The transition to a knowledge-based society means that in the future the economy will not be about optimizing production, but rather about innovation, business models, networking, branding and marketing. The companies that succeed in attracting the smartest people, who come up with the best ideas, are those who will succeed.
This means that people will be the primary source of competitive advantage. Competitors can copy products and automate and build factories, but replicating a company’s labor force with respect to competence, dedication, and culture is almost impossible. Despite the difficulties of measuring immaterial assets, it is to a large extent these that will determine a company’s future development.
The consulting company McKinsey & Co coined the phrase “The war for talent” back in 1997.1 They meant that it was talented co-workers that separated successful organizations from those that fell behind. Based on demographic data they could also show that the competition for talent would tighten in the coming 20 years. We can testify that their prophecy was right: the war for talent is now a fact.
The shift that we are now witnessing leads to a regular battle for the brains; a talent hunt where all companies must ensure that they have the best possible team configuration. According to the Manpower Talent Shortage Survey, 45 percent of the world’s companies have difficulty finding the right personnel – an increase from 30 percent in a period ten years.2 In Sweden, 42 percent of companies maintain that they experience difficulty recruiting for key positions. The fact is that, at the moment, there are 140,000 vacant positions – but despite the many unemployed it isn’t possible to fill these jobs.3
It is the qualified positions that constitute the challenging sector. At the same time, they determine growth in the labor market. Statistics from the EU’s research arm Eurofound show that most new jobs are comprised of qualified positions. 4 Over time we have seen a gradual shift toward more and more sophisticated tasks, which is not surprising because machines and computers increasingly have taken over the heavy manual and routine work. Eurofound has also analyzed how demand for different skills has changed over the past 20 years. Skills tied to strength, abilities and routines are decreasing substantially. What is in demand is mathematical skills, aptitude for problem-solving, and reading and writing skills.5
A great workplace is not espresso or lush benefits or sushi lunches, grand parties or nice offices. | Patty McCord, Chief Talent Officer, Netflix
It is primarily two functions in companies that have the most difficult finding personnel: IT and sales. That companies are screaming for qualified IT-laborers is well known, but now sales organizations are also participating in the battle for the brains. Actually, this isn’t surprising given the polarization of sales logics that we described in an other article. The simple, traditional sales jobs, that perhaps didn’t require so much training or knowledge, are becoming fewer. They are being replaced in part by sales positions under the complex sales logic, where demand for competent advisors, business developers and consultative sales reps is increasing. Suddenly the sales profession is competing with other qualified jobs in advisory and consultancy services. In part they are being replaced by jobs under the transactional sales logic, where there is a growing need for people that are analytically driven and can handle digital tools – competencies that so far don’t grow on trees. We are also experiencing a double competency gap that makes it more difficult to find, attract and recruit sales people.
At the same time, sales organizations are faced with weaker demand for sales positions, particularly for younger workers. Sales representative is not amongst the ten most popular careers amongst 18 to 25 year-olds, and ranks lower than both administrative jobs such as the criticized teaching profession. There are many reasons for this. Sales competence is often perceived as an inborn talent – “the ability to sell is something you’re born with.” Another explanation is that the profession’s status is influenced negatively by a lack of certifications and higher education. Perhaps the most problematic is that there are many prejudices associated with marketing that don’t match well with what coming generations want from a job.6
On the whole we can argue that sales is – and will continue to be – a particularly challenging sector when it comes to recruiting. When the gap between supply and demand for qualified sales reps grows, there will be a battle for the brains. Managing this competency gap will become an increasingly strategic question for management. It will be important to have a strong brand, good leadership, and interesting work assignments to attract the brains.
1 Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H., & Axelrod, B. (2001). The war for talent. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
3 SCB (2018). Tidsserie över antal lediga jobb. Downloaded 2018-08-23 from: https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/statistik-efter-amne/arbetsmarknad/vakanser-och-arbetsloshet/konjunkturstatistik-over-vakanser-kv/pong/tabell-och-diagram/tidsserie-over-antal-lediga-jobb/
4 Eurofound (2017). Occupational change and wage inequality: European Jobs Monitor 2017. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.
5 Eurofound (2017). What do Europeans do at work? A task-based analysis: European Jobs Monitor 2016. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union. http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_publication/field_ef_document/ef1617en.pdf
6 Pixton, T.E. (2016). Millennials’ Attitudes To Sales – How Can We Increase the Interest of Millennials in a Sales Career? Stockholm: ProSales Institute Sverige AB.