War for Talent

The “war for talent” sounds scary – because it is. In many ways, it’s now tougher than ever to attract and retain the employees who make an organization productive. But, through careful employee retention strategies, talent development, and talent recruitment, companies can make themselves stand out and win the essential battles. A major part of this effort is personalized L&D programs. 

What Is the War for Talent?

The war for talent is about the difficulties faced by organizations in recruiting and retaining valuable workers. It’s been in the news a lot lately due to events like the pandemic and the Great Resignation. But the war for talent has always been a reality for HR departments. 

The 4 Eras of the War for Talent

“It’s hard to find good help these days.” This is an old saying that reflects the challenge of hiring effective employees. There is even a theory that speaks to this, called the Pareto Optimal principle, which says that 20% of workers do 80% of the work. Even before the modern information revolution, it was still tough to staff companies with hard workers.

Then along came the “knowledge worker”, a phrase invented by famous management consultant Peter Drucker in the late 1950s. Drucker saw that technology was becoming the core of many organizations, and that it changed rapidly. Those with the talent to learn about and use technology most effectively came to be in high demand but limited supply. 

So much so that McKinsey & Company invented the phrase “War for Talent” in 1997. They realized that two factors were coming together: the aging population of Baby Boomers, and a greater need for technically-skilled employees. 

Enter the fourth era of the war for talent, which is now being affected by four factors:

  1. The need for skilled workers (along with recognition of how important soft skills are)
  2. The post-pandemic lack of employees
  3. The retirement of the Baby Boomer generation
  4. The entry and influence of Millennials and Gen Z

How Real Is the War for Talent?

There have been endless stories about hundreds of businesses not being able to find workers. Recent stats say that, in the US alone, 2.4 million employees are working fewer hours than before Covid-19, and half a million potential workers have dropped out of the job market. That’s on top of the 250,000 Americans of working age who have died from the coronavirus. In July 2022, there were more than 11 million job openings in the US.  

Winning the War for Talent

HR practitioners can’t do much about demographic issues, but they can make the most of their strengths in sourcing and supporting employees. The two key strategies for dealing with the challenge of filling open positions are retention and talent recruitment.


A basic message of the war for talent is that hiring practices must adapt to the societal and generational changes that we face. Here are just some of the ways in which organizations can adjust:

Build Creative Compensation Programs

A crucial not-so-secret secret for how to recruit top talent is to be competitive with compensation. Or should that be “creative” with compensation? Considering that “total rewards” is number five on the Work Institute’s list of reasons to quit, throwing money at new hires is not the answer. Instead, explain to candidates some of the great initiatives that you created as part of your retention efforts. Or, follow the lead of companies like Airbnb who offer an extensive system of non-salary perks. 

Keep an Eye on Your Brand

All that online information about companies is not always a plus, because you are right up there with them. Actively disengaged employees, people who were terminated, and those who did not make it through your hiring process might be sources of negative online sentiment. But, on the bright side, engaged employees can become brand ambassadors. It all boils down to a regular check of company review websites such as Glassdoor and Indeed. If you find some damaging comments that happen to be accurate, you can take steps to change the root cause. Similarly, when you find something that your employees love, play it up. 

Use New Channels to Access Talent

It sometimes pays off to shake up your recruiting pipeline. Instead of relying only on the same old headhunter, expand your horizons. Check out specialty recruiters like People of Color Careers, the Ability People, and Women for Hire. Create recruiting relationships and sponsorships at high schools and colleges. 

Perhaps most of all, digitize part of the recruiting process. Younger generations automatically reach for their smartphone for any type of search, including jobs. Ensure that your postings are mobile friendly and that your headhunters are as well. Make applications possible through online forms and attachments. At the beginning of the relationship, deliver follow-ups and invitations through mobile as well.    

Employee Retention

The general hope was that, after Covid-19, there would be a surge of people happy to return to the workplace, but trends like quiet quitting prove that we spoke too soon. What is needed now is a reset in employee retention strategies to focus on post-pandemic concepts. 

Create a Value System

No generation sees social values as being on a higher level than Millennials and Gen Z. Whether it’s the environment, volunteer programs, or DEI initiatives, these groups want to work for employers who supply and continue to expand social justice. But building a mission statement and sticking with it does more than boost employee satisfaction. Today’s workers are constantly connected and will mention their employer’s progressive policies to their friends. This supports branding, purchases of your product, and even recruiting efforts. 

Think About WFH

Despite its challenges, employees generally liked working from home during the pandemic. Some of the “absent” workers discussed above could probably be convinced to return to the workplace if their lives were made easier through a hybrid schedule. With all of the practice that everyone got during Covid, most organizations are prepared for some level of WFH. Actually, even major organizations like Microsoft are looking at hybrid as a permanent arrangement. 

Build Flexible Schedules 

Another effect of the pandemic is the desire for flex time, as employees discovered that many tasks can be completed from home. Those with children also found that more time at home was a huge plus, while younger generations would even switch jobs if they could achieve flexibility in working hours. But does this benefit the company? According to Gartner, 43% of survey respondents explained that flexible hours was the reason for increased productivity

Engage in Talent Development

Even as Millennials and GenZ become the majority of workers, some things just stay the same. For many years now, the number one reason for somebody to quit a job has been a lack of development opportunities. In other words, employees are willing to put in the effort to upskill and face the challenge of new roles, and get frustrated when they don’t get the chance. 

Talent development programs are ideal for building skills and improving retention. They require effort to create and should be tied in with other HR objectives such as career development, leadership development, succession planning, and upskilling

But they are worth it. Talent development makes sure that quality people are trained and ready to take on higher positions. But what is even more important when discussing the war on talent is the perspective of employees. 

When organizations invest the resources related to talent development, it shows that the company is interested in the worker’s professional growth, which is absolutely essential for retention. For example, 87% of Millennials say that development opportunities are important in the workplace. This is a higher rate than any other generation. 

However, there is a challenge for L&D programs. It is difficult to create talent development programs that are individualized. Because each worker has different talents and professional goals, they require customized learning programs. But finding reputable experts to teach each subject in the optimal setting is very difficult, particularly for large organizations. Instead, companies tend to give generalized courses, even to their most talented people. This is one of the main areas where companies go wrong with learning and development.  

Retain Top Talent with GrowthSpace

The GrowthSpace multi-experience talent development platform has been created expressly to fight the war for talent. By personalizing L&D programs for every employee – including your most talented – GrowthSpace delivers that vital component which is so important for skills, retention, and growth. 

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