Discussions about the ‘talent pool’ are often rather negative, focusing on the gap between what employers are looking for and what people are bringing in terms of qualifications, skills, abilities or experience.
We rarely talk about people whose talent is not being used, but research in the U.K. indicates that an increasingly large percentage of the U.K.’s population is underemployed: that is, unable to find a job with full-time hours, or work a combination of part-time roles.
Recent employment statistics mask the extent of underemployment: the portion of people on zero hours’ contracts has more than doubled and the number of underemployed people has increased by roughly half. A University of Texas study also highlighted that underemployed individuals may be unjustly considered less talented than their qualifications, skills and experience actually warrant.
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s research ‘Untapped Talent’ also points to older talent being ignored. It found that the over-50s are not seen to have the potential to progress, however, the statistics do not bear this out with this group actually being keen to develop. Furthermore, their talent, which often lies in their experience, is also overlooked. Simon Chalk of Age Partnership sagely commented: “Wisdom is what clients seek and that can only be found in those who have learnt their trade and served their time.”
Science tells us that older workers not only have the motivation to learn but they also possess the neurological abilities that do not decline until into the mid-70s (Crawford 2004, cited in Gosling 2011).
A few companies stand out for finding creative solutions to accessing talent. Grant Thornton, the accounting giant, has benefitted from more flexible academic entry requirements for its school leaver and graduate intake. The removal of academic barriers has widened access to lower socio-economic groups and, importantly, these employees are performing as strongly as those who would have met original academic criteria.
We also need to identify where the talent pipeline is leaky and what happens on our journey through education and employment that may prevent success. In England, there are 1.5 million playing organized youth football (soccer) but, of these, only 180 can expect to become a Premier League professional – 0.012%. This is starkly illustrative of the problems we have developing or defining talent. At some point, whilst very young, the other 99% of young players have been recognized as ‘talented’ but have not succeeded, yet it is unlikely that they have lost their basic ball skills.
Academy players are given every opportunity to develop their talent, with myriad people taking an interest in their progress, but it is so easy to overlook the importance of individual commitment, hard work and self-belief. If we take a broader view of talent, to include self-discipline, confidence, mental toughness and resilience, we might become better at developing it. Early recognition of potential, mistakenly labelled as talent, is actually only a small part of the requirements for success – organizations can do much to influence the development of the multitude of other contributors.
We must stop taking a narrow view of where talent might reside. A pioneering recruitment and development strategy, recognizing how talent so easily withers, could bring rich rewards for your teams and your business.