The War for Talent

Written by Mark Breslin

The Battle Plan

 Whether you like it or not, you are in the middle of an all-out battle, a race to hire an ever-shrinking number of motivated and qualified workers and develop Next Gen Leaders.  A War for Talent.  

So how do you win?

Take the time to perform a simple five-step analysis to make sure your organization is still relevant in the years to come – prepare to win.

Since 2008, I have traveled over a million miles and talked to more than 300,000 people.  One of my primary messages during this time period has been about the coming demographic shift and its impact on the U.S. and Canadian workplaces.

Ten years ago, this topic was met with a yawn.  Five years ago, leaders said, “Yeah, well, I’m good.”  And today?  It’s a completely different story.  Everyone’s pants are on fire, to put it bluntly.  The real question is, “How on fire are they, really?”  In other words, how do you figure out the extent to which the demographic shift will impact your organization?  I would like to provide you with a method of determining the answer to this question and discovering where YOU stand in the War for Talent.

I give all of my major clients – utilities, contractors, labour organizations and other groups – an upfront homework assignment that I suggest you complete as well.  The assignment is deceptively simple, but it is the absolute best place to start if you want your organization to remain even marginally relevant in the coming years.

Five Action Steps for Your Organization  

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Perform a demographic analysis of your entire workforce.
  • Determine how many Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) you currently employ.
  • Perform a projection of their overall retirement attrition.
  • Perform a detailed analysis of field leader and manager attrition numbers.
  • Project how many new skilled leaders and lead employees you will need between 2018-2022.

This critical numerical analysis will predict the future story of your organization.  After you’ve finished, you will likely find that you are somewhat short of skilled talent.  Now think about the news reports you see on an almost daily basis about industries that can’t find enough skilled leaders and employees. One thing should become painfully clear: whether you like it or not, you are in the middle of an all-out battle, a race to hire an ever-shrinking number of motivated and qualified workers… a War for Talent.

It gets worse.  You can’t win this war by throwing money at it.  No.  The only way to win is through planning and strategy – through recruitment, retention and rewards.  But it all begins with performing the simple five-step formula above.  Do it today.  Do it NOW.

A Tale of Two Contractors

I have been on the front lines of this War for Talent.  I experienced it up close and personal within a span of two weeks in early 2018.

I was asked to provide training to two very successful and well-established companies located in the United States.  Both have ownership teams committed to their employees.  By bringing me in, they demonstrated they were willing to invest in field leadership, an area where their competitors are lagging.

One Striking Difference

But while they had many similarities, there was one striking difference between the two companies – a difference so important it could determine their ultimate fate.  It was a simple and powerful difference, but unless you were paying careful attention, it was nearly invisible and easy to miss.

I remember the moment the critical difference between the two contractors “clicked” in my head.

I was hired to conduct Five-Minute Foreman training for both companies.  During one of the sessions, I always run an informal show-of-hands survey to determine the mix of generations represented in the room.  At the first contractor, the majority of field leaders were Gen X-ers and Millennials; at the second contractor, the majority of their field leadership were still Baby Boomers.  That one difference alone, in my view, says more about which company is going to make more money, attract more talent, and experience growth over the next ten years.

Which company are you and what can you do about it?

The contractor with Gen X and Millennial talent already in the field has the next 20 years’ worth of leaders under his roof.  His struggle will be to retain them.  But the other contractor with a majority of Boomers in the field is really up the creek without a paddle.  Most of them will exit the workforce at the same time, which will create chaos for the company, not to mention a loss of history and institutional knowledge.  In order to survive, the second contractor will have to completely re-tool their leadership team and essentially re-invent their field leader workforce in a very compressed time period.

 The Lesson is Simple

In the ongoing War for Talent, you have to get out ahead.  Way ahead.  The old model of stealing talent to “get by” during busy periods is over.  The idea that you can “pick up some people” when you need them is a recipe for you hiring C-level talent at A-level prices.  Start looking hard at your Boomer departure schedule and the next generation of successors.  The future is here. Figure it out before your competitors do.

Always remember that profit and performance come from how you develop and engage your people.

For more information on developing Next Gen Leaders, click here.

Mark Breslin

About the Author

Mark Breslin is an author, speaker, CEO, and influencer inspiring change for workplace success across all levels of business.  Mark has improved leadership, accountability, innovation, and engagement for organizations and individuals. He has spoken to more than 400,000 people and published hundreds of thousands of books on leadership and workplace culture.  See his work at

Looking for a formal coaching program for your foremen, superintendent, and other field leaders? Check out these foreman training resources:

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