Conference recap: finding your best people in all the right places

Tim Lougheed
May 10, 2022

Talent is where you find it, as most human resource officers know only too well. In order to make their recruiting mandates easier, organizations invariably fall back on various systems of classifying or ranking job candidates according to standard measures, such as educational qualifications, previous experience, and other credentials that point to the required skills or knowledge for a particular job.

This tried-and-true approach works, but as attendees at last week’s Research Money conference heard, it can drastically narrow the field of talent that might be available. The result has become a familiar complaint by many companies that they simply cannot find the people they need.

“We have talked about the talent gap, the skills mis-match, people without jobs, jobs without people — whatever you want to call it — we’ve been talking about this for well over decade, if not longer,” said AJ Tibando, Executive Director and Co-founder of Palette Skills Inc., which she established in 2017 to pursue a different perspective on this challenge.

“Instead of asking the question that we had seen a lot of other organizations and researchers ask — which was what skills do you need and what skills are you missing — we asked them how do you decide to hire someone,” she explained, noting that the usual line of inquiry assumed that companies already know how to qualify people for different kinds of skills, and are doing so correctly.

“That’s a big assumption,” she argued. “We wanted to say how are you making that decision, because it is what changes how somebody gets a job.”

Tibando was part of a panel discussion entitled “Addressing the Talent Gap”, which explored the changing landscape of recruitment and hiring. She was joined by Pavan Dhillon, a San Francisco immigration lawyer who specializes in helping Americans find work in Canada, and Kyra Jones, head of talent and academy at the Waterloo, Ontario-based accelerator Communitech, where she works on the start-up and scaling of its client organizations.

Jones argued that it is easy to overlook pools of talent that might contain individuals who do not fit pre-determined criteria, such as those who might be differently abled and need some assistance in joining a company. She suggested that companies that define their work culture to broaden their perception of who can “fit in” there, will find themselves rewarded with more choices in hiring.

“When you think about things like ‘tech for good’, it isn’t just about what tech you’re making and putting out in the world,” she said. “It’s how you’re using that technology to build a diverse workforce that can thrive in that place of work. It’s not just about attracting that diverse talent, it’s about creating a place where people feel like they belong, where they can bring their best selves to work, bring all of their skills to the forefront and to the complex challenges that we’re facing today.”

Dhillon added that such distinctions in work culture have become particularly pronounced between American and Canadian settings. She recounted cases of individuals — who originally told her they were going to Canada as a short-term option and had no intention of staying — yet they were still there after entering a workplace they found satisfying in both professional and personal respects.

She suggested that government programs acknowledging this advantage could be a boon in the technology sector, where the country is increasingly well placed to thrive in the global competition for talent.

“One of the ways that Canada can grow is to provide better opportunities for retention,” she said, offering the example of her own parents, who emigrated to Canada and found few employment options other than the risky path of starting their own business. By reducing such struggle and risks for people from around the world who want to settle in Canada, it enhances the appeal for those who want to apply their talent here.

According to Jones, this is how diversity can yield practical benefits for any firm. She highlighted how some leaders emphasize “enduring skills”, rather than seeking the immediate advantage provided by individuals with readily available technical skills.

“When I talk to employers, I often hear a core set of skills that they look for — reverse engineering a problem, critical thinking, hypothesizing, experimenting, bringing people together on a journey, communicating well, communicating openly, communicating with honesty,” she explained. These traits have a long-term value that is much higher than simply knowing a particular computer language, which can in any case be taught to those with such enduring skills.

Tibando’s organization nurtures this same outlook in people who may not even be aware that they possess this kind of skill set. She described Palette’s week-long Sales Camp program, which helps individuals learn how to move across the spectrum of job opportunities. Her favourite example is that of a former bartender who formalized his ability for sales through this program, and subsequently landed a position with an e-commerce company in Toronto. Similarly, a woman in automobile sales moved into an e-learning enterprise, where she has been repeatedly promoted.

Palette’s clients regularly comment on the outstanding talent that they receive, said Tibando, who noted that the individuals hired may be no less surprised at where their careers have taken them. For her and the others in the discussion, this was further proof that the notorious talent gap could be overcome with the exercise of imagination.

“There’s a lot of evidence out there that there are so many high potential people who just really need a break,” Tibando concluded. “They really need to be seen for who they are, not what they look like on paper.”


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