Cracking the Code on Talent: Strategies for today’s job market

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Author: Ben Thompson, Partner, Partners in Performance

In today’s fiercely competitive job market, the demand for top talent across various industries poses a significant challenge.

Many sectors like mining, construction and IT, are subject to an ageing workforce and there is an urgent need for more young talent to fill these vacant positions. Professions that need specific skill sets, such as software development and engineering, are difficult to occupy, particularly among recent university graduates. Despite the ongoing global demand for minerals, unfavourable perceptions of related industries have dampened enthusiasm for pursuing careers in this field. Furthermore, industries that require physical labour have also experienced a decline in the attraction of young talent. Although some sectors have responded by raising base salaries, employers are finding it difficult to fill vacant positions, underlining the importance of addressing demographic and perceptual challenges in these important industries.

Due to these challenging labour market conditions, businesses increasingly have to pay a substantial premium to recruit talent. While salary is a strong factor for potential talent when exploring employment opportunities, it is not the only draw card. A more strategic approach is required to retain or attract talent while still maintaining a sustainable, profitable long-term business.

Investing in talent more strategically

Improving recruitment and retention requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on a package of benefits. While competitive base salaries are important, investing in attractive work rotations, transportation options, and sometimes neglected benefits can be just as beneficial in the long run. Insurance and health coverage are examples of minimal advantages that can significantly influence recruiting success.

Hiring young talent may be perceived as a risk, yet it is critical to the overall success of a company. While young talent has much to learn, the most successful businesses recognise that junior recruits also have a lot to teach them. The frameworks and processes of effective recruiting provide young people with real direction and assistance as they advance. Investing in workshops, graduate programs, and mentorship can be the key to success, as it demonstrates to young people that they are recognised and supported. Additionally, professional development, job quality, flexibility and peer support all impact retention.

When you recruit someone, do you consider it a cost or an investment?

Prioritising unit cost over absolute cost in recruiting talent demonstrates a smart, forward-thinking mindset. While absolute cost only considers the total cost of recruiting, unit cost examines the value and efficiency of each recruitment investment. By considering unit cost, companies acquire a more nuanced understanding of the return on investment for each talent acquisition initiative. This technique helps businesses assess the effectiveness of various recruiting methods, technology, and procedures, allowing for more informed decision-making and resource optimisation.

Improving an organisation’s employee value offering may incur additional costs, but retaining talent and increasing efficiency with existing staff is cost-effective. While aligning staff levels with production/producitivity targets is essential, underinvestment in talent is detrimental for high fixed-cost organisations when output encounters constraints. Retention assures productivity, efficiency, and institutional knowledge, while also boosting morale and customer connections. A steady and talented team may provide a competitive edge, and therefore talent retention is a profitable long-term investment.

Zero-base your organisation

Zero-based thinking is a decision-making and problem-solving technique that encourages individuals to assess issues without being affected by prior investments, decisions, or circumstances. Leaders who use zero-based thinking as a strategic approach understand value. This involves identifying the jobs required for an end-to-end optimised production process, assessing crucial support, and calculating the optimum personnel for each function.

Successful zero-base exercises result in a comprehensive knowledge of the production process, including mapping revenue-generating roles to production processes, establishing service-level agreements for support roles, and defining leadership positions with appropriate spans of responsibility. An incentive system matched with the organisational structure, unit cost targets, and appropriate insourcing is critical.

When executed correctly, zero-basing often creates value by building the organisation from the ground up and using a ‘what good looks like’ approach. This includes establishing future organisational structure alternatives, assessing insights to determine activity-based demands, and improving the workforce layout for efficiency and flexibility.

Long-term stability

Strategic investments in recruiting and retention are critical to ensuring long-term organisational stability. Regardless of sector, all businesses require innovation, efficiency, and agility to thrive. Some claim that the next generation of graduates is most prepared for these criteria due to their drive and eagerness to learn. Companies that continue to invest in people in a cost-effective, future-oriented manner will prosper even in adverse market conditions.

Ultimately, businesses should provide employees with the skills they need to survive in today’s changing climate, regardless of their career path.


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