Brains of the Operation: The Growing Talent Crisis
by Rahaf Harfoush
About the Panel:
Finding great people has never been easy but it’s become increasingly difficult and it’s poised to get worse. Student enrolment is declining, wages are sky high and executive level talen is tough to find.
Today’s panel is moderated by Charles Zamaria (Professor, Ryerson University), and the panelists are M. Michelle Nadon (President & CEO, mediaintelligence.ca), Korash Sanjideh (Managing Director, HMC Interactive) Laura Jo Gunter (Dean, Info Arts & Tech, Seneca College), Geoff Whitlock (CEO, Lifecapture)
Apparently, Laura Jo looks just like Charles Zamaria’s wife. LOL. He put up a picture on the powerpoint and the resemeblance is uncanny!
Let’s Get Started:
Charles: Is there a crisis?
Geoff: There is definitely a shortage of talented individuals interested in working with new technologies.
Charles: do we see this reflected in enrolment?
Laura Jo: There are two issues. 1) in the computer studies, computer IT, enrolment has dropped 50-70% , and I think part of the problem is that it takes from 2-4 years to just graduate with a masters. So what we’ve noticed is that because of years people weren’t entering in that area, you’re going to notice a huge shortage. We have 100% co-op placement, especially from the Banks. On the arts side we’ve seen a decline in application.
Charles: Is this bearing itself out in the professional arena?
Michelle: There are two different groups: the students and the marketplace. The students stand a better chance of succeeding than the current labor force. The demographic of +35 have the steepest learning curve.
Korash: In the UK there are a lot of similarities. We want to attract a fusion or art, science and tech students. And to find that is getting increasingly different.
Charles: Is there not enough personnel? Are they leaving Canada? are the school crappy?
Geoff: A little bit of each. In our business there is a revolving door of technologies. Clients are always demanding something new. We’re always using new stuff, and it’s hard for anybody in our industry to specialize in the specific. That’s what they’re doing in university, but we don’t need that. We need you to know a little bit about everything. It’s a whole new kind of requirment. We’re converging our screens on the outside, but our tool sets on the inside. We don’t even hire designers, they have to be able to build a website!
Charles: So you’d rather have generalists?
Geoff: We just need people who are more apt to picking up more than one discipline. It doesn’t help out new marketing.
Charles: Is one of the problems, the fact that the industry is predicated on a project by project that prevents Geoff from providing sustainability?
Michelle: Years ago, generalist was a one way ticket to a general manager’s job. Then it went back to the specialist syndrome, where everyone had one core expertise. Now what we’re saying is that you need to have a core competency but you also supplement it by acquiring different but complementary knowledge bases, which result in a cluster of skills.
Charles: Are universities up to date?
Laura Jo: All universities will say that they are training students for the long term, and the colleges are doing much more of a career, practical training, but we’re starting to move into a bit of a theoretical as well. Universities are starting to work more with industries. Our biggest issue right now is funding, you need to have up to date software, tools and facilities.
Charles: Is there more potential today for industry academic parternships? Pros/Cons?
Laura Jo: There is always a benefit for working with industry. The biggest issue is that we should never work with industry on mission critical projects. They have different time lines, and students need time to learn.
Charles: We have a brain drain here, where do they go in the UK?
Korash: It’s interesting for us, because we’re based in the south west, which is not really a creative hub, the hub is in London. The university grads are naturally gravitating towards London. We’re losing potential recruits to London, while you guys are losing them to the states.
Charles: Tell us a bit about your project.
Korash: Recently, we recognized the problem, and started to formulate a plan to keep people in the region, and attract people from elsewhere, and what we’ve done is open our company to a radical graduate programs. Grads will leave university and enter HMC for an intensive work internships. What we’re finding is that there is good interest from universities from Holland and Finland to bring graduates over to train from within HMC. We are aware of this whole shadowing and mentoring process, and we’re also talking to our ex-lecturer from our degree and he’s put himself forward to come in once or twice a week to guide the students to industry standard work. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s a bit risky, since a project can fall apart, and then you’ll have clients screaming. But the program is a good incentive to increase retention.
Charles: Can we adopt a model like that?
Michelle: In Canada it might be a little bit different, we share challenges around regional issues, but the advents of the technological marketplace makes that regional differences are becoming less and less importance. At the end of the day it’s all about the internships.
Charles: Ok, what about feasible solutions?
(Note: Charles is a hoot on stage, he’s loud and funny and brings a lot of energy to the panel. I wish I had a video clip)
Geoff: I’m not sure the universities can help because they’re facing the same thing, a shortage of people. Especially with the boomers retiring. There’s no sort of group that goes down to public high schools to create a career package. We pay a lot of money, but people in different industries who still have the same skills. So everyone is looking for jobs.
Charles: Is the solution a rationalize co-op system?
Geoff: that would make the parents consider the stream a more relevant.
Laura: I would settle for math and English literacy. There is a huge crisis of people having really low entry scores for college level math and English.
Michelle: There needs to be more coherence.
Question Period: (I’ll post the interesting bits)
I asked a question about the whole concept of the “revolving door” and asked the panel if they thought that since turnover was so high, if maybe they should reconsider their HR Strategy to allow independent contractors the option to plug in a more diverse ways with their organizations.
Geoff commented that they recognize the need and are trying to adapt.
Charles: If there were one thing we could do, what would it be?
Michelle: Knowledge is power, because knowledge= confidence. So I would direct all parties to continually go after knowledge acquisition.
Korash: Be prepared to change. The media industry is moving so fast, you have to keep up.
Laura Jo: I would say, a lot of support for entrepreneurs for this area, because that’s where the job growth is in Canada. You need a lot of support for the younger entrepreneurs. We’ll see a lot more people wanting to work there.
Geoff: Look at the how the military is recruiting. Our industry needs to open up, explain what’s inside, how much money you can make, etc. That would create an information body so people can understand what they have to offer as a job.
I would have liked the panel address more of the generational issues that will hugely impact that work force and how companies will need to shift their perspective if they hope to recruit and retain Gen Y in the future. On top of low academic enrollment rates, you have a generation entering a work force that is desperate for talent. I wonder when HR departments will realize that and react accordingly.