The Critical Differentiator

Jan Wright, Publisher, iBi

I read with interest the roundtable interview in this issue, featuring three of the Peoria area’s key HR leaders discussing the current landscape in hiring and recruiting. It’s an extensive piece, full of insight on the challenges of the hyper-competitive, 21st-century hunt for skilled talent.

When the largest companies in our area struggle to find the right fit, one can only imagine how small and midsized companies are scrambling to find quality employees. What’s interesting is this struggle appears to be universal, without regard to industry or occupation, nor is it simply the differences among generations in the workplace.

“In general, we place the highest priority on cultural fit,” says Jim Hefti of Advanced Technology Services, when asked about the top skills his company is looking for. “We are also looking for employees who have a continuous-improvement and customer-focus mindset. All things being equal, we will hire for culture and train for skills.”

For job seekers, it’s important to remember that attitude and presentation go a long way. Technical skills can be taught, but “soft skills cannot be taught in a classroom—they must be learned from social interactions and experience,” as Larry Timm writes. In my own experience, I’ve found soft skills to be a critical factor in employee success—perhaps the critical factor—and thus in the hiring equation.

Technology continues to open up whole new sectors of possibility, as companies like Uber and Airbnb rewrite the rules of the contemporary workplace. Meanwhile, according to a 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, there are now 53 million freelance workers nationwide—including 38 percent of millennials—contributing some $715 billion each year to the U.S. economy.

“We are in the midst of an historic shift that rivals the transition from farms to factories,” writes Sara Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancers Union, in a recent New York Times article. “And yet, despite making up more than one third of the American workforce, freelancers don’t have access to the essential benefits and protections that come with traditional employment.” While this new “gig-based” economy offers freedom and flexibility, it’s left a substantial slice of the population without an economic safety net. She sees this as one of the defining challenges of our time, one that political leaders have utterly failed to address.

These trends aren’t going away, but they do shine a light on some of the benefits of the traditional workplace. And even as our bricks and mortar morph into invisible clouds in the sky, the old-fashioned human touch remains the critical differentiator, more important than ever. iBi

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