The Shortage of Skilled Professionals

While yesterday’s news that the nation’s unemployment rate remains steady at 4.1 percent–a 17-year low–is a good economic sign, employers know that it also likely means the battle to attract and retain talent will get even tougher.

Even worse, when the unemployment rate for college-educated workers stands at 2 percent–as is the case today according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics–employers are even more challenged to find creative ways of attracting and retaining professional-level employees.

In a recent survey, Robert Half, the staffing company in Menlo Park, Calif., polled more than 2,200 chief financial officers from a random sample of employers across the nation’s 20 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. It asked CFOs how they were faring on a number of fronts, including the hiring of professional talent. Their response: Not so well! Indeed, a clear majority (65 percent) report the market for such workers is either “very challenging” or “somewhat challenging.”

“With skilled professionals in short supply, hiring strategies that worked well a few years ago may no longer be effective,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “Smart businesses are retooling their recruiting practices to feed the talent pipeline.”

For example, the survey found that 51 percent of CFOs polled are considering entry-level applicants for roles that historically were reserved for more experienced applicants. About the same percentage is searching for talent in new locations. Other ideas include using interim professionals, trimming the recruiting process and loosening job criteria.

According to Laurie Bienstock, global practice leader of talent management for Willis Towers Watson, accelerating hiring decision-making is a also good strategy.

“One of the most powerful ways to improve hiring is simply to grant authority to talent selectors who can make hiring decisions on the fly,” she says. “If you have people scattered throughout the business who are both trained on whom to hire and can make binding hiring decisions without further consultation/approval from the business, the company will have an edge.”

For example, allowing a recruiter to make an offer soon after a candidate comes to the corporate headquarters (even while he or she is still on-site) demonstrates how nimble the hiring company can be.

“Companies who do 10 to 20 interviews before a hire [is made] cannot compete in this environment,” she says.

Bienstock also advises that employers look for under-represented groups. Unemployment may be down, she said, but for some groups of workers (e.g. people with disabilities, veterans, return to work parents, etc.), the candidate pool is actually more robust

“Finally, to what extent have companies truly explored how to make accommodations in their workplaces?” she said. “Changing schedules, work environments and clearly communicating the value proposition can go a long way to recruiting new types of workers to fill these professional positions.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at