Talent Management—How to Fill the Project Talent Gap

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified™ with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast

Stephen W. Maye

Hello, I'm Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I'm here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we're looking at how organizations can fill the growing project talent gap. 

Top performers are always in demand, but the competition has become even more intense in recent years—especially when it comes to people with project management skills. And that’s partly because organizations have more project-related positions to fill. According to PMI's Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap report, 22 million new project-oriented jobs will be created around the world between 2017 and 2027. 

Tegan Jones

That’s great news for people looking for new opportunities, but maybe not so great for the organizations that’ll need to fill those positions. If they don’t find the right people fast enough, that can really reduce productivity—and in turn, that could have a ripple effect across the global economy.

The Talent Gap report looked at data across 11 countries and found the project management talent shortage could result in cumulative GDP losses of nearly 208 billion U.S. dollars through 2027. 

Stephen W. Maye

That is a shocking amount of money, but how do those losses stack up? Are they spread more or less evenly across the 11 countries, or are there a few countries that have a lot more at stake?

Tegan Jones

China definitely has the most at stake. The report says that $121 billion dollars are at risk in China, where the next countries in line—India and the United States—each have closer to $23 billion dollars on the table.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, and I bet the required skill sets shake out differently in each of these countries and sectors as well. You’ve got different levels of maturity, different types of projects, different cultures—and what’s needed in one place won’t be exactly what’s needed in another, even if job roles are very similar. 

Tegan Jones

To get one regional perspective on this, we’re going to hear from Thokozani Skaka, who is the PMO head for MTN, Africa’s biggest telecom company. He’s based in Johannesburg, and he’s responsible for rolling out digital projects across the Middle East and Africa. 

So, he’s gonna outline some skill gaps he’s seeing in the region, as well as what organizations are doing to attract top talent.

Stephen W. Maye

We’re also going to look at how organizations are building project talent from within. Our featured guest in this episode is Chris Hiltbrand, who’s the division vice president of human resources for General Dynamics Information Technology. Chris had some interesting points to make about which skills he hires for and which skills the company is willing to help people develop on the job.  

Tegan Jones

But first, let’s hear from Frederic Casagrande, the PMO manager for Nawah Energy Company in the United Arab Emirates. 

Nawah is a nuclear power company, which Frederic says makes it especially difficult to find people with the appropriate skill sets. So he’s rolled out a training program that’s done a lot to help experts in nuclear energy up their project management skills. 

Stephen W. Maye

Well it sounds like he’s doing something right. Let’s go to that story now. 

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Tegan Jones

The Barakah power plant in Abu Dhabi is the world’s largest nuclear facility currently under construction. The 24.4-billion-U.S.-dollar plant will be the first in the Middle East, and when all four reactors are operational, the plant is predicted to generate 25 percent of the electricity used in the UAE.

But nuclear projects come with unique challenges—and good talent is hard to find. That’s partially because new nuclear power builds are few and far between. When Barakah goes online in late 2019, the UAE will be the first country to acquire nuclear power in the last 20 years.

Nawah Energy Company, which was established to operate and maintain the new plant, has tackled the talent shortage by developing project managers from within.

Frederic Casagrande

Well I think there was a very quick realization that getting and finding high-quality project personnel that also had the functional experience in every field that we have in a nuclear power plant was extremely difficult, and we had a higher chance of success by building an army of project managers rather than hiring one.

Tegan Jones

That’s Frederic Casagrande, Nawah’s PMO manager. When he joined the company in May of 2016, he was charged with addressing employee knowledge and skill gaps. So in February 2017, the PMO rolled out a customized professional development program. 

Frederic Casagrande

What we've done, for a start, we adopted a graded approach for projects based on their complexity. Each type of project has associated set of competencies, and for each of those competencies we have defined behaviors and associated levels of proficiency expected for each of them. So, when a project manager comes in the company and is assigned to manage a project, we perform an assessment of this individual's capability for that specific tier of project. And if we identify any type of gap, we do enroll that person onto a training experience tailored specifically to fill that gap.

Tegan Jones

Helping team members prepare to earn PMI certifications is a huge part of the company’s development program. To streamline that process, Nawah became a PMI Registered Education Provider, or REP.

Frederic Casagrande

I felt from the very beginning that getting the stamp of becoming a PMI Registered Education Provider would give us legitimacy towards our trainees and towards my leadership team to tell them that we're doing things the right way.

And the second thing, of course, is becoming a PMI REP makes it easier for our trainees to claim contact hours and PDUs. And we felt this was very important because this really adds to the individual's market value.

Tegan Jones

Nawah has trained roughly 120 people since the program started. And Frederic Casagrande says that improving project management skill sets has increased transparency across the organization.

Fred Casagrande

Before we started, there was a very large chunk of work that was done, I would say, in stealth mode. So, it was activities that were performed with no visibility to senior management, and absolutely no predictability on the outcomes. What we've seen since then is literally an explosion of the number of projects that are being registered in the PMO.

But not only this, they no longer come and ask for project managers for project management support. They come with their own resources that are able to, one, understand the core of the content of the project, and also perform the project management activities on the project.

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Stephen W. Maye

Well, it sounds like Nawah was able to increase transparency while also empowering teams to run their own projects more effectively. Some would consider this really a best-case scenario for the PMO: It’s getting better results without having to take over the management of every single project.

Tegan Jones

And I think offering professional development in general makes people feel more valued, more satisfied in their job. And that’s what you need to do when you want to keep good people around.

Stephen W. Maye

Our next guest is also going to talk a bit about what his company does to create an environment that will attract and retain in-demand project talent.

Thokozani Skaka is the PMO head for MTN’s digital group in South Africa. He says he’s seen a shift in the terms of the types of jobs people are looking for in the region, and that companies need to respond.

Tegan Jones

When it’s a job seeker’s market, organizations definitely need to stay on top of what’s important to people. So, let’s hear what Thokozani has to say.

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Thokozani Skaka

Project management has really evolved over the past couple of years, where we moved from software development lifecycle projects to now more agile projects. So in terms of the top talent, the top talent has definitely migrated to more agile projects, where there’s different roles that are being created.

There’s a great shortage of good quality scrum masters. And the main cause of that is the time—the time that it’s taken for scrum masters to really develop themselves, to develop the skills. So what you’re seeing across a broad range of companies is that they’re looking for skilled scrum masters with good five years experience. But because it’s a relatively new field, there aren’t that many individuals who have those years of experience running projects as scrum masters.

So firstly from a recruitment perspective, you need to be highly aligned with your HR partners, your human resource partners, in terms of what you are looking for. Especially in the job specs, where the job specs are clear, the job specs are firm. What a lot of companies try to do is that they try to fill different skill gaps within a company by having one role that covers multiple areas. So there would be a product manager who’s also a business analyst, who’s also a scrum master. And that effectively won’t work.

So from a culture perspective you’re looking at individuals who are motivated, who want to learn, and who most importantly want to communicate, either with top management, middle management, where any individual, if they’ve got an idea, they know that they can go to the relevant C-level and pitch their idea. And if it’s something that is worthy, it will get implemented.

A lot of different companies, what they look at is the work environment—where you’ve got your Silicon Valley model, where you have your foosball tables, you have your electric scooters. And through the environment, you create that specific culture. But another element of the culture that you look at is more, how do you manage a project? So how you manage to get things done. How many meetings you have, how many stand-up meetings do you have, how many emails are sent. All of those different factors highly influence the company culture.

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Stephen W. Maye

So, Tegan, how much difference do you think it really makes? Creating these cool, fun environments. Providing these unexpected perks. How much do you think that plays into the decision to take a job or to stay in a job for really talented people?

Tegan Jones

Hmm that’s tough to say. For me, I think I would be less inclined to take a job for that reason, but it might keep me from looking for a new job after I’ve been there for a while. You know, if there’s a fun place that I can hang out with co-workers during my downtime, I could definitely see that making a difference in the long run.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, I mean I worked in an office where we had a foosball table, a small basketball goal, and we actually kept a unicycle there, and there were several of us that could ride it and others that would come by and try, and that was fun.

But I think at the core, every organization has to give people meaningful, challenging work in order to keep top talent engaged. That was one of the takeaways from my conversation with Chris Hiltbrand, who’s the division vice president of human resources for General Dynamics Information Technology in Washington D.C.

He says the company’s centers of excellence are actually a big draw for high performers, because it gives them a resource they can draw on when they hit the wall on hard projects. And that’s key for these really career-oriented people.

Tegan Jones

That makes sense to me. You’ve got to set your teams up for success if you want talented people to stick around. Let’s hear how Chris and his team make it happen. 

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Stephen W. Maye

General Dynamics Information Technology is about a nine-and-a-half-billion-dollar IT services company inside a 30-billion-dollar aerospace and defense company, so I think it’s a safe assumption to say there are a lot of high-dollar projects happening there. How do you ensure that you’re getting the right people for these kind of high-dollar, mission-critical project teams?

Chris Hiltbrand

We certainly know the customers. We know the work. We know what it takes to get it done. And we know how to recruit and we know how to retain. And that’s not by accident. We spend quite a bit of time getting that right, refining that, adjusting as we go. We’ve been doing this for years and years, and we get better as we go.

Stephen W. Maye

Are you looking for project managers that know the space, know the industry, know the specific technology? Or are you looking for project managers that are simply excellent project managers, and know the science and techniques and thinking and procedures of project management?

Chris Hiltbrand

We do place a significant emphasis on knowing the space, the technology, the industry. Understanding our customers, and the uniqueness of our customers. Some of the environments that we work in can be very difficult. So understanding that is very, very important, in addition to the broad-based understanding of PMI and project management principles.

Stephen W. Maye

What’s your strategy around keeping them there, and keeping them focused, and keeping them satisfied in their careers with General Dynamics IT?

Chris Hiltbrand

I know a lot of companies will focus very broadly around retention, but ultimately that comes down to, in a lot of ways, the individual and what they’re interested in. So we spend quite a bit of time engaging with our project managers across GDIT to understand what their priorities are, what they need, to make sure that they are highly engaged—not only focused on the programs and the customer that they support, but connectively back to GDIT.

And so if we have program managers who are interested in learning and development or seminars, we’re very much supportive of that. We do make the investment, from a time and money perspective. We also have centers of excellence, where our project managers from across the company can come together and share experiences and best practices.

They’ve got to know that they’re not alone. And certainly the size of GDIT—and I would say GD, as large as we are—leveraging that expertise, being able to share unique challenges that you might have on a particular day with experts that can help you to, you know, to solve those problems, that’s pretty powerful. And then I would say we’re always looking at pay and incentives, as well.

Stephen W. Maye

What are you seeing as the big skill gap, or the more significant skill gap or gaps, in your project teams today?

Chris Hiltbrand

That’s a great question. I think certainly having everybody be able to analyze. So not everybody’s an analyst, but having that mindset. You know, understanding emotional intelligence is really important.

You hear a lot these days around resilience. I think that’s really important. Given the primarily government customers that we support, you know, those changes are happening all the time, with new people being appointed, you know, into positions of leadership within the government and us having to adjust to those changes—every certainly four years, sometimes on a more frequent basis. So it’s really interesting that the people we know are very successful, are very resilient. They do have an analyst mindset, and just overall, understanding the impact that—for program managers—the impact that their decisions, their guidance, their leadership has on their people and their programs, is really important.

Stephen W. Maye

There’s almost a soft skills kind of package that you’re describing there. What are the steps that you’re taking to further develop that, in people that are already there, and then how much of that is done really through the recruitment process?

Chris Hiltbrand

We absolutely hire for it. We spend quite a bit of time in interviews, talking about somebody’s background and their style. You know, what are the kinds of environments they’re most comfortable in. I think that gives you a really good sense of how they’re gonna perform.

We actually have training at all levels across GDIT, in the area of not only leadership soft skills but project management. We have a learning management platform that allows any employee within the company to leverage those resources on demand, at any point in a digital platform. We also have on-site project management training. And then, you know, people are going to need different kinds of training in terms of emphasis, based on what they’ve done in their career, to get to this point.

Stephen W. Maye

How do you measure whether or not you’re getting the return on that that you’re looking for?

Chris Hiltbrand

We look at overall engagement results. So we certainly survey our staff to see what’s happening from an engagement standpoint. We do poll surveys, just to see how things are going out there in the field.

You know, we have a workforce at GDIT of about 42,000 employees scattered throughout the country, and really throughout the world. So we spend quite a bit of time not only pulsing through surveys but actually getting out there and talking to our employees and our managers. And so through those surveys, we have benchmark data as well, to determine how we really compare to other companies in our space.

You know, we have the starting point. So based on this investment that we’re making, do we see any improvement in retention in certain areas, on certain programs? We have specific retention areas focused around our software developers, for instance. So are we seeing those results, are we able to retain that talent on certain programs, in certain areas? And in most instances, we are. If we direct a focus there, we’re able to make an impact—a positive one.

Stephen W. Maye

We read a lot and we hear a lot about the shifting attitudes toward employers, the shifting attitudes toward how to build a career. And without any judgment of good or bad, are you seeing a difference in that as you’re bringing in a different generation, perhaps, of engineers and of practitioners and of highly skilled, highly sought-after people to staff the kinds of roles you’re describing? Is that shifting? Or are you still seeing people that seem to be there for the long haul?

Chris Hiltbrand

We’re seeing a shift, but fundamentally, what was true a decade ago is true today in terms of wanting to work on the latest technology, mission-focused, really interesting work. 

If we’re recruiting folks right out of college, or folks that have been in industry for years, they want to be challenged, and part of some really interesting work. So one of the things that we spend quite a bit of time on is just really marketing, if you will, those opportunities to folks within the company. And encourage them to consider pursuing other opportunities.

So if somebody has been on a particular program for two, three, four years, we know, based on the data, based on discussions, it’s probably time for them to start to look around, and quite frankly for GDIT to present those opportunities to folks. And ultimately, people may leave for the money. I think you always hear—and it’s true—people leave their managers. But if they want out of the situation that they’re currently in, they’ve got the opportunity within GDIT.

Stephen W. Maye

I’m going to connect it back to something you had said earlier, which is to understand and appreciate that every single one of those resources are individuals. Their needs are individual. Their aspirations are individual. And I think that’s a nice bookend to what you described. And with that, Chris Hiltbrand has the last word.

Chris, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for sharing your significant experience and insight in this space.

Chris Hiltbrand

Excellent. Thank you very much—I appreciate it.

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Narrator

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