Getting Ahead in the Global Race for Top Talent

The global competition for highly-skilled recruits is as intense as ever, and CEOs are increasingly placing talent management at the top of their agenda. These were the key findings of a recent PwC survey. But research indicated that while a large majority of firms were updating strategies, only the most forward-looking were actually taking innovative stapes to deliver a real competitive advantage. The rest were simply using the same tactics they always had.

According to PwC's 14th Annual Global CEO Survey, two-thirds of chief executives fear talent shortages will strangle their company's growth. But big business recruitment is no longer a matter of simply selecting the brightest and best from the firm's backyard. Talent pools in developed markets are rapidly aging and growth is now being driven by emerging economies. Writing for the Financial Times in July 2011, Kevin Kelly, chief executive of Heidrick & Struggles International, highlighted the key concerns for employers hiring in the next five years.
He said that improving performance in big economies would likely mean that demand for top talent would outstrip supply, despite persistently high global unemployment. Mr. Kelly cited Heidrick & Struggles' Global Talent Index, which studies the challenges of attracting and retaining talent by looking at demographic trends, educational infrastructure and skilled labor force conditions.

"The index points to looming talent wars, which will make the best staff move to companies and regions offering the best opportunities. Executives we surveyed are generally confident about securing talent, but have significant reservations. They are concerned about the abilities of new hires, citing lack of creativity and 'soft skills'," he noted. In response, Mr. Kelly explained, businesses are increasingly relying on development of their existing workforce.

He went on to suggest that the US and Nordic regions are currently the top performers in terms of attracting the most skilled individuals. "Investment in education helps these countries to produce and attract talent. The US also benefits from favorable labor laws and incentives for workers. Western Europe remains high despite a weakness in the number of skilled workers," Mr. Kelly added. According to the Global Talent Index, demographic trends currently favor the Middle East and Africa, though overall performance ranks them below Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. But the Heidrick & Struggles analysis echoed the findings of PwC's recent survey. It noted "fascinating" talent developments in emerging markets, with China and India now two of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Mr. Kelly pointed out, however, that these countries are likely to remain in the bottom half of the index for years to come, as they cannot improve their infrastructures quick enough to keep pace with their more developed rivals.

"And because these markets are new and growing rapidly, a pipeline of ready-made employees is not available. Workers with the right training and experience will become increasingly desirable in China," he went on to say.

In terms of what companies are doing to attract and retain top talent, Mr Kelly noted how demand for senior executives with international business skills and experience was driving a shift in talent management strategies. A growing number of firms are seeking to invest in raw potential and develop a talented workforce internally. Since high flyers are generally drawn towards career development opportunities, a focus on training and development is likely to help firms stay ahead in the race to attract and retain top talent globally.