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Workplace elite shifts from white-collar to

The emerging workplace elite has a new name: gold-collar workers. These workers, who include scientists, engineers, designers, financial professionals, architects, high-level managers, researchers and others, are in high demand.

Companies view gold-collar or knowledge workers - a term coined by management guru Peter Drucker -- as their competitive edge in a cutthroat economy. Whether they're developing new products or services or creating business strategy, knowledge workers drive growth and profitability.

But when it comes to recruiting, retaining and developing them, employers face significant hurdles. In some industries, demand sharply exceeds supply, a situation that is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire. At the same time, technology and the flow of knowledge are racing ahead at unprecedented levels, requiring an increasingly sophisticated workforce. Knowledge workers are also more mobile than previous generations of professionals.

So what can companies do to ensure they have the skilled workers they need? They must focus on smart and aggressive recruiting; fostering a culture that supports intellectual, creative and professional development; and creating a community that supports the needs of knowledge workers.

  • No more recruiting black holes
  • Companies that want to go for the gold must eliminate needless bureaucracy in the recruiting, interviewing and hiring processes. Often, applying for a job online can be frustrating and tedious. Ensure your system works, and always provide a phone number.

  • Don't make great candidates earn their way to a meaningful interview.
  • Give them immediate (or near immediate) access to professional peers. Get a candidate involved in spirited shop talk with a prospective colleague and you're well on your way to pulling in top-quality candidates.

  • Take an aggressive approach to recruiting.
  • Scour blogs and trade journals to contacting so-called passive candidates, those who are employed elsewhere and not looking for a new job.

  • Keep it fresh.
  • Once you've successfully recruited a new batch of top-notch knowledge workers, you must know what motivates and inspires them. Professional commitment and pride are paramount. So is feeling like they make a difference and that their work is valued. They need autonomy. They also need to be challenged intellectually and creatively and offered opportunities to grow. Also, pay a competitive wage.

If your company isn't meeting these needs, you're vulnerable to losing your top performers.

Even though knowledge workers enjoy an unprecedented level of autonomy, they thrive on intellectual and creative interaction. In fact, not only do they need to feel connected at work, they need to feel connected to area professionals and the larger community.

Smart companies encourage knowledge workers to become involved in communities of like-minded people, from professional organizations to civic and municipal groups. Joining professional organizations helps keep skills and knowledge up-to-date, and it provides a pipeline of new talent for the company.

It also helps knowledge workers create the vibrant intellectual and creative communities they seek, increasing the chances they'll put down roots and attract others like themselves. And that's a solid gold outcome for everyone.

Cindy Somers owns a Spherion Staffing Services location in Champaign. She can be contacted at (217) 359-4488 or at cindysomers@spherion.com.

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