Use Co-op Programs to Discover What Your Workforce Is Missing

It’s time to take a critical look at your talent and start asking the tough questions. Is the talent that you have today ready to meet your business needs of tomorrow? It’s not an easy question and it’s fairly subjective, but you have to do it. A full-scale talent assessment requires that you spend some time conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis in conjunction with the business. This creates alignment with your business and its strategic direction.

From this analysis, you should learn the overall direction of your company, its market and your competitive set. You’ll also be able to build out a plan for what the critical skills are that will help your company stay competitive. Once you have this in hand, it’s time to start looking at the talent and the skills that are internal to your organization.

A surface scan of your talent can give you a general idea of your internal knowledge, skills, and abilities gaps. But the challenge most organizations face when it comes to talent management, is that our systems and the data that we have on our employees are incorrect, or incomplete. We may know what roles they’ve held since working with us, and from that we can make assumptions about their skill sets, but that picture isn’t always complete. Most organizations I’ve worked with don’t have a clear view into what their employees have done prior to coming into the current organization. This leaves a big gap, and potentially leaves us stuck in the middle between whether to hire from outside, or instead, look for skills that are right in front of us within our organization.

It’s our responsibility to overturn those rocks to search high and low. We owe it to our employees and to the organization. You never know what you may find, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Talent practices and integrated talent management are important today because they address vital strategic and organizational issues. It is not because these are HR or training priorities; it is because they directly impact intangible assets and an organization’s ability to compete. For boards and CEOs the driver of mitigating risk through stronger talent pipelines is close behind productivity improvement (and in some cases is the number one driver). Organizations are stuck in the middle if leadership and critical roles are unfilled.

The changing economies

Looking into the past, the economy has gone through several stages in which success has been defined differently. Each stage has had its own structure, governing patterns, roles, talent practices and assumptions about people.

The Industrial Economy was when the economy was manufacturing oriented. A few people made decisions, command and control was vital and employees were like replaceable machine parts. People were considered a cost to be controlled.

The Knowledge Economy developed as the economy became more service-oriented. Decision-making was pushed down the organization to more people. The knowledge worker phrase was coined and people were viewed as assets. In the Knowledge Economy, success was characterized by innovation and agility, which are highly talent-dependent. A manager in this talent age needs to be a leader to unleash and leverage the capabilities of people.

In the Gig Economy organizations must innovate, be agile, respond to change quickly and encourage creativity. In this age the “right talent, and not all employees,” is the most valued asset.

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An underdeveloped practice

Workforce planning is still an underdeveloped practice in most Gig Economy organizations. This stems from the fact that talent management has not been viewed as a strategic process but rather as people practices that are administrative and operational in nature. This is a dangerous leftover from the Industrial Economy. Most businesses have no talent plans at all and will therefore be impacted greatly by retirements, downsizing and other external and internal factors.

One of the most difficult aspects of workforce planning is predicting the new skills that will be needed, not just extrapolating current skills into the future. This is part of the art of workforce planning.

Using co-ops to test drive talent before you buy passes on cost savings while directly impacting effective talent management. The most obvious case is the money that is lost when valuable and talented employees leave an organization — unwanted turnover is more about talent mismanagement than talent management. Co-op students, as new talent additions to your company’s workforce can be the fastest, cheapest, and lowest risk vehicle to align the organization to better execute on its strategy. Test driving your talent is worth a look as the way to keep your company on the road in the current economy.

Dr. Curtis Odom

Dr. Curtis Odom is the president of Stuck On Start Coaching, a boutique career-coaching firm serving the needs of recent college graduates, and early career professionals. Prior to Stuck on Start, Dr. Odom worked in the field of talent management, supporting Fortune 500 companies around the globe with their hiring needs and challenges. He is the author of four books including Stuck in the Middle, Generation X Approved, and Mind the Gap, as well as his newest release, From Campus to Corner Office: How Co-Ops and Internship Will Help You Win In The Workplace. Learn more at www.stuckonstartcoaching.com.