By Riia O’Donnell

Employers need people with certain skills, but those skills are hard to find, meaning some companies have decided to instead look for potential.

As 2019 dawns, the war for talent continues to rage — and employers are looking for every advantage they can get. Employers need people with certain skills, but those skills are hard to find, meaning some companies have decided to look for potential rather than specificity. Employers know they need to be agile, and many are scrambling to catch up.

“From a talent acquisition and retention standpoint,” Scott Waletzke, vice president of enterprise solutions at Adecco USA writes to HR Dive, “employers should look out for shifts in the labor market driven by an increased focus on changes in the economy and in an unpredictable political climate.” These changes may have direct or indirect impact on various components of the labor force.

#1: Upskilling remains a priority

“We will see employers increasing their efforts around upskilling and training employees and new candidates to fill open positions,” Waletzke said, “especially roles left empty by Baby Boomers.” As technology and automation increase demand for new skill sets, he added, employers should encourage and enable continuous education to ensure their workforce is ready to tackle the jobs of the future. 

“As new skills emerge as fast as others become obsolete, skills are the new currency and we anticipate more employers will invest in training their current workforce in 2019 to do the jobs open today and tomorrow,” Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, told HR Dive in an email. A ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage survey revealed more than half of employers reported investing in learning platforms and development tools to build their talent pipeline.

Larry Nash, EY’s US recruiting director, told HR Dive that observers will see a continued increase in the need for upskilling to adapt to the digital transformation their organizations and society are currently facing.

“While traditional skill sets will always be needed in the workplace,” he said in an email, “upskilling employees with skills in areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, blockchain and robotics will be key.” To make the most of their knowledge assets, he said, organizations need to focus both on developing their underpinning knowledge management infrastructure and on promoting a culture that encourages the effective creation, refinement, sharing and storage of knowledge.

#2: Hiring for potential rather than experience

“Given the pace of change in skills driven by advancements in technology,” Frankiewicz said, “the future is much more about what employees can do than the specific jobs they’ve done in the past.” In other words, hiring candidates for their ability to learn on the job will be an operational advantage.

Thanks to the low unemployment rate, Waletzke predicted that employers will continue to loosen requirements on job applications and descriptions to fill open positions. Candidates from more diverse backgrounds and education will be considered for jobs they would not normally have been considered for in the past. Offering remote positions to new mothers or requiring a 2-year degree rather than a 4-year degree for certain jobs are some examples of how employers are balancing the need for skilled workers and the need to fill positions.

“Employers across all fields will also be looking for candidates with strong soft skills — communication, team work, etc.,” he said, “not just the hard skills that are typically required for a position.” 

#3: Recognizing talent as consumers

“In 2019, employers need to understand that candidates are consumers too and work hard to attract workers with a strong employee value proposition, clear purpose and attractive culture,” Frankiewicz said. In the age of on-demand fulfillment for groceries, clothes and food, employers can expect to see similar expectations from candidates in the workplace, as well.

Brian Kropp, group vice president of the HR practice at Gartner, told HR Dive that Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor report for Q2 2018 showed only around 18% of employees in the U.S. report high levels of going above and beyond at work while only 40% report high intent to stay with their current employer. That may signal engagement levels in the U.S. are mixed. “To maximize employee engagement, business leaders should focus on improving their employee value proposition (EVP) to ensure they are differentiating from competitors and appealing to issues that matter most to employees,” he told HR Dive in an email.

Steven Cates, graduate professor of human resources management at Purdue University Global, told HR Dive via email that employers will need to ensure they are promoting values embraced by great employees. “They will need to provide reasons why great talent will want to work for them. This must be a long standing and constant commitment that is directly connected to the marketing philosophy and central to the corporate mission, so both prospective customers and prospective employees can translate and understand these messages,” he said. 

Talent will come from “more varied sources than ever,” Nash said, and organizations will need to be prepared accordingly with an agile and holistic sourcing strategy.

#4: Wages, benefits and flexibility will be key

Waletzke said wage growth is one of the biggest conversations Adecco is having with employers; the company expects some employers will increase salaries and wages to attract and retain top talent in 2019. Within the past year, he adds, there has been relatively stagnant movement on wages. “One of the major reasons that wages have not kept up with competition is that employers are still hesitant to increase wages in case the market loosens in the coming years,” he said. 

2019 may be the year that shifts — but not completely. If companies don’t offer meaningful raises, turnover will increase, Kropp said. “This lack of talent will force companies to increase pay for new hires,” he added, “however, current employees will still not see big raises.”

This tough labor market will see more employers turning to wages and other creative benefits, from childcare facilities to unlimited PTO or flexible schedules to attract people with the right skills.

“The ‘Monday-Friday 9-5 job for life’ has moved on and much of the jobs growth over the last 10-15 years has occurred in non-traditional, alternative ways of working,” Frankiewicz said. Now more than ever, she said, American workers have choice of where, how and when they want to work. They are working longer, learning more and seeking a better balance between work and home. Not everyone wants to engage as a full-time employee and businesses don’t always want that either; the winners in this market will create a talent plan that engages all those workers.

#5: Tech will play a leading role  

Waletzke predicted significant investments in AI in order to speed up the interview process, identify best-fit candidates more quickly and create a better experience. Tech has abbreviated the interview process so employers can quickly hire on talent in a competitive marketplace. “AI will continue to help make this process more efficient,” he said, “while freeing up recruiters’ time for more strategic or relationship-based work.”

“More companies will use non-traditional listening tools,” Kropp said. Employee surveys are fading away as more companies begin to utilize listening tools such as email scraping, monitoring and tracking workspace usage, and aggregation of data to obtain better insights about employee sentiment about their workplace and problems that leaders need to address, he said.  

It’ll go further. “In 2019, workplace technologies will go beyond observation and start nudging,” he added. He predicted business will implement more advanced technologies that don’t just observe behavior, but will suggest to employees and managers how they should work; for instance, an email nudge that helps employees be more effective, or a desk that reminds a person to get up a take a walk.

“With the integration of AI comes a whole new realm of possibilities for workers to transform their own skill sets,” Nash said. EY’s recent survey of Gen Z showed that 72% of respondents think a combination of both new technologies and innovative co-workers would provide them with the greatest opportunities to succeed.