Executives Wanted

By Margolis, Mac | Newsweek, June 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Executives Wanted


Margolis, Mac, Newsweek


Byline: Mac Margolis

Despite record unemployment, recruiters are desperate for top-tier talent.

If there is a silver lining hidden in the Great Recession, it ought to be found in corporate headhunting. While the recession has devastated industries and services across the map and erased 8.4 million jobs in the United States alone, it should also have created a vast reserve pool of idled managers and senior executives. Where better to look for bargain talent than in a torrent of pink slips?

But good luck trying to find such a bonanza. As they slowly recover from the last two bruising years, companies across the world are facing a massive shortage of top-tier management talent. Turnover is intense, and wages are spiking as rival employers prompt bidding wars. Yet corner offices remain empty. "Thirty percent of employers across the globe continue to struggle to fill positions available," Jeff Joerres, chief executive of the recruitment agency Manpower, told the World Economic Forum earlier this year.

Much of the demand, paradoxically, stems from the global downturn. After shedding workers in droves during the recession, many shrunken businesses find they are bereft of the qualified professionals needed to kick-start growth. The legion of graying baby boomers set to punch out is contributing to the problem. So is the meltdown in many classrooms, where plunging math and literacy scores and science-by-the-numbers are cheapening diplomas and hobbling tomorrow's professionals.

But employers are also colliding with another reality that the economic slump simply masked--a sea change in the international economy that is challenging the way businesses organize themselves, create wealth, and shop their brands around the world. In the U.S., a lot of middle managers who used to work at mortgage companies are seeking work. But the rise of the Web and tech-based professions such as logistics, biotech, health services, and information technology has put a premium on top-tier scientists, engineers, and computer geeks, who are suddenly scarce and costly. And as emerging markets take off, soft skills that were previously seen as gloss on the CV--adaptability, foreign-language skills, ease in other cultures--have suddenly become part of the core job description of managers.

Despite the so-called resume tsunami, employers looking for managers with all these skills are finding slim pickings. The problem is particularly acute in the rising economies of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and even Africa, where breakneck growth is pushing management to the limit. While China is forecast to need some 75,000 managers through 2020, only 5,000 are currently available on the domestic job market. So severe is the skills crunch that a wonky subgenre of doomsday literature, with titles like Companies at a Crossroads and Winning the Global War for Talent, has hit the business stacks.

Until recently, all major employers scouting for talent had to do was post an ad, and a reliable stream of able, eager applicants would follow--if not from home, then from abroad. The smartest professionals in developing countries desperately sought to move to the richest nations. But now, as wealth and power shift hands, it's no longer a buyer's market for the First World. And homegrown talent doesn't necessarily have the soft skills that multinationals require. It's no longer enough for local managers to master business tools like Oracle and Java.

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