Move over, specialists.
By Fred Steiner
If it seems that recruiting people with high-profile executive talent or technical skills is hard now, wait a few years. A wide range of factors are squeezing the supply of top talent and there is no end to it in sight.
Yet there are still opportunities. The near-wholesale jettisoning of older workers in many industries presents a boon for small businesses willing to think creatively. Older workers and executives offer an affordable alternative to trying to outbid larger competitors for younger workers.
"Small businesses in particular need to revisit the older worker, the retired worker, and people over 50 have to rethink the level on which they wish to work," suggests William A. Hite, president of Hite Executive Search in Cleveland.
At the same time, companies will need to innovate to hang on to their own executive and technical talent in the face of the restricted stock options, long-term incentive plans and other costly goodies that the Fortune 500 now offer.
"And they're reaching down further-it's not just for the senior-most execs," notes Timothy Smith, vice president at Christian & Timbers, executive search consultants in Beachwood. "They are reaching down to a lower level so that people can feel that they are in the game and they have upside. It's the equity participation now that's a real pull."
The recruiting process also becomes more complex as the two-career family continues to develop. Many top talents have spouses with equally prestigious careers, and family considerations are playing bigger roles in job-change decisions. Recruiters now have to sell entire families to get their fee.
The future does seem to belong to generalists. Executives with specific industry backgrounds will continue to take a backseat to those with wide-ranging business skills and a savvy track record.
"They used to refer to a person that could wear a lot of hats," notes Smith. "[Now] I would describe these people as people who think more like owners."
In the Midwest, the large number of conservative companies has meant a continued reliance on recruitment within an industry or skill set, Hite says. But like so many trends that move from west to east, that will probably give way over the next few years.
Executives, under pressure to compete and innovate, will keep spending more time and money to increase their companies' "mindshare" vis-À-vis the competition. This will make for many happy returns for retained search firms.
Worker shortages, particularly in high-tech fields, will continue to drive industries to the politically explosive decision of importing skilled workers or exporting jobs. Ever-growing "Silicon Valleys" in India, China and Israel are proof of the trend.