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QA.3: The New Variant in the War for Talent

By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech

A new variant in the War for Talent has appeared, confronting employers with their worst talent crisis in more than a quarter century. The employers that survive (and even flourish) in the face of this never-before-seen workforce emergency will share one key attribute. They will be those organizations with a strategy and set of tactics carefully designed for application over the long-term and for the reality of the new world of work. Protecting themselves with that guiding vision, however, won’t be easy as it will require the entire enterprise and especially hiring managers, CFOs and even CEOs to recognize and adjust to structural changes in the workforce that are likely to remain in place for a generation or more.

To understand the magnitude of the challenge facing recruiting teams, it’s important to understand the history of the talent market over the past twenty-five years. When McKinsey & Company first coined the term “War for Talent” back in 1998, it focused on demographic trends which limited the supply of workers available to employers. In essence, that first variant – what I call QA.1 – was a quantitative attack on enterprise wellbeing, and it remained so for almost a decade. As the Great Recession took hold, however, the economy shifted to a much greater reliance on technology, and that structural change produced the second variant.

Unlike the first, this second version of the war was a qualitative struggle, a battle for the best talent. Employers competed for two kinds of workers that were in short supply: those with critical skills, especially in technology, healthcare and other fields that require a high level of education and/or training and those who are high performers and thus make a uniquely valuable contribution to an organization’s success. The competition for that kind of talent – QA.2 – was still depressing enterprise performance when Covid arrived in the workplace and changed everything. QA.3 emerged.

This third variant in the War for Talent is actually a combination of the war’s two earlier variants. It is both a quantitative and a qualitative challenge. There aren’t enough workers to fill all of the available openings in the workplace and there is a skills shortfall among those people who are still active in the workplace. This more virulent version is driven by three structural changes in the U.S. population:
The Great Retirement – the accelerating departure of Baby Boomers from the workplace;
The Great Reassessment – the recalculation of work goals and values by Millennials; and
The Great Responsibility – the prioritization of child and elder care duties at home by women.

These three dynamics are confronting employers with two realities that cannot be remedied in the short term. It takes around twenty years to produce a new worker and fifteen or more years to give them the skills and personal attributes that will make them productive in the workplace. Said another way, until machines replace workers in a majority of workplace jobs, human nature will determine what happens in recruiting.

Responding to the New Variant

The employers who understand this new variant in the War for Talent and begin now to inoculate themselves against its three dynamics will have a significant – and persistent – competitive advantage in talent acquisition. Why? Because the circumstances shaping QA.3 are not passing trends, but instead are likely to remain fixed for years to come. Getting to that advantageous place, however, will not be easy. The preparation involved is not trivial and must include both a great deal of introspection and a wide range of new or altered practices.

The first step is probably the most crucial. It involves a thorough examination of an organization’s leadership, culture, principles and practices to immunize its value proposition as an employer. The goal is not to establish what it has been or even what it is today, but instead to determine what aspects it must strengthen to be perceived as career-safe employer among the scarce workers who have the skills and personal attributes required for business success in the marketplace.

In some organizations, of course, recruiters and even Talent Acquisition executives lack the standing to embark on such a review, so a preliminary step is required. Hiring managers and the c-suite must be brought kicking and screaming into the second decade of the 21st century. They must be made aware of this new variant in the War for Talent and persuaded of the very real consequences it poses for their own individual success and the financial wellbeing of the enterprise. The literal bottom-line is that they must come to see talent as no less important and maybe more than sales and share price … because neither of those outcomes can be optimized without a full complement of capable workers.

If that reengineering of an organization’s value proposition as an employer is effectively concluded, the design and implementation of revised talent acquisition tactics can move forward. It should begin with an audit of the tools, technologies and practices with which the organization currently operates in the talent marketplace. Everything must be considered and updated or revised in the light of its new vision of itself. This includes (but is definitely not limited to) the requirements and expectations of each job; the format and content of its job postings; the textural and visual messages conveyed by its career site; the authenticity and presentation of its brand in its recruitment marketing; the procedures and priority devoted to scheduling and conducting interviews; the candidate communications and interactions with its ATS; and the time and resources committed to its onboarding of new hires.

To be blunt, executing talent acquisition today and tomorrow the way it was done pre-Covid is detached from reality on the ground and therefore doomed to failure. The new variant in the War for Talent reflects long-term, if not permanent shifts in the workforce, transforming it into a quantitative and qualitative battle. And victory in that kind of battle requires a fundamentally different approach to recruiting.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can download his latest book – The Neonaissance – for free at And, if you don't have time to read the entire book, just download a short excerpt of his inspiring message.