The debate over immigration reform has entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, he claims there isn’t enough talent here without the H1-B Visa program. On the other hand, he satisfies Wall Street, saying that Facebook has no trouble getting good people. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Unemployment is still high, yet many great jobs are going unfilled. Most entrepreneurs I know aren’t complaining about the lack of applicants; they’re concerned about the quality.
One factor rarely discussed is the over-proliferation of start-ups and incubators, occupying the time and effort of millions of talented people with projects that statistically will probably never succeed. And yet talented youth will choose to work part time for a start-up based on the dream of it being the next Facebook IPO. This poses the difficult question for all those companies actually generating sustainable sales and profits: How do you compete against big dreams?
Here’s my advice: be patient and recruit the disillusioned. In a short time, plenty of millennials will be tired of the instability in the start-up world. Real talent will be looking for a profitable company where they can hang their hats, build their careers and get paid more than free soda and pizza.
1. Go Where the Talent Lives
Foreign workers make less money and are beholden to their U.S. employers; of course big companies like them. But we don’t have a labor shortage. Last year, half of our 580,000 brand new STEM graduates couldn’t even find jobs in their fields. The true challenge is that our country is big and our people are not very mobile. Our jobs and our workers aren’t in the same places. Solutions? Expand operations where the workers are, or recruit them to relocate to you. It’s a lot easier–and more patriotic–than lobbying a do-nothing Congress that gives fashion models more access to H-1Bs than engineers.
2. Make Their Dream Your Priority
A writer made waves recently when he quit to build websites instead, for the money and perks. Yes, there’s a bad shortage of certain skills that will only get worse. Without deep pockets or a lot of glamour, it’s tough to compete. But you can cut through a lot of that with three words: “What’s your dream?” Finding out what employees and candidates want from their careers and trying to make happen for them–that’s a powerful tool for hiring and retaining top talent. And it doesn’t cost you a cent.
3. Offer the Best of Both Worlds
Companies don’t take the time to understand why certain people choose to participate in a start-up over going to work for established companies. These individuals want freedom and autonomy to create something awesome. Truth be told, they still need the support and structure an established company could offer. Lamp Post Group in Chattanooga, TN has a fantastic model. They allow talented and creative people to focus on what they love the most–creating and disrupting the world. But the company provides administrative structure and support that’s often lacking in start-ups. To compete for creative talent, companies must take their core success and provide an environment that supports and rewards the freedom and innovation these individuals crave.
4. Listen to Their Needs
Great talent, like great customers, has to go somewhere–and it may as well be to you as to some other organization. Treat talent acquisition just as you do client or customer acquisition–know who you want, go find them, learn what they need and meet those needs. Too often I see organizations recruit in broadcast mode–here we are and here’s why you should join us. Dialog is vitally important–talk to key potential hires, listen to their needs and shape your offering accordingly.
5. Appeal to Their Lifestyle
With nearly 80% of employees reporting their workloads have grown in the wake of layoffs, many are increasingly discontented and disengaged. This is only one of the issues causing a perceived lack of talent to fill corporate positions. Highly skilled people are looking for greener pastures they often believe to be found in the world of entrepreneurialism. The talent pool is out there; it’s just being diverted. Create attractive compensation packages and offer lifestyle benefits like flextime and reasonable work hours. Even the most driven employees need to enjoy life outside of work.
6. Focus on Your Mission & Culture
Despite the supposed talent shortage, fast growing companies can absolutely recruit the best workers. Focus on your mission and culture as Gen-Y Americans are more concerned with these than with anything. You may not be able to pay the same salaries that Google & Facebook can pay, but you can absolutely have an inspiring, world-changing mission and an open, transparent, fun culture that attracts the best and brightest.