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Survey Predicts Critical Shortfalls in R&D, Innovation Skills


A new joint Deloitte/Forbes Insight Survey, "Talent Edge 2020," aims at exploring talent strategies, concerns of global companies, and unfolding employee trends as companies confront challenges and opportunities over the next decade and beyond.

The survey cites the quest for talent in global and emerging markets as the top concern among 41 percent of the more than 330 senior corporate executives and talent managers surveyed.

knowledge transferNearly three-quarters of the executives surveyed (72 percent) anticipate either a severe or a moderate shortage in R&D talent.   The R&D skill shortage is particularly prevalent in industries where product innovation is absolutely critical to growth and job creation.  Technology, consumer goods, industrial and life sciences companies all foresee severe skill shortages in R&D.  What’s more, over the next 12 months, executives believe their companies are at high risk of losing many of their current talent stars.

These anticipated skill shortages are especially challenging given the top strategic issues, as rated by survey participants, all center around innovation (new product development, entering new markets, expanding global reach, etc.).

Given the shortfall in R&D talent – which is no doubt exasperated by the exodus of the baby boomers (nearly 50% of the US workforce comes eligible for retirement by 2012) – it was surprising to find that addressing the knowledge gap (created, in part, by the largest generational turnover we have ever experienced) failed to make the survey’s list of ‘most pressing talent concerns’.  Scarier still was that those surveyed also didn’t rank knowledge capture and retention as a critical management priority in the coming year.

With all that innovation talent walking out the door – and taking with them decades of technical know-how, lessons learned and best practices – one would think any succession plan would have to include a formal process for preserving and leveraging ‘tribal knowledge’ to make it available to the few incoming R&D hires.  

If the acquisition and retention of key R&D personnel is critical, companies should build a foundation for knowledge enabling their innovation workforce.  This could serve as a real differentiator when it comes to recruiting global talent - and maximizing the productivity and effectiveness of existing R&D talent and incoming innovation workers alike.