It used to be people got jobs because they fit all the qualifications for an opening. But in today’s remarkably strong labor market, now they may not even need any actual opening to land work.
In a new Korn Ferry survey, 57% of hiring executives say they’ve hired for a specific skill set even if there was no existing role for the candidate to take. It’s just the latest sign of both the opportunities a low unemployment market creates, as well as the anxiousness many firms are expressing over the need to find enough talent ready for future transformations.
“You may have seen some of this practice 10 years ago, but certainly not this prevalently or at this pace,” says Jacob Zabkowicz, a Korn Ferry vice president and general manager of the firm’s Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) practice.
The method is most prevalent for bringing in digital skills, such as data analytics and artificial intelligence—areas where there has been so much new knowledge created in the last few years. Few firms outside of the technology sector were even considering artificial intelligence five years ago; now nearly every organization is at least exploring what AI can do for business. As organizations figure out their digital strategies, they increasingly want people immersed in the skills on hand. More than three-quarters (77%) say they are hiring for roles today that didn’t even exist a year ago.
To be sure, the practice has its own risks, since morale can fall for new employees with undefined roles. Budgets set aside for these hirings can shrink as well. But for now, many firms have little choice but to hire sans real work, with the supply for talent so low while demand for workers nears an all-time high. The nation’s unemployment rate is 4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; for those in the professional ranks, it’s a miniscule 2.5%.
Aware of pending needs, some firms are dedicating themselves to retraining workers. Others feel they can’t. According to the survey, 67% of the hiring professionals say they have laid off people whose roles are no longer relevant to the organization’s direction.
Indeed, many organizations are facing a “build or buy” quandary when it comes to hiring digital talent, Zabkowicz says. Many firms would like to upskill their existing workforce, but they’re finding they have no one in-house to even start that process. Even if they do, reskilling in areas such as data analytics takes considerable time. Instead of building from within, firms are just buying digital talent outright. There are also organizations that are trying to split the difference, Zabkowicz says, by bringing in new digitally skilled workers from the outside to start and then trying to build up teams from within.