Recruitment and staff retention issues must be moved to the top of the boardroom agenda. But management needs to bear in mind that it is career choices and not cash bribes that will win over talented professionals, according to Geoff Unwin, chief executive at management consultancy and IT services company Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (CGEY).
At an international student conference in Edinburgh earlier this month, Unwin predicted that the problems of staff recruitment and retention are set to become increasingly hot topics over the next five years as rising demand for executive and specialist talent, combined with falling birth rates, fuels competition for the best graduates.
AIESEC, which was formerly a French acronym for the Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, is now the world's largest student organisation and its meeting was attended this year by 600 young delegates from 84 countries. The organisation's aim is to help young people to develop personally by providing them with a series of learning activities in fields such as IT, sustainable development, education, enterprise and social responsibility.
"The biggest challenge facing us is the battle for talent. Demography is against us - demand is rising much higher than supply. People are our lifeblood. If we can't attract talent, we can't survive," Unwin said.
But he rejected the idea that cash inducements are the sole, or even the best, solution to the hiring challenge. "Today's graduates are better informed about what's on offer from would-be employers than ever before, partly because of the internet culture and its power to spread awareness, and partly because they are - quite rightly - ready to challenge and question what those in authority tell them," he said.
Unwin himself currently spends 60 per cent of his time spearheading CGEY's campaign to find talent and the firm recruits 4500 new and recent graduates worldwide each year.
"We don't want to be an employer of choice. We want to be an employer of choices," he claimed.
And he believes that providing opportunities for retraining, switching between specialist areas, community activities and being able to take breaks at all stages of peoples' careers, makes a real difference to how staff see their employers.
"At the heart of this is a culture where individuals can be masters of their own destiny. We just provide the environment. We have broken the button-down shirt mould created by US consultants 50 years ago, and we can offer careers to fit people rather than forcing people to fit careers," Unwin attested.
But he admitted that the current dynamics of recruitment are being driven by the demands of potential and existing staff. "If you don't deliver with your people, they'll vote with their feet," he said.
And it's not just employers that face dramatic changes ahead. Employees are also having to adapt to some dramatic shifts in working culture. "For people to succeed, they're going to have to work across incredibly complex relationships. People who can only operate in a hierarchical structure won't survive," he warned.
"The youth of tomorrow is our future, and we like being where the future is. The organisational structure of the future will be a networked economy where it's about employability rather than a job for life. The old command and control model will melt, and if you as an employer can't attract the right talent, you won't be able to survive," he concluded.
Unwin was made Global Patron of AIESIC during the international students' conference.
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