Every company says they worry about attracting and keeping talent—but based on last year’s MIT/Sloan Management Review survey, maybe they aren’t worrying enough about talent loss.

“Talent is ready to flee,” according to the survey, released today and designed to assess the different ways companies cope with a digital environment. (Full disclosure: I was one of the people asked to comment on the results). And the further behind the curve a firm is in adapting, the more likely workers are to say they’re likely to move on.

The survey found that more than 50% of employees surveyed at companies in the “early stages” of digital development said they were planning to leave in less than three years. At so-called “digitally maturing companies,” only 25% of employees surveyed said they expected to leave within three years.

Yet only 6% of respondents said recruiting and retaining digital talent was their first priority, even as a mere 11% respondents said their company’s talent pool is able to compete effectively in the digital economy.

Plan For Talent Loss

As I looked at the results, the more convinced I became that the answer is for companies to think about talent differently. If you wait until you have a job opening to think about your talent pool, then you’ve waited too long. This is particularly true in the digital realm, where so many jobs are becoming hybrids, combining skills from different disciplines.

Companies need to start thinking in terms of a supply chain for talent, just as they think about supply chains for products. Very few firms forecast their talent needs in advance, and as a result few take proactive steps to find and develop the workers they need. Most companies, in fact, treat hiring as if they were competing on the spot market—which means they probably pay a premium to fill jobs, and also have to spend time training workers.

Developing talent is particularly critical for hybrid jobs, because training programs rarely combine technical education with “soft skills.” UI/UX designers, for example, need to know programming but also need to understand the mindset of users—it’s not uncommon for people in this field to have majored in psychology or anthropology instead of computer science. So it’s no surprise that more of those surveyed ranked a “change-oriented mindset” as important in workers (38%) than digital and technical literacy (27%).

The only way to solve these talent loss problems is for companies to plan carefully, spending as much time and effort in making sure the right talent is on hand as they would in making sure their warehouses are properly stocked. Otherwise you can’t be surprised if your customers end up disappointed.

Dan Restuccia is Chief Analytics Officer of Burning Glass Technologies.

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