The business landscape is witnessing a radical shift due to the emergence of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, and so on. Even though most businesses hire generalist resources for most activities, it is no longer the norm.
Instead, it has become vital to maintaining the right blend of generalist and specialist (niche-skilled) resources for business continuity.
Let’s understand it better with an industry-related stat.
A report reveals that active job openings for Metaverse-related niche skills such as AR/VR, blockchain, and AI have seen a huge surge in the recent past.
While this stat pertains to just one industry, the same holds true for almost every industry across the globe. In other words, the demand for niche-skilled resources has gained significant momentum worldwide.
This blog elucidates the challenges with a niche-skilled workforce, proven tips to retain it, and how resource management software can help.
But first, let’s first understand the basics.
1. What are niche-skilled resources and their importance?
A niche-skilled resource is someone who either has specialized knowledge in a specific technology or is equipped with skills not commonly available in the market. This expertise in a specific field is garnered through relevant certifications and continuous effort to advance and hone their skillset.
Let’s take some IT industry examples to understand the concept better.
Microsoft .NET developers are readily available in the market as one can learn these .NET skills through study material, online courses, etc. On the contrary, Teradata (Relational Database Management System or RDBMS) skills are not easy to acquire as there are not many training materials or online tutorials available for the same. Therefore, Teradata developers can be considered niche-skilled resources.
Similarly, certain Jave frameworks, such as “Spring or Hibernate” need more time and experience to master. So, the resources with the hands-on experience and knowledge of these frameworks besides core Java skills can be considered niche-skilled resources.
As industry experts, niche skilled resources enable organizations to complete domain-specific tasks with precision. In addition, the deep knowledge in their respective fields allows them to delve deeper into their tasks and bring innovative results. They also help organizations cater to specific client demands and bring in more insights to execute and complete a critical project successfully. Thus, it helps a firm acquire more projects that demand niche skills and increases the client base and retention rates. As the resource pool equipped with critical skills is not readily available, firms can maintain a competitive edge in the industry and boost growth and profit margins.
Now that the basics about niche skilled resources are clear, let’s explore some of the key challenges with niche skilled resources.
2. What are the challenges with niche-skilled resources?
While niche-skilled resources are undeniably great assets, organizations often face some challenges while hiring and retaining them.
Here are a few prominent ones.
A. Lead time to onboard is significantly higher
As niche-skilled resources are often scarce in the market, the demand for them is higher. Therefore, companies often compete against one another to hire them. Thus, it becomes challenging for an organization to find suitable candidates to fill critical roles.
In addition, there are more screening tests and interviews for niche skilled resources at multiple levels to evaluate their industry knowledge, technical acumen, etc. As a result, the lead time to onboard niche-skilled resources is significantly higher than for generic resources.
B. Skills cannot be acquired using standard training/upskilling
As mentioned earlier, there are generally no standard study materials, courses, etc., to learn most niche skills. In addition, companies generally don’t have subject matter experts in these skills and identifying suitable niche-skilled external trainers is also challenging.
Even if an organization can provide standard training and upskilling programs, it will only be theoretical knowledge and aspects of the skillset. Thus, the lack of practical knowledge makes it challenging to utilize these skills in real life.
C. Project delays due to unplanned attritions
As niche-skilled resources are in high demand, an increased level of competition for them exists among organizations. Every firm tends to offer lucrative job offers, including higher pay packages, recognition programs, better insurance coverage policies, and other non-monetary benefits to attract them.
Consequently, these resources may leave an organization if they find a better opportunity elsewhere. When this unplanned attrition happens, especially in the middle of a crucial project, it causes delays and even client dissatisfaction and profit losses.
D. Burnout due to excessive workload
As niche-skilled resources are often fewer in an organization, managers tend to book them on multiple projects without considering their available capacity. This results in an excessive workload, and their schedules get stretched thin.
As a result, they have to complete multiple projects simultaneously, making it difficult for niche skilled resources to maintain the project quality and meet the deliverables within the stipulated time. It eventually causes employee burnout and lowers productivity and performance.
E. Reluctance to learn or work on generic skills
As niche-skilled resources have very specialized knowledge, finding suitable work for them can be challenging for an organization. Therefore, managers sometimes consider deploying them on projects requiring generic skills when they are benched to prevent underutilization.
However, most of these resources are apprehensive as they might lose their competitive edge and show reluctance to learn or work on generic skills.
So, finding another suitable project as soon as they are rolled off from one becomes challenging. Resultantly, when they hit the bench, it increases idle time and billable losses for organizations.
3. 7 effective strategies to retain a niche-skilled workforce
Retaining the niche-skilled workforce is more challenging as one has to cater to their aspirations and ensure they are not often made to work on generic skills. However, one can follow a few time-tested and effective strategies to retain critical resources, as given below.
Here are a few time-tested ones.
A. Offer salaries and benefits as per market standards
Niche-skilled resources are scarce and expensive as they specialize in skills that are generally not available. Therefore, providing competitive salaries as per industry standards is crucial to avoid their loss to your competitors. It helps keep the workforce’s morale high and enhances job satisfaction and the sense of belonging, increasing employee retention rates.
Additionally, organizations can consider providing other benefits such as free gym memberships, sponsored courses, parental leave, stock options, free mental therapy sessions, etc. Besides, facilitating a flexible or hybrid work culture will help boost the satisfaction and work-life balance of niche skilled resources.
B. Assign the work matching skills and expectations
Niche-skilled resources acquire their specialized skills through years of experience and hard work. Therefore, they often don’t prefer working on projects that require generic skills instead of their niche skills. Assigning these employees to generic work may make them disengaged and demotivated to continue working, increasing unplanned attrition rates.
So. it is imperative for managers to find and assign them projects that match their hard-earned skills and expectations most of the time. For instance, if an employee is an experienced AI developer, managers should look for projects that require AI skills. In case the resource is assigned to a core Java project for an extended period, they may decide to leave to join an organization that lets them use their hard-earned artificial intelligence development skills.
C. Prevent over/underutilization of niche-skilled resources
As niche-skilled employees are fewer, they are often deployed on multiple projects beyond their capability during peak demand. It leads to overutilization, which causes burnout and affects their performance. In other cases, projects with niche skill requirements may be very few or minimum during the trough period. It can lead to their underutilization and cause billable losses.
Therefore, managers must track and optimize their utilization levels with the proper optimization techniques. For instance, resource leveling can be applied for projects with flexible timelines to adjust their start dates per the availability of critical resources to avoid overallocation. For the trough period, managers can either assign these resources to projects requiring generic skills if they agree or sell their excess capacity.
D. Provide upskilling opportunities to prevent skill obsolescence
In this hyper-competitive global business world, staying relevant is the key to maintaining a competitive edge. The same holds true for the niche-skilled workforce. While these resources are highly specialized in their domain, they, too, need to stay abreast of the changing skill demands and keep up with evolving trends in their niche expertise.
For instance, X Analytics in data analytics can help solve challenges such as climate change, disease prevention, etc. So, data analysts can be trained in X Analytics to keep them relevant. It will help them stay competitive in their niche to cater to ever-evolving demands.
E. Regularize the competent on-demand niche-skilled resources
Sometimes, contingent niche-skilled resources become a great asset to a company as they help share the workload of permanent employees at times of peak demand. However, once the contractual period is over, their services will no longer be available. Along with this, the knowledge acquired by these niche-skilled resources will also exit the organization once they leave.
Therefore, organizations should identify and select this on-demand niche-skilled workforce and consider regularizing them. Managers can renew their contracts, pay them competitive salaries, or coordinate with their staffing agencies to promote them to permanent positions and retain them.
F. Offer an alternate career path to keep them engaged
Niche-skilled resources are often required for short-term projects or the initiation stage of long-term projects. So, finding suitable projects to keep them deployed and engaged becomes challenging. Moreover, such resources also feel a sense of saturation owing to the monotonous nature of their work in various projects. So, instead of being booked on projects demanding generic skills, they look for an organization that caters to their growth aspirations.
So, to keep them engaged and motivated, managers must offer leadership roles like senior management posts, team leads, etc., to assist their career advancement. Moreover, providing opportunities to teach niche skills to juniors at regular intervals can also help make them feel valued for their skills, keep them motivated, and retain them.
G. Encourage them to build secondary niche skills as per interest
Maintaining niche-skilled resources booked on projects matching their skills all the time is an arduous job. The reluctance to learn generic skills makes it more challenging to make such resources billable for most of their capacity throughout the year. Therefore, managers can reason with and motivate them to consider learning new secondary niche skills.
Organizations need to conduct product research in the job market and identify niche skills that align with their long-term objectives.
This can then be presented to critical resources to choose a niche skill based on their interest. It enables them to diversify the niche employees’ portfolios. When niche-skilled employees see that their secondary niche skills are also being built, they stay more engaged and committed to the organization.
4. How can resource management software help retain niche-skilled employees?
Resource management software provides 360-degree visibility of resource profiles. It also helps managers to mark particular employees as “niche-skilled” resources while creating their profiles. It helps them keep track of them and apply advanced filters to pick the right fit for each project whenever needed.
Managers can also track their utilization rates once they are assigned to projects through utilization reports. If resources are found to be over/underutilized, appropriate course-corrective actions can be taken to optimize their utilization rates, avoid burnout or billable losses, and enhance profitability.
Niche-skilled resources are unarguably imperative to maintain a competitive edge. However, it is equally important to overcome these challenges to tap into their maximum potential and retain them in an organization.
The above-discussed practices combined with a resource management solution can help you streamline niche skilled resource management and ensure business success.
So, what’s your organization’s strategy to retain a critical workforce?
6. The Glossary
7. The SAVIOM Solution
SAVIOM is the market leader in helping multinational clients manage their resources efficiently and effectively. With over 20 years of experience, this Australian-based MNC has a global presence across 50 countries and has helped 100+ clients with its Workforce Planning Software. Saviom also provides tools for Enterprise Project Resource Management, Project Portfolio Management, and Professional Service Automation. Boost your remote team collaboration with Saviom.