The talent gap is here, and companies must learn new ways to manage and train staff if they want to retain valuable employees, according to Meloney Sallie-Dosunmu, an organizational effectiveness and talent leader for Just Born, a candy company based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania..

“Talent management,” she explains, “is a strategic focus on having the right people in the right roles, with the right jobs for the future.” With baby boomers, the largest generation, heading for retirement, there are fewer trained people to fill the gaps they leave behind. Sallie-Dosunmu is also the New Jersey national advisor for chapters for the American Society of Training and Development. She will speak on “Learning Leaders Role in Talent Management at the mid-New Jersey chapter of ASTD on Tuesday, May 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge. Cost: $45. Register online at http://astdmidnj.wordpress.com.

The trend to a more integrated approach to human resource development began in the mid-1990s, at about the time Sallie-Dosunmu was changing her career from a focus on non-profit organizations to corporate human resources management. She received her bachelor’s degree in counseling from Wilberforce University in 1983. “I chose my major because I enjoyed my classes in counseling, I wasn’t really thinking about a career at the time,” she says.

Her first job involved working with people with disabilities through a non-profit organization in the Baltimore area. “Then I moved to working with the people who work with people with disabilities,” she explains. This was more of a training, rather than a counseling role, a niche she found she enjoyed. She took a job as director of training at the Kennedy Institute and a few years later moved to the Philadelphia area. She worked for Avery Dennison in Quakertown before joining Just Born, the maker of Peeps marshmallow candies. She is completing the thesis for her MBA at Rosemont College.

Just Born is “a wonderful company to work for,” she says. Because it is a smaller company “there is less red tape and it is easier to implement new ideas. The management already understands that training is necessary so instead of spending half of my time just selling the idea of why we need training I can work to develop the programs.” Besides, she adds, when on her first interview with the company she was led into a room that was filled with candy, “I decided I had to work for a place that looked like so much fun.”

When she brought her suggestions on integrating talent management into the human resources department she was able to convince management to implement the suggestions. The new plan has only been in place for about a year, so statistics are still scarce, but Sallie-Dosunmu says she is already hearing anecdotal reports on its positive effects in the company.

While Just Born had already had a high performance leadership program in place, originally it was only open to people in management. The program is now open to employees at every level and it has already produced about $2 million cost-avoidance or profit, she says. Other policy changes brought about by the new emphasis on talent management are an increased emphasis on promoting from within and decreased recruiting costs. “We looked at where our most effective employees came from and found that the majority came to us through employee referrals. Now instead of heading first for a newspaper ad or an outside recruiter we look to referral from the employees,” she says.

There are several steps that a company can take to integrate talent management philosophies into its human resources program:

Assess your needs. The first step in developing a talent management program is to assess the current state of training, development, and retention programs in your company. “Most companies are not starting from scratch,” says Sallie Dosunmu. They do have some type of program already in place to train and retain employees. To bring talent management philosophies to those programs, you should first assess how well these current programs are working and how well they work together. That includes not only training programs, but retention and attraction programs as well.

“Identify what works and what doesn’t and how well your programs clarify your company’s values and brand,” she says. She also recommends studying exit interviews to learn why past employees have left your company.

Align with strategic plan. An effective talent management program works together with the company’s overall strategic plan. “Analyze your talent gaps in both the short term and the long term,” she says. What types of employees do you need now and in the future? Who are your high performers and what traits do they have in common? Who should you be developing for future leadership roles in your company and how can you track and manage these people?

Develop an education plan. What do your current employees and future managers need to know? What skills should they have? Sallie-Dosunmu says Just Born is already experiencing the talent gap problem.

“The talent gap isn’t coming in the future. It is already here.” Just a few years ago the number of people applying for each position was greater than it is today, she says, particularly in positions “that require specific skill sets.” As the population ages, the ability to hire employees who already have the necessary training will only become more difficult, so it is important to develop programs for in-house training.

Be proactive. Putting together a strategic, proactive plan to deal with these issues now will increase your company’s ability to deal with the talent gap and retain effective, well-trained employees, says Sallie-Dosunmu. “Performance management, career development, hiring compensation, and succession planning are all a part of talent management.”

Putting together a program that links all of these aspects will not only help a company develop and train employees, it will also help to create a more positive atmosphere, which in turn is an essential ingredient to employee retention, says Sallie-Dosunmu. In the end, managing the talent you already have is easier and less expensive than hiring and training new employees.

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