging them to consider a path they might not have thought about until now.”

 

As Justin puts it, this requires a shift in thinking across the board. 

 

One obstacle is the outdated screening process for graduate roles. Insisting on top-tier degrees from elite universities leads to socioeconomic underrepresentation. For example, some families can’t afford to have their children move across the country, so it’s the local college instead. Which may have nothing to do with a lack of aptitude.

 

“A common observation we hear from clients is that internal graduate programs bring in the same sorts of grads, with the same degrees, from the same institutions, year after year. The fact that mthree hires from hundreds of universities across the globe enables them to break that pattern.”

 

Another obstacle, Justin goes on to say, is the training bond that’s often found in hire-train-deploy. This is where graduates are charged a fee if they leave before the end of their contract. Though understandable in some respects, it’s tough on those who lack the financial means to foot the bill, as well as excluding some candidates upfront. 

 

“For some of our competitors, their high retention figures are tied to the training bond. We don’t do that. Nobody’s perfect and we don’t want to point fingers but it’s important for the industry to be talking about this. Companies have to learn to compete and offer a service without putting young people in financial shackles.”

 

A new approach to workforce development

 

Even making the most of diverse, custom-trained emerging talent, there are still only so many people in the market. This leaves a largely untapped resource that many companies are overlooking: their current employees. 

 

By reskilling staff to help them develop in their roles or transition into a new career, organizations can unlock the potential in their existing teams.  

 

Becs Roycroft is Senior Director of Global Emerging Talent Operations at mthree. Leading the charge for our Reskill offering, she points out the scope of the opportunity.

 

“Although hiring diverse graduates redresses the balance in some ways, it isn’t as effective at tackling other biases such as ageism. Realistically you may be more likely to find women or multi-generational people to fill a tech role inside your business than by hiring externally. To be truly inclusive, organizations have to be prepared to make changes internally too.”

 

A dual problem, a dual solution 

 

Becs sees the situation as a problem of two halves.

 

“All the standard recruitment angles have their strengths, but they can be quite expensive and time consuming. There’s always the risk of a bad hire. And you’re fishing in the same pool as everyone else. The only way to buck that trend is to build your own pipeline over the long term, as well as looking within to fill those roles. What if you could repurpose an individual and move them into tech? What if you could train graduates up quickly, all year round, anywhere in the world? That’s much cheaper and more efficient.”

 

Though they work separately too, the combination of mthree Alumni and Reskill offers a dual solution to bridge the skills gap. Custom-trained graduates. Custom reskilling for your staff. In both cases, mthree runs alongside organizations to deliver training on demand, at the pace they need. 

 

The outcome? Flexibility, predictability and scalability, says Chris Wascak, Head of Business Development at mthree.

 

“You're coming at it from both sides. You’re redeploying your current workforce as well as introducing new people. We can teach your employees the tech skills they’re missing, and you get to hold on to their valuable organizational knowledge and business acumen. Whereas the STEM grads bring fresh blood into the org, ready to put into practice everything they’ve learned at mthree, with the drive to become your future leaders.”

 

For Chris’s team, persuading a potential client to enter into uncharted territory is an uphill struggle. They stick at it because they know it’s worth it, having seen the results for themselves. 

 

“If you need a car, you know why you need a car. You don’t need us to explain it to you. If only selling mthree was that easy, we’d be laughing!”

 

Is it time to rethink your workforce strategy? Find out more about how mthree can help at mthree.com.