Fisher centers’ collaborative series shines spotlight on ‘talent war’

talent war wide shot

Fisher College of Business’ research and business partnership centers might be individually focused on an eclectic range of themes, but finding common ground is easy when it comes to today’s toughest business challenges.

A group of four Fisher centers teamed up this summer to tackle two of the biggest challenges companies face today: growing and developing talent, and unlocking the power of data and digital disruption. Nearly 150 members and guests of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Center for Operational Excellence, National Center for the Middle Market and The Risk Institute gathered in July for a deep dive into winning the “talent war,” with the disruption-focused follow-up set for Wednesday, August 16.

The big picture

Keynote speaker Marek Gootman of the Brookings Institution

The July “Winning the Talent War” session turned a spotlight on some of the key issues employers are facing as they match the supply in the talent pool with their hiring needs. A region’s talent pool, keynote and Brookings Institution Fellow Marek Gootman told the crowd, is nothing short of the key to its vitality.

“One of the things that connects everyone is where we’re pooling our talent from,” he said, “and talent is a key driver of economic competitiveness.”

Harnessing the potential of the labor pool today, however, means facing serious headwinds, Gootman said. For one, employers are demanding more workers with a college education despite the fact that many out-of-work members of the labor pool don’t have more than a high school education. A recent Brookings analysis of 130 population centers by county – among them Columbus’ Franklin County – found that 55 percent of those out of work have, at most, a high school degree, while only 20 percent have a bachelor’s degree. In Franklin County, that gap is even wider.

Brookings, a research partner with Fisher’s middle market center, is an advocate for workforce programs – apprenticeships and social enterprise initiatives, to name a few – that can help solve this supply-demand imbalance. And with technology’s reach extending these days to traditionally “non-digital” jobs, building workforce skill in this area is quickly taking on critical importance, Gootman said.

“This is something that everyone, large and small, is going to be grappling with,” he said.

While these challenges might prove formidable to larger companies, they can be downright crippling to the middle market sector, whose companies create 60 percent of the country’s new jobs but can lack the capacity or perspective to reach outside their four walls for workforce help. New survey data Brookings compiled with the Fisher middle-market center and released at the session showed the sector’s firms struggling to hire for needed skills, underinvesting in talent planning and facing intense competition from larger companies.

By moving from an adversarial relationship to one that’s focused on building a better region, middle-market firms and larger companies can join forces and better leverage support from the public sector, Gootman said.

“You’re reliant on these mid-sized firms for the economic vitality of the region,” he told the crowd. “Large firms can find their own value in working with the middle market.”

The ground war

talent war panel
The discussion panel, moderated by Fisher Prof. Marc Ankerman, featured HR leaders from Cardinal Health, Marathon Petroleum, Nationwide and Wendy’s.

Shifting demographics and an explosion of digital technology are very much on the minds of top talent leaders at some of Ohio’s biggest brands, who joined Fisher Prof. Marc Ankerman for a panel discussion following Gootman’s keynote. In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, human resources leaders from Cardinal Health, Marathon Petroleum, Nationwide and Wendy’s Co. grappled with the challenges ahead.

At Nationwide, a top Columbus-area employer, process automation and the rise of driverless cars are two technology-centered trends likely to disrupt not only the company’s base of 10,000 call-center associates – but the insurance models at the heart of its business, said Kathy Smith, the insurer’s VP of talent development. The oldest business represented on the panel – 125-year-old Marathon Petroleum – is similarly bracing for technological upheaval, but also investing in readying its existing workforce for it.

“We’re really focusing on repurposing our workers’ skills and preparing them to learn automated technology,” said Tony Moore, head of talent acquisition.

Technology is even transforming the hiring processes at the heart of human resources, said Will Shepherd, Wendy’s director of enterprise learning and development.

“We’re having to meet applicants where they are from a technological standpoint, and recruiters are stepping that up,” he said.

No matter what technological leaps are around the corner, panelists told the crowd they still have an eye on the kinds of capabilities that won’t show up on a resume, Smith of Nationwide highlighting collaboration and “emotional intelligence” as critical.

“We need to continue to build skills in the hard stuff,” said Kelly Wilson, VP of talent management at Cardinal Health, “but the soft skills are so important.”

Coming up

The collaborative summer sessions continue with a look at data and digital disruption on Wednesday, Aug. 16, featuring speakers from Cisco, Safelite Group, Columbus-based data analytics startup FactGem and the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Program on Data Governance.

Seats allotted for COE are currently full but employees of member companies may join the waitlist for the seats by e-mailing Jackie McClure at mcclure.92@osu.edu. More spaces are expected to be released to the center the week of July 31, and those will first be extended to waitlisted attendees.

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