While the phrase "war for talent" has become something of a cliché, it is nevertheless a grim reality for many HR people.
For those trying to recruit and retain IT staff, the situation is particularly stark. According to figures released by IDC in 1999, there were 500,000 open positions in Europe in the field of IT – and this skills gap is expected to grow to 1,700,000 by 2003.
The Industrial Society has claimed that industry is being held to ransom by "free workers", upwardly mobile thirty- somethings who have the vastly sought-after expertise companies need for success.
It seems that as long as the IT sector and international economies continue to grow, the problem of recruiting and retaining the top staff is here to stay.
But how can you make CEOs and financial directors understand the severity of the task and give you the support you need to really participate in the war for talent?
According to HR guru Paul Kearns, senior partner at the consultancy Personnel Works, the first step is to convince boardrooms of the financial problems caused by recruitment and retention problems.
He says: "If you go in without putting pound and dollar signs on the equation, you will be laughed out of the boardroom. The only way to make your case is by showing the financial effect of recruitment and retention problems."
Kearns advises HR professionals to calculate the total cost of training an employee and then measure the time it takes on average for each employee to pay back that money in sales.
Another good way of measuring the cost of recruitment and retention is to compare sales generated by a trainee compared to those generated by a well-established salesperson.
This comparison generates a "sales deficit" figure over a period of months, which HR professionals can use to justify their recruitment and retention policies.
IBM is taking recruitment and retention so seriously it has adopted radical "grow your own" policies to find new IT staff.
Brian Woolf, director of HR for sales and distribution for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says IBM is offering a $5,000 "internal bounty" to non-sales employees who successfully retrain in sales.
IBM has taken advantage of its massive size – it employs more than 90,000 people in Europe and Africa alone – and created an internal market to boost career opportunities within the company.
Says Woolf, "Money should not be a reason for us f