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What does our Reeling Economy Mean for Employers?

By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay

Prior to last Spring's NASDAQ meltdown the mainland press was telling us in no uncertain terms that qualified job candidates with high tech skills have been tough to find. Stories of five figure signing bonuses or a BMW thrown in for good measure were among the more blatant symbols in the recruiting wars in the Valley. With top notch talent at a premium, some companies on the Mainland were ready to offer just about anything to get and keep programmers, marketing people, seasoned executives and anyone who would help their company grow.

Now naturally, the environment is very different. Nearly everyday we hear about massive layoffs and funding for start ups in the Valley (and in Hawaii) is scarce.

So what does this environment mean for Hawaii employers?

Whatever the economic situation, you're going to need a flexible, talented pool of workers to get you through the good times and the bad. "The idea", said Judy Bishop, Manager of Select Staffing, a Honolulu-based staffing company, " is to build your company up with the best possible people in the precise skill areas you need. At the same time you'll want to stay as lean as you can elsewhere."

Staying lean is nothing new for Hawaii people. We went through some very challenging times in the late 1990s. With our economy tanking, the constant downsizing heralded the end of business as usual in the Aloha State. No longer were we living off the fat of the Japanese bubble. We didn't just cut to the bone. It seemed like we were getting our marrow sucked out.

As the economy improved in the late nineties we remained lean and extremely paranoid. And with good reason. In our economy no one knows when the other shoe will drop. That sentiment continues today as our tourism industry is threatened by the slump in California and the near catatonic state of the Japanese economy.

However, we believe too many employers hesitated to spend the money they needed to retain a strong core of skilled IT workers. Talent fled to the mainland or simply looked for better paying jobs in Honolulu. This hurt some very good companies. The lesson: Not stepping up to the plate to keep your best talent is a mistake and could leave you vulnerable.

"Companies need to be lean," said Sandra Ohara, a personnel pro at Adecco, a national agency with offices in Honolulu. "However," continued Ohara, "they have to maintain a solid foundation of core competencies and, most importantly learn how to manage a fluid talent pool." This means becoming skilled at the use of temporary staffing and contracting firms on a regular basis.

Although Outsourcing has been a buzzword on the Mainland for years, the practice is newer to Hawaii where the business climate is changing. Judy Bishop, of Select Staffing, says that the rate of transformation of technical knowledge mirrors that of technology itself. "Being flexible enough to change as the marketplace changes readily warrants the use of outside specialist agencies for help in locating the 'just-in-time' talent."

Sandra Ohara from Adecco agreed. "Having a flexible workforce provides an edge over the competition, this type of fluid talent pool presents an entirely new management challenge. However, it's a much greater feat to mould a high-performing unit out of part-timers, or virtual employees-as skilled as they may be-than with a full-time workforce all of whom are working out of the same place."

So what's the answer?

We believe it's not enough just to find the top quality workers-more than ever finding a manager that can deal with an ever-changing workforce is absolutely critical. In our new economy, talent is crucial to value creation, and top rate talent is going to have a much bigger impact than even average talent. The upshot is that it's never been more important to have great people on board. However, managing them has never been more complex. To stay ahead of the pack, get the best possible manager that you can and treat them like gold. You're going to need someone exceptional in the coming years. Business challenges in Hawaii will only grow.

Jeff Bloom, SBA Small Business Person of the year, is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Published August 24, 2001

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