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HR Professionals Are Finding Untapped Talent in Their Own Workforce

It should be easier to recruit talent in a good economy. Recruiters and HR pros know that candidates feel secure when times are good and may be willing to explore new opportunities. Yet, HR professionals are feeling squeezed for qualified candidates.

At this time of historic low unemployment rates, companies are turning to new sources and methods to fill their candidate pipelines. In some cases, even opening doors to entirely new categories of applicants. For instance, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently released research about loosening restrictions for candidates with criminal records. They concluded that these candidates have long been overlooked based on perceptions, not the quality of work.

In other instances, companies are cultivating untapped internal talent with retraining programs. This trend is particularly effective for hard-to-fill technical jobs.

Box found that their best recruiting pipeline was actually fed by its own customer support team. Box is exhibiting an increasingly common method for cultivating talent. Cloud Foundry’s 2016 Developer Skills Gap report found that companies are “training over hiring or outsourcing as the preferred method for addressing a shortage of skills in their own company.” In an increasingly competitive market for talent, retraining offers a more immediate solution for companies — and there are many ways to make that training happen.

A recent study from CBT Nuggets found that the most common methods companies use for technical training are online training, peer-to-peer mentoring, and boot camps.

Key takeaways:

  • Most companies employ multiple training methods to train employees on technical content.
  • Thirty percent of companies designated online video training as their primary training method.
  • IT managers perceive online video training as effective as face-to-face methods.

Online training is the most common method for training

Thirty percent of all companies surveyed designated online training as their primary training method — more than any other method. Companies have long used online training in workforce development initiatives for its convenience and cost, so it’s no surprise it tops the list. Though, the study did elucidate another important point: IT managers perceive online video training as effective as face-to-face methods. There’s an asterisk here, though.

Online training answers questions surrounding content delivery. Most companies integrate training into a holistic internal training program that augments online methods with mentoring, hands-on practice, and rewards. Training should be an integral part of a workforce development strategy. Training is not the strategy.

Littlefish, a managed IT service provider, built a corporate training program to help their employees earn IT certifications. Calling the program Littlefish Academy, managers work with their employees on a training plan — which includes the certifications they’ll need to earn and a timeline to complete their training. Structured into the plan is online video training, practice exams, and peer mentoring programs.

Here’s their story.

When part of a comprehensive training program, online training provides the ideal tool for upskilling employees. Employees are empowered to learn with access to training whenever they have time. Managers can build a curriculum designed for both business goals and individual interests, and employees are performing their job alongside training.

As exhibited by Littlefish, training programs can be mostly online. But most companies use more than one method to train their employees. A good training program is tailored to both individual and corporate needs, and often incorporates peer mentoring and hands-on training.

Businesses often emphasize technology over skills

At the exact same time that candidates with technical skills are hard to find, businesses are also accelerating their digital transformations. There’s a strong preference among companies to adopt a technology first and then upskill, train, or hire later. Only 40 percent of companies say they select a technology based on the skills they have readily available.

Emphasizing the technology over in-house skills has backed many companies into a corner — and created many “purple squirrel” positions. Recruiters use the term “purple squirrel” to describe a candidate with a highly specific, and potentially rare, combination of skills and education. Machine learning experts are an extreme example. They’re rare enough already without warring tech giants offering them startlingly high benefits packages — in some cases just to get them off the market. Interestingly, and most relevant to the topic of upskilling, smaller tech companies in response hiring physicists and astronomers with the necessary math skills — and then upskilling them into artificial intelligence.

A more down-to-earth example would be proficiency with basic cloud platforms — something that a capable internal candidate could grasp and master.

When their perfect candidate doesn’t materialize, companies often double down on promotion and recruitment. However, these are perfect opportunities to upskill current employees with training that’ll lead to long-lasting benefits for your workforce:

Cultural fit. Internal training programs provide incentive and opportunity for talented employees. Importantly, you’ve almost assured a good cultural fit. Upskilling current employees mean that you’re getting someone familiar with your company values and goals, as well as your business area. Rather than guessing whether a candidate has the preferred background, you know it.

Cost. Most managers pointed to convenience, reduced cost, and travel as the top benefits for online training over other methods. For HR professionals, internal technical training provides a cheaper method than recruiting. Rather than attempting to hire a technical position from a broader candidate pool, they spend less money training from their untapped talent pool. Take for instance DevOps professionals — the third highest demand posting according to Indeed. You likely have an untapped talent pool in other departments with the problem-solving skills and experience with your business domain and tech stack. It’s then easier to find a candidate on the help desk or customer service role with a desire to retrain, than hire specifically for a DevOps role.

Retention. Many managers are concerned about upskilling an employee only to have them leave. It’s a common trope in the IT industry, particularly certifications. But, research shows that company-sponsored training signals something different for the employees. They view it as an investment in their career, and they’re more likely to stay. In fact, 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.

Employers are playing a larger role in workforce development than ever before. As HR professionals struggle to recruit qualified candidates, companies are increasingly filling critical skill gaps with training.


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