February 5, 2020

Prospero: Unemployed stars need next job opportunity

While employment is extremely low here in Colorado, I would argue that it’s around 20 percent for the most talented and unusual.  We help about 40-60 job seekers monthly, and over half of them are unemployed stars who have an odd combination of skills that are hard to describe on a résumé. I have a pile of possible designers, CFOs, business intelligence gurus, CEOs, metric-driven-operations-people, COOs, sales leaders, and creative marketing executives for hire. They simply cannot find a job with you, and I don’t understand why.

I know many of you, and I’ve called some of you to meet these amazing individuals. But you can’t see how they would fit with your companies, so you pass them up. I know you’re not short-sighted, but I am also really confused why this equation isn’t adding up.

I love what the Boulder Chamber is doing right now to address this. If you haven’t been keeping up with the progressive work that it is doing, you should take a few minutes to read up on its “Boulder Together” planning.  It takes into account all the struggles we are having in Boulder County to support the complexity of doing business here — affordable housing, transportation, and fulfilling the demanding need for skilled talent alongside Skillful.

Here is the overarching message that we are trying to communicate: Quit focusing on the specific activities that someone has done on his or her résumé, or in former jobs, and focus on the skills you cannot train. For example, if you need a strong operations leader, stop focusing on whether a candidate has a successful track record of doing this exact work in your exact industry, and start focusing on whether the applicant has the skills and personality to do this job well.  I think a good operations person is great with process, details, management, and has high vigor, and they love solving problems.  That’s all you need. Re-think your recruiting and hiring model and you’ll find better people — although possibly unusual.

As you know, I’m passionate about helping bring out the best in everyone. I’ve devoted the better part of my life to this, and I am sure that I will spend the rest of my life helping end suffering at work. While I love what the Chamber is encouraging alongside Skillful, I suggest that the business leaders reading this really examine whether they are willing to put this into action. Given my pile of talented résumés, who would be great employees for many of you, I know these people exist.  You’re losing out if you don’t think differently about your job requirements because hiring this unusual talent will require you to have unusual training programs: strong mentoring programs for the younger generations, returnships for the talent that’s been out of the market while being a care-taker and need to be “upskilled” into a new type of job they haven’t experienced recently, and apprenticeships for the employees who need more on-the-job training.  These programs take some time and thought, but they deliver in big ways when implemented correctly.

In this new economy — sharing, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, gig —  we are going to have to be more creative with our hiring practices and take more risks on people who have the right personality, a persona of grit and resilience, and a willingness to learn. We will have to carve out more of our budgets to train and onboard, but when we do this, I am positive that we will solve our hiring challenges.

Let’s do something radical together and follow what our community leaders see we need to do. I challenge you to hire someone who does not have the résumé but does have the personality to do one of your jobs. I challenge you to set up a mentorship, returnship, or apprenticeship program to bring workers like that into your company.

Kendra Prospero is the CEO and founder of Turning the Corner, a Boulder-based organization that does recruiting the way it should be done for job seekers and companies.

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