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The War for Young Talent

Despite millions of students graduating annually from the world’s universities, companies nevertheless continue to report difficulty in finding and holding on to top talent.

Much of the industrialized world may still be in recession but there is no end in the war for talent. Companies, governments, in fact every organisation, know that having excellent employees makes a substantial difference. Hiring the right people in the first place is much better than dealing with any later problems with underperformance. Yet finding good matches is becoming harder and harder, especially for university graduates. The strategies of talent seekers and providers are going to have to evolve. Here’s why
Outdated Admissions Processes

All too often hiring is a ritualised process that effectively excludes some high quality talent. Many firms, for example, only hire from a small number of favored universities. While it may seem cost effective to deal with only a favored few, firms are placing themselves at the mercy of university admissions processes. What about relatively later developers who don’t get places at the favored universities? Why overlook them? An open mind is needed here.

Globalisation adds another dimension. As more organizations expand and develop operations abroad, reliance on home-recruited talent is not going to be sufficient. Profound differences in culture and how business is done requires employing a wider range of talent. Here many companies compound the mistake they make at home of recruiting from a select group of universities abroad, not realizing that the best students at less well ranked universities are as good as those from longer-established universities.

Fear of Debt Discourages Poorer Students

Exacerbating these factors is the established trend towards higher university tuition fees, which has accelerated in recent years as overstretched governments have decided to reduce their financial support to universities. Even though a university education can yield tremendous payoffs both financial and otherwise, it would be naïve to suppose that students from poorer backgrounds won’t shy away from the longer-established and better-known universities that tend to charge more tuition. For all the talk about scholarships and financial assistance, deep-seated fears about getting into debt will persist. More talent will shy away from the most expensive universities and recruitment strategies should reflect this reality.
Grade Inflation on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Employers also rely on universities to evaluate student performance over time, sorting out the better academic performers from others. However, in an era of growing class sizes and threats of litigation from students, the temptations to award inflated grades should not be overlooked. The days when professors got to know students individually are long gone. Like many other occupations, educators face intensified professional demands on their time and, while they want to do an excellent job teaching, the reality is that only so much time can be devoted to this particular activity. Those who think that something has been lost here are probably right, but employers should deal with the world as it is and not the world we might like to remember from our time at university.

Persistent grade inflation blurs the signal received by employers and young talent finds it is harder to differentiate themselves in the very arena where universities are supposed to excel, namely academic study. This problem is not confined to any one country’s universities. It is not hard to find examples of such grade inflation at the very best universities in the United States and the United Kingdom as well. Still, one should not estimate the desire of young talent for the proper recognition of their skills. The very best are not looking for the easy way out.

Traditional Recruitment Strategies Ineffective

Students have become more jaded about frequently-used employer recruitment strategies. They are no longer impressed by one-off presentations by human resource management personnel on campus visits. Smart employers are learning that they need to offer students more than a sales pitch and an apero. Providing workshops on career-relevant skills increases the motivation and payoffs for students to attend and gives employers an opportunity to observe potential employees for several hours, sometimes even for a day or two. Some forward-looking companies have joined forces with academic programs to offer content that meet multiple objectives.

Creative Networking Attracts Young Talent

Some cutting-edge companies stay in touch with former employees, deliberately creating networks that have paid off in terms of contracts, information flow, and innovation. Why confine such networks to former employees? Why not create a network of interesting, potential future employees, tailored to the needs and career challenges faced by young talent? The network’s activities need not be purely about recruitment, in fact sustaining the interest of young talent almost requires that any network operate on a different basis. Nothing prevents such networks being organized by associations of firms. Therefore, this option is just as relevant to small and medium sized enterprises as it is to large multinational companies.

Meritocratic Interaction is Key

What is important here is for organizations to sustain mutually-beneficial relationships with young talent and to recognize that plenty of young talent may not have had the opportunity to attend the most established universities. This approach should resonate with organizations that genuinely seek to promote talent. Meritocratic, sustained interaction that is open to all should be the key operating principles.

Initiate Dialogue to Win Young Talent

There aren’t any short cuts. It might be tempting to widen the reach for hiring new talent through organizational websites and the like. A fancy website isn’t enough, though. Young talent doesn’t want another one-way vehicle that neither elicits their contributions nor responds to them. The current state of information technology allows for many forms of dialogue with and between young talent, going well beyond blogging and low quality interactions. Initiatives to promote thought leadership and associated opportunities to recognize contributors have elicited interest from thousands of students worldwide, as our experience with Project Firefly, a project that Credit Suisse supports as founding sponsor, has shown. Providing a sequence of opportunities and interactions with young talent would allow an organisation to stand apart from its rivals.

Flawed Process not Lack of Talent

It is paradoxical that at a time when millions graduate annually from the world’s universities, organizations of every type report have difficulty finding and retaining top talent. This problem is not confined to the public or private sector, nor to organisations in certain countries. Something has gone wrong with the sorting process for young talent. Forward-looking organizations are not powerless to react and those that adjust to the new reality will quickly recognised for doing so by tomorrow’s leaders.

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