Do a web search for “The War on Talent” and you’ll see scores of articles written over the past ten years. At one point or another, for various economic and social reasons, competition for talent in the IT space has been intense. This was certainly the case before COVID. But how has the pandemic affected the pipeline? And who is in the driver’s seat—employers or candidates?
A common misconception, even now, is that with many workers laid off during the pandemic there is a large pool of talented candidates available. Many of our clients think that it will be easier to recruit now. Not so. In fact, many of the good candidates are already working again.
As someone who specializes in finding IT talent for SAP and enterprise projects, I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs over the years. And while 2020 was unique, right now we are back to a very competitive labor market. Here is how it played out this past year.
In the beginning of the pandemic, most of our clients put a halt to capital expenditure investments but kept up maintenance and support work. By early summer, we began to see a shift as businesses realized that productivity didn’t falter with remote working. Companies got the peace of mind that they could manage projects with everybody remote and do it successfully. So, while the second quarter last year was a challenge for most companies, in the third quarter and definitely in the fourth quarter, we began to see an uptick in demand for candidates.
Fast forward to 2021. As we slowly come out of the pandemic, demand for goods has sharply increased. The price of lumber, for example, has soared over 200% since April 2020. Many Americans, having reduced costs during the pandemic, are ready to spend. This impacts the supply chain and manufacturing, which means businesses must become more efficient. Consequently, companies who put major IT projects on hold desperately need that infrastructure in place.
Back in early 2020 (and before), the “candidate experience” was the big buzzword. In many ways, this hasn’t changed. But now, after a year of working remotely, expectations have changed. What was once a “nice-to-have” is now a “must have.” In a candidate-driven market, if you don’t offer the right benefits – such as working from home – you won’t be able to hire the best people, and you may even have to pay more for what you do find.
Forward-thinking organizations have realized they need to recruit and hire differently if they want to win the war on talent. First, they are streamlining and speeding up the interview process, involving fewer people and making swifter decisions. For instance, let’s say you feel you’ve got the right person for the job, but you don’t have another candidate for comparison. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it feels like the right person to hire, it’s probably because it’s the right person to hire. The reality is that in this labor market, if you wait to find more candidates, you may lose that good individual to a competitor.
In a competitive labor market, it’s not just about hiring good people, it’s about holding onto them. Whether it’s a permanent or contract position, with good opportunities out there, employers must work at keeping talent. This might run contrary to popular opinion, especially regarding contractors. “Consultants should realize that every day they come here, they’re interviewing for the opportunity to come back tomorrow,” said one employer. But even contract employees have multiple options so businesses may need to reconsider how they treat temporary employees.
A big part of retention is checking in with workers to see how the job is going. Especially with remote working – and remote onboarding – it’s easy for a contractor to feel left out. At the Planet Group, for instance, we survey our consultants on a regular basis, asking questions like: Are you enjoying the project? Do you enjoy the company? Is it what you expected? Are we meeting your expectations? Are you getting paid on time? We often follow up with weekly or biweekly phone calls too. Sometimes people just need to vent and we’re there to listen. My mother has a saying: a problem shared is a problem halved, and I really believe that’s true. People want to feel needed and wanted. And ultimately, it’s about making them feel good and having a relationship with them so that they want to continue working with you.
The war on talent isn’t going away and the pandemic hasn’t slowed it down. In fact, it will only get more competitive. Just posting on LinkedIn is not going to get you the talent you need. Too often the result is an avalanche of applications with very few candidates who have the skills you want. One of the advantages of working with Planet Group is that we have nurtured relationships with candidates for years. We know where they are working, and we keep in touch to offer them new opportunities. And to compete in the post-pandemic economy, you need the best talent.