Recruitment and Retention of Knowledge Workers

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Introduction

The professional services sector is largely comprised of highly skilled, specialist knowledge workers, with an array of qualifications, expertise and experience (Suddaby, Greenwood and Wilderom, 2008). According to Newell, Robertson, Scarbrough and Swan (2009, p. 18), knowledge workers, also known as gold collar workers, are “individuals with a high level of education and specialist skills, combined with the ability to apply these skills to identify and solve problems”.

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It is these characteristics of knowledge workers that creates both opportunities and challenges for the Human Resources (HR) functions of professional services organisations. The highly skilled nature of knowledge workers makes them very attractive to organisations seeking to deploy their human capital for strategic advantage (Kelly, Mastroeni, Conway, Monks, Truss, Flood, and Hannon, 2011). At the same time, knowledge workers are less apt than their less skilled counterparts to remain in one position for an extended period of time (Vaiman, 2010). Scarbrough (1999), for instance, suggested that one of the most salient characteristics of specialist, skilled professional workers is their lack of an occupational identity. This makes them organisationally and occupationally fluid, which creates a retention challenge for HR managers. With this context in mind, this paper identifies strategies that a growing professional services organisation could use to attract and retain highly skilled workers. The strategies that are highlighted are predicated on the assumption that professional services organisations are not able or willing to use pecuniary reward as a means of increasing their appeal to these specialists. Recruitment is concerned with the set of processes utilised by business organisations to identify a sufficient pool of candidates from which they can select an employee (Wilton, 2013). However, recruiting is not as straightforward as it might seem. There are a plethora of methods and strategies that organisations can use in order to increase their appeal to job hunters, and thereby increase the pool of talent from which they are able to apply their selection procedures (Hiltrop, 1999). What is important is that the recruitment policies, practices and procedures are carefully designed with the needs of both the organisation and the candidates in mind. This question about the optimal design of recruitment and hiring practices was considered by Horwitz, Heng and Quarzi (2003). Those authors conducted a survey of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and HR directors in a range of organisations that rely on a highly skilled and specialist workforce. The research identified two key strategies that the companies used for attracting skilled workers: carefully designed recruitment strategies and the provision of opportunities for career and talent development. Of the recruitment strategies that were utilised most effective strategies were the use of targeted media advertising, and, to a lesser extent, the use of headhunters (Horwitz et al, 2003). The authors suggested that targeted media advertising is more effective than general advertising because candidates for specialist roles are characterised by occupational fluidity and are therefore more likely to keep an eye on the job market by scanning the recruitment media that are specialist to their roles.

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