Industry experts warn that a global talent crunch is a serious problem amid skyrocketing unemployment rates, and industry and human resources professionals need to be careful if they want to come out ahead after the recession. 'Talent strategy should not be literally interpreted for bodies, it is skill sets,' said Owen Sullivan, chief executive for Right Management, a global career transition and organisation consulting firm. 'There is still a phenomenal amount of competition for skilled employees and this is going to get tougher.' According to a 2009 Manpower Talent Shortage Survey, about 30 per cent of employers said they were still having difficulty filling key positions due to the lack of available talent, only 1 per cent less than a year ago, before the financial crisis hit. This comes despite public perception that the market is flooded with jobseekers. The survey interviewed 39,000 employers from various industries across 30 countries. The report said: 'More people may be looking for jobs, but they don't generally have the skills that employers are looking for.' DHR International, a global search organisation specialising in C-suite recruitment, agreed, noting that its business had gone up about 13 per cent since last year and the firm had to hire more consultants to meet its growing needs. Caroline Edwards, managing director of the Hong Kong branch, said: 'There are still ongoing hiring opportunities, everyone is saying that hiring is flat and agreeably some areas are still flat. But, from what we have seen, there are still distinct hiring opportunities at distinct senior-level roles.' She also noted that industries that were booming - such as the pharmaceuticals industry - were still paying market value for the right talent. 'It's a supply-and-demand thing,' she said. Talent shortages have been affecting regions unequally, with the worst seen in Taiwan and Japan where 62 per cent (Taiwan) and 55 per cent (Japan) of interviewed employers indicated they were having difficulty finding the right candidates. This problem is less pervasive in Hong Kong, where that figure is 37 per cent. Nevertheless, experts are cautioning that economic growth will resume and companies need to think ahead and develop a plan that will avoid costly decisions that may be more about rectifying short-term financial problems. Mr Sullivan said: 'I'd certainly take a long pause and make sure that the actions I'm taking don't read any significant negative information to the long-term survival of the company.' Experts are saying that it is imperative that employers act to design and implement talent strategies that help attract, retain and motivate the best possible workforce to prepare for the upswing. Ominously, a survey conducted by recruitment services firm Pure Support Professionals across 200 companies in Hong Kong showed that only about half of the companies, which were mostly international firms, had implemented a manpower strategy. Even more worrying was the fact that about half did not understand what strategic workforce planning - a method for guaranteeing a business has a suitable workforce to ensure its success - meant. Although Pure Support Professionals managing director Tracey Nicole Batty said that this might be just a matter of misunderstanding the language, she added: 'I think everyone has an informal plan in place as to how they would tackle the headcount and the staffing issues, but I am not sure everyone has implemented them using a pragmatic and systematic approach.' Mr Sullivan agreed: 'Companies are now reacting to short-term economics and they run a high risk of undermining their long-term position.' So what needs to be done? Elmar Kronz, vice-president of global human recourse consulting firm Development Dimensions International (DDI) Asia, said that the challenges now facing companies were retention, engagement and carrying out layoffs based on critical and non-critical persistence and performance. The ability to spot A-players, retain them and maintain a minimum talent position, therefore, is of the utmost importance. Mr Kronz said that, while there was no real formula to this, he advised consultation between departments and looking out for those who had a genuine impact on business growth. He recommended looking for people with leadership promise with a personal development orientation, those with a balance between results and upholding the culture, and the ability to manage change. 'These are things that a lot of research has shown are traits of your high potential. They are much more traits and personality than learnt skills, and not something that can be easily developed,' he said. While layoffs generally create negative morale, Mr Kronz said leaders should engage in best practices to avoid losing good staff when things got better. 'Some companies when they do layoffs right, even manage to increase engagement,' he said. Mr Sullivan agreed, encouraging HR professionals to consider transferable skills and efficient restructuring. 'Instead of saying, 'Let's get rid of this whole department', take a look at each person's transferable skills and see if they can be moved to another department that could use their skill sets.' Mr Kronz advises HR professionals and leaders to do at least three things: communicate with staff and remember that transparency is the key; prepare HR to manage the process correctly; and continue to do the things that contribute to engagement and satisfaction. 'Provide some development and growth opportunity,' he said. 'There is always an opportunity for promotion, or some horizontal movement, take advantage of it.' Mr Kronz also reminds leaders that one of their roles is that of an 'enterprise guardian' - the person who guards the enterprise and upholds its culture - and in this economic climate this role must be fulfilled and middle managers should do the same. 'Don't let panic rule your decision because one wrong decision with layoffs and you can destroy a generation of good practice in building a culture. 'That enterprise guardian role is about protecting the organisation against any risk,' Mr Kronz said. And losing good staff who would be able to ride out the storm and bring your business to a new level of success would be the biggest loss, he said.