‘Talent Inversion’ is the New Normal

A look at making comprehensive workforce management software the new necessity.

Mnet 195392 Assembly Line Manufacturing
Bob GreeneBob Greene

In April of 2018, quietly and with little fanfare at the time, U.S. employers entered a fundamentally new era for talent management: the “talent inversion.” For two decades, ending in April 2018, every monthly BLS report showed more unemployed workers than (non-farm) job openings. By the end of January 2019, there were 6.5 million unemployed workers in the US, while at that same time, there were 7.6 million unfilled jobs. This upside-down ratio wherein there are more unfilled jobs than qualified unemployed workers to take them is generally acknowledged as a national “skills gap”, “skills mismatch”, or “talent inversion”.

At the present time, the trend is continuing and the gap is growing. This turns the overall relationship between recruiters and candidates from a “buyer’s market”—employers having more choice of candidates to hire, seen most dramatically during the 2008-2010 recession—to a “seller’s market”— candidates having more choice of employers and offers, driving up both new hire salaries and employers’ frustrations in trying to control them.

What can employers do to respond to this emerging challenge to maintaining the best talent? While there are various long-term solutions such as: improved in-house training, career pathing and succession planning which can involve significant investment, one shorter term, less expensive approach is optimizing the scheduling and deployment of those already hard at work for a given employer.

Key to workforce optimization is a comprehensive workforce management (WFM) software platform. Three key attributes every employer must focus on when evaluating, implementing and maintaining their WFM suites include:

  1. Integrated functionality
  2. Leveraging the latest technology
  3. Great dashboards and analytics

Our starting premise should be that basic time and attendance functionality is mere “table stakes” in this discussion and that we are focused on the features that distinguish good from great. In 2019, it’s not realistic to take seriously a time management system that cannot apply federal and state overtime rules, or be configured to handle complex PTO entitlement plans.

But why do we focus first on integrated functionality? We know, from countless surveys, studies and user experience anecdotes, that balkanized data held in disparate systems is the enemy of smooth operations and value delivery. Imagine a situation in which time reporting, project management, time off administration, scheduling, and skills and certifications needed to qualify a worker for a task are all administered in separate systems with non-integrated databases. Such a “spaghetti bowl” of separate systems and attempts to tie them together would clearly be an impediment to efficient operation. Yet, it is the status quo for a remarkably high number of organizations today.

When we refer to leveraging the latest technology, many people think of mobile apps, text-based transaction processing and the like. A WFM suite’s ability to leverage those capabilities is fast becoming the established norm, rather than the cutting-edge. Particularly for certain industries where workers are constantly “on-the-go,” the idea of having to return to a laptop or desktop-based user experience to enter time information is simply a non-starter.

However, there are a number of industries (manufacturing, education, airlines, and healthcare) where the process of engaging substitute workers when a scheduled resource becomes unavailable is a full-time job—sometimes for more than one person—and can be very labor intensive. This goes well beyond merely harnessing enabling technologies like mobile apps and texting, and adds the layer of artificial intelligence needed to have the Time system match qualified substitutes to available shifts, possibly follow an entitlement hierarchy (union-driven, seniority-based, or round robin) and then coordinate responses to ensure that each open schedule position is filled. This kind of feature is sometimes referred to by service providers as “Advanced Scheduling.”

Finally, the new “talent inversion” economy is heightening the need for trend spotting—data analytics for both reactive and proactive decision making. When management asks us questions like: 

  • Which locations are producing the most call-in absences on four hours’ notice or less?
  • Are we seeing more tardiness the morning after four-day holiday weekends?
  • Which specific job functions have the thinnest bench strength for last-minute substitutions in our North Carolina facility and why (i.e., what are the missing skillsets)?

…are we able to answer them? After how much data assembly and off-line analysis?

As part of integrated human capital management suites, the best workforce management software systems can provide all these answers and in doing so, offer some much needed first aid to the increasing challenges of the American “talent inversion” economy.

Bob Greene is a channels manager and sales trainer at Ascentis.

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