A Shortfall of Talent in a Surplus of Labor II

A Shortfall of Talent in a Surplus of Labor II

The competition for talent remains fierce. While one-out-of-five Americans are now unemployed or under employed, many if not most employers still face an acute shortage of people who have rare skills or are rare performers.

The origins of this talent shortfall are two developments that began over a quarter century ago and continue to this day. One involves a change in the kind of capability American employers need; the other requires that American workers use their talent in a new and different way. I covered the first in my post last week. I explore the second below.

A New Way of Working

The past thirty years also saw a new generation of non-U.S. companies begin to compete with American businesses in both domestic and international markets. From cars to data processing, from kitchen appliances to home furnishings, from financial services to fashion, America’s manufacturers and service providers no longer held an unchallenged position among their native customers. All of a sudden, the land of opportunity was open to the likes of Ikea and Toyota, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Sofitel.

This radically more competitive and pan-national economy forced chess-like adjustments in product and service design and delivery as well as corporate strategy and operations. The way organizations worked began to change and then changed again and again and again. As a result, employers needed workers who had the flexibility and creativity to contribute with impact—to perform at a high level in a highly dynamic environment and to do so from day one.

Companies could not meet their business goals—indeed, they could not even survive—with workers who were stuck in ruts or unwilling to adapt to changing circumstances. They needed men and women who were able to deliver a valuable result on-the-job even as the requirements and responsibilities of that job were changing.

The movie actress Lillian Gish is a perfect illustration of what they were looking for. She began her career in 1912 in silent movies. Acting in such films as The Birth of a Nation and The Scarlet Letter, she applied her talent in a medium without sound by using carefully choreographed gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. Her ability to communicate without words made her one of America’s best-loved actresses, and then, all of a sudden, the job of acting changed forever. The technology of sound was introduced.

Many of Gish’s fellow actors were unable or unwilling to adjust, but she did. She adapted her acting style to the new requirements of the workplace and, equally as important, trained herself to excel in that medium. Her flexibility and capability enabled her to act for 75 years and earned her an Academy Award nomination for her role in the 1946 move Duel in the Sun.

In 1971, almost 60 years after she began her acting career without saying a word, she was honored with a Special Academy Award “For superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures”—progress that was built on continuous change from silent to sound, black and white to color, realism to animation and galaxies far, far away.

Thanks for reading,

Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at Amazon.com, in many bookstores and on Weddles.com.