The War for Talent: hype or happening?

It was McKinsey who first coined the term War for Talent in the nineties when the global economy was raging white hot. Today the climate is very different. With slowing growth in China, prolonged recession in many countries, financial uncertainties in the Eurozone, one might expect a buyer’s market for talent today. Yet, the reverse appears true in Silicon Valley, parts of Canada, Australia as well as China and India. 

In a recent study1 this summer, McKinsey recognizes that competition for talent in emerging markets is hotting up again.  They advise global companies not only to groom local highfliers but also to actively encourage more managers to leave home. Moreover, closer to home, Manpower also reported a growth in employment in the UK, which they expect to last. So what is the reality for employers? AHEAD asked a snapshot of business leaders2  whether today’s rumoured War for Talent is just hype or really happening?

‘There is a global "wait and see" momentum due to economic and financial instability’ argues one senior professional. Another claims controversially that ‘there is a war for young cheap talent. Once past 45 you don't stand a chance,’ claims one respondent controversially.

Interestingly, our results reflected the complexity and uncertainty of today’s market. Indeed more respondents than not were aware of a War for Talent today, though only just a majority (53%). Looking ahead though, over 77% expected there to be a War for Talent in the next few years and expected to be affected. The majority (71%) also believed that the market for talent is increasingly global though fewer had tools for talent retention in place (63%).


Meanwhile, just over half the business leaders in our survey agree that this is a good time to snap up great candidates (57%), hiring exceptional candidates as and when they find them (52%). That said, nearly two-thirds of respondents agree that they only recruit when absolutely necessary. And a majority of 73% acknowledge that many candidates are reluctant to change employers in today’s climate for fear of a ‘last in, first out’ redundancy policy if their new company makes redundancies.

‘We see a very inert market where people are not willing or daring to change due to the uncertainty and companies are going for status quo instead of growth or downsizing,’ observes one business leader.

‘This is not an exact science,’ comments AHEAD’s managing partner Guy Vereecke.‘ The nuances are different from one sector to another and between geographic regions. Yet skills shortages do not go away.’

In evidence, 91% of respondents were aware of skills shortages in certain specialisms in today’s market, and 84% in certain sectors. In fact, many had witnessed skills shortages in the market today in their own particular sector or specialism (73%).

To see the results in more detail, simply click here :

1How multinationals can attract the talent they need. JUNE 2012
 Martin Dewhurst (London), Matthew Pettigrew (London), and Ramesh Srinivasan (New York), Organization Practice, McKinsey

2A cross section of 80 business leaders known to AHEAD Brussels responded to this online survey in late September to early October 2012.
They included general managers (CEOs, MDs), HR and other senior functional directors spanning a range of sectors from services to manufacturing.