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The War For Talent 2.0: From Pandemic To Parenting

In 1997, at the height of corporate globalization, McKinsey & Co. introduced "The War on Talent" to the world. By the early 00s, the phrase defined managerial "talent" as a combination of inherent and learned skills. These include a strategic mind, leadership ability, communications skills, and more. As of 2021, we seem to be living amidst the war for talent version 2.0.

The War For Talent 2.0: From Pandemic To Parenting
Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson

For the first time in decades, there is a surplus of jobs in specific professional sectors. And there are not enough applicants to fill them. These days, as job seekers have so many options to choose from, many positions remain unfilled. Sometimes, these lucrative positions stay vacant for months, disrupting workflows along the way. HR managers have much difficulty matching skillsets with said jobs. In this article, we will look at some of the reasons behind and the effects of the 21st-century war for talent.

The war for talent by the numbers
The pandemic effect
Changing demographics
The role of automation
Millennial mindset

The war on talent by the numbers

As talent competition is a global race, we no longer see the days of geographic, economic hegemony. Instead, employees are holding increasing power in their professional decision-making. 

This can take the form of increased selectivity, a desire for non-traditional work structures, or lacking the will to work for survival. Factor in pandemic-instigated shifts to remote or hybrid work models, and the conditions are ripe for global vacancies. 

In fact, up to half of today's jobholders have stated they intend to leave should their employers not offer the remote/hybrid approach.

Both Europe and the USA have seen some head-scratching employee retention numbers. According to EURES statistics, there are some 2,4 million vacancies in Europe and 10,9 million in the USA. This coming after a period of pandemic-induced volatility and an ever-shifting technological landscape.

The pandemic effect

We don't have to tell you about how difficult the past 1.5 years have been. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all aspects of life. 

The way we work is one of the most significant areas of this change. From early layoffs to hiring surpluses, the pandemic has resulted in overhauls to the entire employment process.

Economists offer various explanations on why employers have trouble drawing qualified applicants. These explanations range from ideological to social. 

Some argue that government aid has caused disinterest in work. 4% have stated they plan to seek jobs after their unemployment runs out, for example. But 38% say that parenting obligations prevent them from seeking new employment.

Factor in long-term burnout and the need for increased vaccination numbers, and you see how the notion of "traditional" work has changed.

The war on talent by the numbers

Changing Demographics

If the war on talent is the "new normal," it’s not only because of the pandemic. Demographics, lifestyles, and cultural shifts have taken an increased hold in Western society. 

These, in turn, have affected the way households look and need work. Such shifts run the gamut of age, race, class, gender, and ethnicity. For example, the number of retiring baby boomers rose by 3,2 million, 2019 to 2020.

University enrollment is also on the decline, which means fewer applicants with degrees. With fewer degrees, the white-collar labor market is hard-pressed to fill their positions. 

Furthermore, some 3 million women have left the labor force throughout the pandemic. As a result of school closures or childcare access, the continued volatility is there.

Finally, some 25% of the employed workforce have said they plan to change jobs soon. Factor in a slowing birth rate, and you get the lowest labor force participation since the 1970s.

The Role of Automation

Automation - the buzzword of all modern buzzwords. In short, the digital replacing the analog. Or the machine replacing the human. Automation has been on the minds of both employers and employees since the beginning of work. In this age of digitization and AI, automation is more consequential than ever.

Back in the late 90s, the war on talent focused on leadership and executive skillsets. That focus remains relevant, but now the breadth of desired skills is more robust than ever. Though automation is changing the workforce every day, it still has its limitations. 

A computer cannot wait tables, drive trucks, or perform manual labor. These are human jobs. But, in a competitive wage world, such jobs are seen as "unskilled" – steppingstones to something "better." Over the years, this caused lesser focus from many to engage with such labor. 

As a result, a lack of skills across industries like hospitality and construction came to be. Many companies offer bonuses and higher salaries yet remain unable to secure long-term employees.

Millennial Mindset

Millennial Mindset

By 2016, the millennial generation became the largest demographic in the US workforce. With these numbers, the Millenia mindset also entered the professional fray. This mindset centers less around financial ladder climbing and more on social responsibility. 

In short, Millennials and Generation Z look for meaningful work. It also means these generations will sacrifice for companies they consider responsible.

Furthermore, as both grew up in a time of social volatility, expectation to address them has increased. These dynamics seep into the hiring process too. Many companies themselves seek a reckoning with their record on social responsibility. 

The war for talent 2.0


There are more available jobs around the world than have been in decades. There are also not enough applicants filling these jobs. This employee retention dynamic is a result of many factors as described above. Amongst others, factors most importantly include the pandemic and technology. 

The question here is, how should employers deal with this volatile environment? Of course, it’s important to understand why and how the job market has developed the way it has, but it’s even more important to find ways to navigate through the challenges.

To find out more about today's most effective solutions, join our upcoming webinar: Strategies to Find the Right Talent for Growth Companies. During this 60-minute webinar, a live panel of experts will discuss modern strategies to attract the right people for certain positions, as well as talent retention. 

Topics that are on the agenda for this webinar:

  • Recruiting best practices in the economic landscape

  • Unrealistic requirements and expectations to fulfill a role

  • Macro trends and forecasting expectations for 2022 and beyond

  • Culture and management style playing a role in a candidate’s decision

  • Strategies to reduce employee churn

The webinar will take place on November 18th, 2021. Make sure to register here if you wish to join.

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