Is it time for a HR paradigm shift?


I’ve always wanted to write something about the life expectancy of a normal career. However, as I was penning my thoughts for this article, my mind wondered and looking at it again, I felt that it is a part of a larger problem.

As a recruiter, we often had to deal with the preference for candidates with a reasonable potential to grow or progress.

Most of my clients do value experience and those with a “preference for age” do come with a genuine reason for wanting to put them on a management training program. These are the ones with a real career progression plan which outline the candidate’s progression with the company over the next 5 to 10 years with the company.

However, we cannot deny that there is still a large community of employers who would value youth over experience.

During the recent economic woes, I came across a large pool of candidates whom had just lost their jobs. My heart goes out to these candidates, especially so for those middle-aged candidates who felt that they are “stuck”.

How can we blame them for feeling stuck? They had been doing what they do best for as long as they had been out of school. A good example would be the large number of “displaced” workers from the electronics manufacturing industry. Especially so for the candidates from semiconductor and hard-disk sectors.

These industries had seen the boom in the last 5 to 10 years, resulting in a large pool of skilled workforce. However, with a drastic drop in demands, companies are forced to make harsh decisions to layoff.

I’m sure many of us would agree. There are industries that are sill hiring. The oil & gas industry is one. Niche industries which previously had problems attracting candidates are still hiring.

Yes, they had gone a little conservative in the numbers, but the headcount requirements are still there!

Going head on with the “fresh grads” may not be an ideal situation for the middle-age job seekers. After all, the fresh grads cost less and learn faster.

From the assumption that “youth equals energy and youth equals creativity” to “the ease of managing the expectations of a younger workforce (ie. Lower wage structure)”.

Let’s not forget, for every energetic youngster out there, I am sure you’ll find a lethargic one somewhere. For every creative thinker we come across, there will be a wise teacher to be found.

Letting “free economics” do its thing. Isn’t the free market supposed to determine the “market rate” for wages?

There are 2 schools of thoughts here.

1) If you fluctuate wages “freely”, you will face with excessive fluidity in workforce movement

2) If you maintain wages (aka market/ internal equity) and not fluctuate it according to external business demands, we would have what we have today!

a. High wage structure in times of downturn – resulting in retrenchment and overloading of remaining workforce with core duties (as a result of reduced workforce)

b. Inflexibility in cross industry workforce redeployment – many mid-level candidates wouldn’t mind to start with a pay cut in a new industry to be retrained. However, our high basic wage structure and low variable component in our current C&B model made it impossible for such move to take place without the candidate taking a huge pay cut!

There are variable factors in play here.

  • The way we structure our C&B.
  • The way we design our jobs.
  • The way we assess and hire.
  • Our assumptions on candidates’ age.
  • The way we train our employees
  • The list goes on.

Is it time we look at HR differently? Is it time for that paradigm shift?

Eric Wong

29 Jan 2009

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