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HUMAN RESOURCES

Book Review: Impending Crisis
 

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At first glance, during a time when unemployment rates are rising and more and more companies -- and municipalities -- are relying upon workforce-paring techniques to deal with their financial challenges, it may seem misguided to worry about a potential shortage of skilled, experienced workers. But that's the message behind newly published Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People (Oakhill Press, $30.00) by management consultants Roger Herman, Tom Olivo, and Joyce Gioia. And it's a message well worth the business world's attention.

That's because Herman and his colleagues are onto something important -- a business reality that many companies have lost sight of in recent years: A loyal, motivated, top-notch and experienced workforce is a business asset that is tough to build, tougher still to retain, and absolutely invaluable for those companies that manage to accomplish these two goals.

One problem is that, according to the authors, by the year 2010, the U.S. will have 10 million fewer working people than available jobs. And that trend will only accelerate, as aging Baby Boomers leave the workforce. It's worth pointing out that the current economic downturn, especially the past three years worth of stock-market mayhem, may slightly delay this crisis -- as Boomers and their parents work a few years longer to compensate for losses in their retirement savings. But the long-term trend is unavoidable, as this 332-page book makes clear, with an abundance of valuable charts and statistics that dissect the intricacies of labor demand and supply.

For readers who may resist the logic of this management priority (perhaps they've been brainwashed by all those gurus who have spent the last two decades applauding the trend that 'loyalty is dead'), the authors build a powerful case about the hidden costs of employee turnover. In a particularly valuable section, they discuss a concept called "tenure equity" which, in a nutshell, boils down to this important insight: "not all turnover is equal." The challenge, for employers who are motivated to build and retain a top-quality workforce, is to make certain that they figure out how to keep those workers who have spent enough time with them that they've now achieved a desirable level of "equity," that is, skill and on-the-job experience. (There's no one-size-fits-all answer here. It will take some work on the part of employers to establish the time frame at which turnover becomes too costly and when it's less significant.)

For the owners and managers of startups, small and growing businesses, the warnings behind Impending Crisis are especially worth heeding. That's because big business has a huge advantage when -- and if -- it decides to compete for qualified workers. Many people, especially white-collar workers, will opt for jobs at large corporations, if given a choice, because they tend to offer better benefit packages and at least the aura of job security. The way entrepreneurial companies will be able to compete is to make recruitment an retention a high priority early on in the economic upturn.

The basic message: Hire good people, train them well, and invest in their skills development as your company grows. That's a win-win formula for owners and employees alike.

Last updated: Feb 24, 2003




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