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This session started with the citation of a startling sounding statistic. Some 40 per cent of employers worldwide are said to be having difficulty filling positions. Everybody seemed to agree that finding and retaining talent is crucial to the future of successful and growing businesses.

The discussion was structured to look at the needs and demands of different age groups in the work-force. And then to examine how these demands worked out in different markets and regions across the world.

It was agreed that the top talent in the 22-30 age group are well educated, mobile and have digital and technical skills that are second nature to them. They have huge ambition, but also know how to work collaboratively. They will want multiple paths to advance and are not too worried about work-life balance. They want respect and recognition, but also value and meaning in their career. And they want to get rich quick.

And what are employers looking for from this group? In general, they want education, enthusiasm, creativity and cultural sensitivity. A survey suggested that the employers want demonstrated expertise, honesty, cultural competence, flexibility, a willingness to learn new skills, potential leadership skills and speed in picking up new ideas.

As for 30-50 year-olds: the top performers in this group offered a track record, experience (including experience of failure), dedication, inter-personal skills, contacts, insights and even wisdom. They will have learned how to lead and to “drive change”. For their part they are looking for employers who will offer psychological as well as financial rewards: they want fun and a sense of empowerment and good work-life balance. But, more materially, they want to be clear that they are working for a sustainable business, that offers financial security and – potentially – high rewards. And they are still interested in learning and development.

The over-50s were typecast as “more accepting of limits”. Apparently, they want to give something back – (it is not clear what that might be – perhaps something they pilfered from the stationary cupboard, earlier in their career?). They have an ability to discern talent, lots of contacts, they are less controlling, more humorous and more sceptical. And yes, they too are interested in “work-life balance”. Because of their experience, they might be better at dealing with difficult issues, at mentoring new employees, and as serving as emissaries for the company. There was not much discussion of what this group might want. Perhaps they are just grateful to have a job, at their advanced age?

The discussion then moved onto regional differences.

China: To attract the best people, a company needs to have a brand, needs to be growing and needs to be successful. To work there, you need to become a Chinese company – staff notices and web-sites need to operate in Chinese and the management board needs to have Chinese members. You need to recognise that your firm will not operate as in America. You do not need to be the best-payers, but you have to reasonable payers. And the Chinese like much more of their pay to be delivered directly in cash, rather than in complicated incentive schemes. You must give people your best people status.

Europe: Europe is marked by an aging population, so you need to draw workers from much wider backgrounds than traditionally would have been the case. As a result, you need to be multi-cultural, have strong values, and be flexible about age and work patterns. You need attractive rewards, but also an attractive work environment. Talent management is the core of your business. Internal mobility is crucial for employee retention. You must put a big emphasis on career development. You need to recognise good performance, but punish poor performance – so that good performers don’t feel exploited. An Indian CEO said he found more cultural differences between his German and British operations, than between his British and Indian operations.

Middle East: You need to empower employees and create a meritocracy. You need to recruit from the top schools all over the world and keep training people. You need a clear vision and strong values. You need also to aspire to be a global player

North America: American companies now need to learn from the rest of the world, as well as to spread their own model. They must have a strong brand that employees can identify with. People need a sense of purpose, beyond just making money. You should emphasise the need to get the best end result, rather than hugely long hours. One thing that may be particularly required in America now, is that the management lives by its values, rather than just talking about them. Employees should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. A company needs to be culturally inclusive, since America is so culturally diverse. Female employees need to be looked after. And there has to be a clear opportunity for professional development.

India: You need a strong brand, reflected through a great website. You need ideally to offer global opportunities. To be the employer of choice, you need good alliances with universities. You need to offer local management autonomy and to offer good training. As with China, it was felt that foreign multinationals need to turn themselves into local companies that practised “management by walking around”, rather than management by teleconferencing.

There are clearly common values and challenges that link companies across all the world – in particular the need to offer real opportunities for career development. But, after the discussion, many participants felt that there was a clear division between the nature of the talent problem in Asia and in the rest of the world.

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