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Myth of shortage of skilled workers (Part 1)

A lack of qualified people is a problem for almost all companies. Statistics from renowned institutions clearly show that there is too few skilled personnel available in Germany. The ratio of retirements to university graduates or even births can be frightening. Orders are not executed or not executed well because suitable personnel is missing, customers seek refuge with competitors who deliver quickly. Like the rabbit in front of the snake, many stand in front of empty candidate pipelines. Full of concern is the explanation: the shortage of skilled workers. The supply of qualified, motivated and affordable personnel is scarce. The pain is real.

That’s right, BUT…

The shortage of skilled workers is used as an excuse for "more of the same" or complete resignation

In discussions with executives, management and recruiting departments, the shortage of skilled workers is almost fatalistically conjured up – even though there is no shortage as such. Overall, this may be true when comparing vacant positions with available qualifications. But at the individual company level, things look different. Today, there is a lot of room for maneuvering in every company, both on the supply side and the demand side. If you know how to use them, they are much easier to exploit than you might think. Neither are there is a need for so many vacancies nor are there too few applicants and candidates. Companies that have understood this benefit from decisive competitive advantages.

Before we talk about solutions, I would like to point out the danger of the attitude “Help, we have a shortage of skilled workers! The worrying statistics and studies are all correct, but not necessarily “true.” If we take the shortage of skilled workers as an undeniable truth, we create a reality in which we have little room for maneuver. The seemingly hopeless situation is cause to stop trying. Companies and recruiting departments are weary and frustrated – according to the motto, “it’s no use anyway, that’s just the way it is, you can see it everywhere!” You know this in sports: If you don’t believe in winning, you won’t win. You give up before you’ve even started. And so the downward spiral turns faster and faster in the wrong direction and the vicious circle begins.

Many draw the wrong conclusions and fatal wrong decisions are made. Self-reinforcing vicious circle scenarios arise.

Vicious circle scenario 1: Leaving jobs unfilled for too long

Unfilled positions mean that existing staff have to compensate for capacity. As a result, the core job is neglected due to time constraints, and quality erodes. Additional work due to the need for corrections arises. Most people want to do a good job and suffer when they feel they no longer meet their own standards. Often people are left alone in this situation. References to fruit baskets, yoga and other company health management offers only come across as cynical.

A low-spirited mood caused by excessive workloads does not exactly promote the willingness to perform – withdrawal or illness are the results.

In the end, people decide to quit. Regardless of whether it’s internal termination while remaining with the company or an external transfer – the need for new capacity is unnecessarily increased. The shortage of skilled workers starts a vicious circle again.

It is better to discuss with the team which tasks are to be taken over without losing quality and which are not. How to organize otherwise, what needs to be communicated to stakeholders and how to create a solution for all sides. A wonderful team development exercise that generates new ideas for increased efficiency, positive mood and commitment.

Vicious circle scenario 2: Hiring the next best

In the absence of suitable applications, someone is often hired despite severe doubts. But recruiters and team leaders have reached the recruiting goal for the time being. “You have to give people a chance; he or she will learn” is the silent but illusory hope. In that case, one can only hope that the mis-hiring is quickly and clearly recognized and the person leaves the position or even the company. It is worse if the person stays in the company even though it is known that it is not an ideal appointment. The message to everyone else is straightforward: “This is the new standard!” High performers then consider whether they have a future in the company, whether the commitment is still worthwhile or whether it is better to leave.

In principle, it is of course only right that many talents should be given a chance and that one can acquire a great deal. Hand on heart: Does the person have a real chance of becoming successful in the job? What does it take and can this actually be made possible (not just theoretically)? I am talking about e.g. longer time for onboarding, a lot of patience on the stakeholder side when things don’t work out right away, external training, a team member who takes over the more intensive onboarding and can be relieved for it in another place, etc. If the possibilities are limited, it is not an opportunity but the road to hell for the new team member.

Vicious circle scenario 3: Becoming a desperate pleaser

Those who have already understood that the candidate experience is the be-all and end-all often fall into the attitude of the devoted servant in the recruiting process, who does everything for the dream candidates. Better not to ask too demanding questions, better not to criticize. Better to take no position than the wrong one. Smile and say yes and amen to everything the candidate wants. I know I’m being a bit polemical here.
Nevertheless, it happens very often that interviewers mainly want to be loved by candidates. Pal-like exchanges are usually disguised as supposed eye level but are often pleasant but superficial talking around. In the best case, it remains in the candidate’s memory as comfortable and sympathetic but is much more often perceived as meaningless, not very professional and, above all, without any reliable insight. There is a big difference between chumming up and trying to please at all costs, and being aware of your own value and appearing humble in the sense of cooperative and appreciative. Other employers who allow themselves more depth and confidence in evaluating fit usually win.

Vicious circle scenario 4: Parking applicants in the second row

Who hasn’t experienced this: You have someone on the hook, you know it’s not really a good fit, but you don’t know what’s to come. Rejection then feels like giving away your safety net in an uncertain future. So you put off. And put off. And put off. The candidate notices this, of course. The enthusiasm for the company or the job decreases. If no one else can be found, you already have a new employee on day 1, who is cautious at first and not super committed. Maybe there are other offers in the pipeline, one takes the job for the time being, behaves similarly loyal and looks at what else is coming, and takes the first job that promises more commitment to the person in the recruiting process. At worst, there is a negative evaluation on employer portals. The chance that a better option will then apply is vanishingly small.

Vicious circle scenario 5: Set requirements as low as possible.

In the belief that they won't get the required profile anyway, they don't even communicate what the team needs. In wise foresight, it is best not to create the slightest hurdle from the outset. Talented exceptional profiles do not need a university degree, so do not even mention it. Experience is undoubtedly required, but under certain circumstances, a lateral entry is also possible, etc.

The result is a profile that is slimmed down beyond recognition and is more reminiscent of an unskilled assistant than the expert you are hoping for. In this context, I recommend that you refrain from using junior / senior expert roles in the title of the job advertisement. Because neither the junior nor the senior feels addressed by it. Rather publish a coherent entry-level position and an additional experienced position.

The expert desires to be seen in all the excellence, no matter the career level. Overcome challenges that others can’t. Being aspirational can be very sexy to the suitable candidates looking for that same job, but don’t apply when less qualified people fit. Who likes to throw their pearls before swine?

It needs a paradigm shift

Enough of the vicious circles. We can do better. Let’s usher in the paradigm shift. Let’s break through the mental blocks and use our creativity: Suppose there was no shortage of skilled workers. Assuming there is, what would you do to attract the very best placement for your team?

My ideas on the myth of the shortage of skilled workers can be found here in the next blog post.

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