August 2012
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TD Magazine

Tactics for Targeting Technical Talent

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A recent study offers best practices to ensure a smart strategy for managing technical talent.

It's a well-known fact that there is a global shortage of workers stepping into the scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields. APQC, a benchmarking and best practices firm, recently issued the report Technical Talent Management: Sourcing, Developing, and Retaining Technical Talent to reveal the strategies used by companies with leading statistics for recruiting and retaining high-quality technical workers.

The study examines General Mills, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Space Systems Company, Caterpillar, and Schlumberger, and finds several common approaches that these companies employ to manage technical talent. Aligned with the traditional job life cycle, the 19 best practices work together to ensure that there is accountability, planning, balance, and customization in an organization's efforts to attract and keep top talent for a dwindling pool of candidates.

Accountability seems to be the logical first step for an organization looking to get serious about talent management. The companies scrutinized in APQC's study assign well-qualified individuals to take the helm of their talent management efforts. Often the individuals selected have technical experience themselves, and the ability to connect the dots between their functions and the business's bottom line.

Strategies for recruiting top technical talent often are aimed at youths, the study finds. Staking out fertile recruiting grounds on college campuses throughout the country, these companies become a fixture of the college landscape. They develop employment brands that are recognizable and appealing to students, offering internships and career development opportunities to encouraging prospects.

For example, the recruiting staff at General Mills wear bright yellow Cheerios T-shirts to college campuses, and the company has been known to send care packages of its products to new and prospective hires who are finishing final exams. Schlumberger sends its top-performing engineers to college campuses to talk with students and give them a glimpse into a day in the life of employment at the oil field services firm.


Plans for managing technical workers' career growth are detailed and thorough, as well as customized to the specific needs of employees. The companies featured in the study offer a variety of career-planning resources, such as competency models, to clearly map employees' paths to success (or succession).

There is no beating around the bush in performance conversations at these companies, either—talks between employees and managers are centered on facts and data. The study also finds that all companies use on-the-job training as the primary method for developing technical talent.

"Research has repeatedly emphasized that technical workers look for different things from employers during recruitment, development, and knowledge transfer," acknowledges William J. Rothwell, professor at Pennsylvania State University and study subject matter expert. But as the best practices show, what these workers seem to value most during their career cycle is having access to someone who speaks their language.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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