Friday, November 28, 2008

Overcoming Bias in Employment Decisions: Strengthening Recruitment and Retention to Meet Anticipated Workforce Shortages in Australia from 2010

The effects of an ageing population and lower fertility rates, projected to impact from 2010 onwards, will result in too few younger people being available to replace older people exiting the workforce. Shortfalls in labour force availability are expected to be compounded by world-wide trends in early retirement resulting in countries having less than one third of their population aged 55 to 64 years employed. Unless organisations anticipate this decrease in workforce numbers and implement effective recruitment and retention practices, there will be a marked decrease in workplace productivity.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has signalled a slowing in Australia’s economic growth as the nation’s workforce becomes increasingly more constrained by labour shortages and skills shortfalls. Among BCA member employers, barriers have been found to exist to the effective hiring or retention of staff. These barriers, or limitations to overcoming workforce shortfalls and meeting skills shortages include: Failing to recruit people because of exaggerated job performance requirements; failing to hire because of job applicants ‘inability to fit employers’ ill defined organizational norms; not filling positions given a fear of not meeting the legal requirements; lack of basic hiring skills and an ability to effectively manage staff retention; failing to train staff on the basis of low returns for training costs; managements’ widespread use of negative perceptions about particular categories of people and their perceived abilities to learn, perform the work, or even stay in the job.

An increasingly imbalanced workforce from the year 2010 onwards will result in organisations being faced with increased competition for younger job entrants and the requirement to make greater efforts to retain existing staff and attract back to work those who are currently outside the workforce. To resolve these issues questions will need to be answered such as: Do Australian organisations understand the likely impact of future workforce shortages? Are Australian managers able to adjust their employment decision skills to effectively recruit and retain staff in this challenging workforce employment environment?

Research carried out by Dr Barry Partridge through the University of Wollongong and conducted between 2000 and 2008 has focussed on meeting the needs of organisations confronted with labour supply shortages and the potential for limited growth. Research, examined the employment decision-making practices of 100 managers operating in Australian workplaces. Managers were found to hold age and gender-based stereotypes which were strongly related to their decisions to only select, promote, or train certain people. The research results identified concerns about managers’ biased employment practices and therefore an inability to effectively recruit or retain staff. This is of particular significance for organisations confronted with the projected workforce challenges of having too few employees or not being able to retain skilled people.

Dr Barry Partridge, a consultant in workplace behaviour, has devised tools that identify managers’ discriminatory employment practices which may prevent effective recruitment and retention of staff. This can enable change to be effected through coaching and mentoring processes. Those organisations best able to understand the workforce challenges posed by population ageing, the effects of fewer young job entrants and of early retirement, and the costs related to biased employment decisions on the attraction and retention of staff, will be able to grow their enterprises and enjoy competitive advantage.