Help Wanted: CEOs Struggle To Fill Talent Gaps

Jobs that go begging are the biggest problem for most CEOs these days. They have 20, 200 or even 2,000 open positions that they would fill right now with the right talent. But since they can’t, and because the problem is only getting worse, the labor squeeze poses distinct challenges to companies that want to make hay while the sun shines.

RedSeal is typical. “I have 11 openings right now, and seven have been open for more than six months,” says Ray Rothrock, CEO of the Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity firm. “And I only have 150 people.”

To bridge the gap, many of RedSeal’s chief engineers “go home at night and work after dinner for four to five hours. I’m afraid I’m going to burn them out.”

But it’s not enough—by a long shot. Rothrock says he’s got a three-year road map for software enhancement that he’s shared with key customers; he has the position requests secured in his budget; and the company has the cash to fund the development work.

“I just can’t find the talent,” he says. “I fall half a week behind in development for each month that goes by; I’m estimating a 10 percent to 15 percent drag on productivity.”

“If you hire donkeys, your customers lose respect for you, and so do your internal thoroughbreds. You blow up the company.”

Similarly, Dave Ramsey, CEO of Ramsey Solutions, a Brentwood, Tennessee, financial media outfit, says that his company has 250 jobs posted, even though it already employs 700 people. He’ll only be able to hire about half the number he’d like to this year. “We just won’t grow as much,” Ramsey says. “We’ll grow at the speed of the right hire.”

But he’d rather leave growth on the table than “insert 250 donkeys into our company who would destroy the company. It’s not about finding people to do the jobs, but finding the right people to do the jobs. If you hire donkeys, your customers lose respect for you, and so do your internal thoroughbreds. You blow up the company.”

CEOs are attacking this problem with all the tools they can—boosting overtime, allying with local technical schools, expanding the number of internships and prevailing upon boomers to stick around instead of retire. Still, such human-centered tactics only go so far. That’s why more CEOs are doubling down on automation of both factory and service jobs. Manufacturers are buying more—and more humanoid—robots.

Companies like Grant Thornton are automating clerical tasks. “We have compliance work that used to take seven to eight people that we can do with robotics and just one person overseeing it now,” explains CEO Michael McGuire. “Then you apply that principle to a bunch of other areas, ranging from expense management to procurement. All that stuff can be done more quickly and accurately than with humans.”

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