The Invisible Unemployed: An Untapped Talent Pool

19 February 2018

Since setting up Luminary Research a couple of years ago, we have met many senior candidates seeking work whose jobs have disappeared as a result of a restructure, or they have returned to New Zealand from senior offshore roles. While keen to contribute to the New Zealand economy once more, these baby boomers often find that the rungs on their career ladder may have just run out. These candidates don’t register for the unemployment benefit but can find themselves out of work for up to a year (or longer), while some never do find another full-time position again. As a small search business, we are often unable to assist and can only recommend they drive much of their search activity directly in the hope of picking up contract or part-time work.

Daily news updates keep telling us that with globalisation, ongoing restructuring and digital disruption, traditional business structures and roles are all under threat. It’s also no secret that multinationals are looking to produce their “wares” at the lowest possible cost and are keen to maximise profits. Not only do these corporations have size, scale and international talent pools, where they can draw upon young talent coming through the ranks, but they have good disciplines and processes in place enabling the support of younger, and therefore cheaper, talent. They also see New Zealand as a very small market requiring a very small team on the ground to manage it, so locally they are often SMEs.

In New Zealand, over 80% of businesses are SMEs; many are family-run and have less than five staff members so growth objectives can be relatively limited as many may hope to sell a business once they reach a certain size, or are driving a lifestyle business and don’t have the ability or desire to pay a corporate salary. There is also some push back on overseas experience from some economies that are perceived to ”play by different rules” to New Zealand, or which are not as resource constrained as New Zealand.

What we have discovered with many senior level candidates who have approached us is that they are a motivated and willing workforce, happy to turn their hand to almost anything to secure a role. They are often unfairly labelled as over-qualified, with employers citing as a worry that they won’t stay or fit in if they are appointed to a role. While this may be the case with some candidates, many actually want to remain working and living in New Zealand and will compromise, particularly on remuneration, which can be a sticking point for employers, in order to gain a local role. Given the size of the marketplace, there is not the turnover at the senior end which exists in larger economies, however many SME business owners have no succession plans or real exit strategy.

So, would this not be an excellent pool of talent even on a contract/advisory basis?

From a recruitment perspective, businesses are needing to navigate the increasingly complex process of hiring for a role, taking into account diversity, cost and risk, so much so, that exceptional talent like the ones we’ve met, often get ignored. I believe there is potential for SMEs to leverage this group’s knowledge, skills and expertise, a group that they may not normally attract, by being more open to different working arrangements.

It’s challenging for SME employers to change their thinking on appointing candidates once they’ve tarnished them with the over-qualified, too corporate or expensive brush. Multinationals rarely need this talent pool, given the range of talent, generally younger and cheaper, they develop within their own organisations. What organisations need to consider are the skills, expertise and knowledge, that they could access from this underutilised senior candidate pool, which can be very flexible in its approach to the world of work. They are often open to reduced hours and very negotiable on remuneration.

As we know, there is not enough talent being produced to supply the marketplace going forward. With the ‘bubble’ of baby boomers heading towards retirement, but still keen and able to contribute, there is a need for employers to view this talent pool through a different lens and see them as something they can leverage to enhance the performance of their organisation or team. If they don’t, then they could find themselves suffering from a talent shortage as the pipeline of talent becomes more constrained.

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