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Talent Is Hard to Come by, But Only Because You're Looking in the Same Old Places Build a sustainable talent pipeline by focusing your hiring on expertise -- not a laundry list of only maybe-relevant qualifications.

By Jeff Mazur

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If you're having trouble finding new talent, you're not alone.

Filling companies with great candidates seems to be an issue affecting companies in swaths. According to Bloomberg News, in the first quarter of 2017, 45 percent of small businesses surveyed reported that they were unable to fill jobs. By this past December, the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported that that number had grown to a record high of 54 percent.

Related: 4 Things You're Probably Overlooking in Your Talent-Sourcing Plan

If more than half of smaller companies are struggling, what does that say about the future of work as a whole?

Casting the widest possible net

A lack of talent puts companies in an undeniably compromising position. Businesses grow because of people, and employees are often the largest cost an organization will incur. It's common sense then that companies with a strong pipeline of skilled, driven workers are better positioned to meet their goals and outperform the competition, especially when that competition is struggling to fill open roles and identify future leaders.

So, how did so many smaller organizations get here? There's no one straightforward answer to such a complicated question, but one place to start looking is the hiring process. In other words, if a business's talent pipeline has been drying up, the reason could very well be that the company hasn't changed its recruiting process to evolve with the workforce.

Many companies continue to rely on hiring individuals from traditional educational institutions, but that's too limiting to be a company's only source of talent. Businesses also eliminate qualified applicants with excessive experience requirements

And that could mean the rejection of, say, a younger candidate skilled in the operation of a very new technology but lacking in extensive work experience.

What's more, large companies may be able to make up for unfilled jobs because of their larger employee base and considerable resources. But smaller companies can't do this; they can't necessarily allocate existing employees to fill open positions; and that puts them at a disadvantage.

To solve these problems, companies have to think of more creative ways to seek talent. Here are just a few:

1. Scout every local talent source.

Universities are a natural go-to for recruiting, but you should think outside the box, too. Check community colleges and local training programs, such as the one DXC Technology is creating in New Orleans. To improve the outlook for local STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) recruiting, the company is creating a "Digital Transformation Center" that will help create 2,000 jobs in the next five years.

Research and reach out to similar entities nearby. Ask what their curricula are like for various programs or what past graduates have gone on to accomplish. Different communities may well be rife with untapped talent, and companies will need to explore every available source to find the best fit for their needs. A diverse array of resources here allows leaders to create a highly tailored talent pipeline.

Related: 3 Steps to Attracting the Brightest Recent Grads to Your Startup

2. Focus on skills, not credentials.

Instead of prioritizing a college degree or past job experience, job descriptions should focus on the candidate's skill set and willingness to learn. This will open a company's recruiting to a wider pool of applicants, bringing in candidates who are talented but may otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

Just look to the classic example of Steve Jobs, who was diagnosed with dyslexia and dropped out of college before founding Apple. He might not have been an attractive applicant on paper, but in person, he was something else entirely.

Leaders can spark just this sort of change by influencing HR staff and hiring managers. Emphasize to them that these credentials might not be the most important quality on a candidate's resume. Look for other ways to qualify individuals: If an applicant doesn't have a degree, can he or she take a short exam to test for the requisite skills? Is this candidate self-taught in a particular skill? Looking at the applicant pool more creatively can bring in more talent.

3. Don't fear a "work in progress."

Among your applicants, the unicorns among them (those who meet every requirement, and then some) may be hard to come by; conversely, there are probably plenty of talented candidates out there who require just a little more time and training to become unicorns.

That's why apprenticeships, internships and junior-hire programs -- programs specifically designed to further develop skills -- can be so beneficial for companies.

Businesses are taking note: Employers continue to invest more in training and developing their current employees, and according to CareerBuilder, around two-thirds of companies plan to hire and then train workers who may not possess all the skills required for a job but who demonstrate the potential to excel in the future.

Related: How to Help Employees Remember What They Learned in Training

The world is constantly evolving, which means a business's hiring process must evolve as well. Rigid reliance on past hiring methods is now creating an obstacle for companies on the hunt for fresh talent. Traditional education alone can't produce the talent needed to fill jobs, and the traditional curriculum doesn't necessarily give graduates the ability to adapt to new technologies.

Instead of pouring additional resources into an ineffective process, companies must build a sustainable talent pipeline by focusing hiring practices on expertise -- not a laundry list of only maybe-relevant qualifications.

Jeff Mazur

Executive Director, LaunchCode

Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. Mazur lives in St. Louis with his wife and twin girls.

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