I’m sure you’ve read the headlines about people who retired early, went back to school, made career shifts, or decided to pursue their passion projects full-time over the last year or so. And like me, you probably know people personally whose pandemic experiences pushed them to make such changes.

This wave of change has contributed to a widening talent gap. I recently read that 54% of companies are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, the highest percentage in more than a decade. So it’s no surprise that addressing the talent gap is a critical issue across industries, including banking. But there’s a solution that many leaders are overlooking. The hidden workforce.

Dealing with a double whammy

The hidden workforce is a group of people—estimated at just over 27 million in the United States according to new research from Accenture and Harvard Business School—who have (or could learn) in-demand skills but are overlooked by employers. This can be because they lack traditional qualifications. Or because they have gaps in their employment history. Or because they come from disadvantaged backgrounds or need flexible arrangements so they can care for kids or aging parents.

Accenture joined with Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work to develop a revealing report on the hidden worker phenomenon. This research is very relevant to middle market banks that are facing a “double whammy” talent crisis. They are struggling to replace retiring workers who for years have looked after the organization’s mainframes. At the same time, they are competing for people skilled in new technologies like cloud, agile and packaged platform solutions. Given the extent to which people are reevaluating their careers—and how fast technology is advancing—the crisis is only going to get worse.

Making the invisible visible

I believe this unprecedented talent crisis calls for middle market bank leaders to get pragmatic about how they recruit talent, so that hidden workers are not so invisible anymore.

Banks are losing people as early as the job application process. Narrow requirements built into automated talent systems screen out candidates with unconventional backgrounds like military service or community college. So much so that 35% of highly skilled hidden workers say that they stop applying because the application process itself is too much of a barrier, according to our report. It’s just too discouraging for them. What a loss this is for everyone.

Hidden workers not only have coveted skills that middle market banks are clamoring for, their presence can improve diversity and contribute to a more inclusive working environment—one that’s energized by different perspectives. For middle market banks that have always (and rightfully) taken great pride in their community-mindedness, hiring hidden workers is a natural fit.

Reaching out to hidden workers isn’t simply a feel-good move to strengthen a bank’s brand reputation. It pays off in impressive outcomes. We found in the research done for the report that companies that hire hidden workers are 44% less likely to face challenges finding workers with the necessary skills and 36% more likely to find candidates with the right attitude and motivation.

What’s more, companies that hire many hidden workers report that they perform better in areas like productivity, quality, attendance, engagement and innovation. If that’s not a ringing endorsement to start doing things differently, I don’t know what is.

Everyone is part of the solution

When I talk to middle market bank leaders about this topic, they are often hesitant to hire hidden workers because banking is such a highly regulated industry. But believe me, banks can tap into this talent and remain compliant with regulations. Given the landscape, middle market banks can’t afford not to.

Connecting with hidden workers is not a solo undertaking. It takes a coordinated, multi-faceted approach that involves partner commitments. This is what we’ve done at Accenture. We worked with Aon to cofound our Chicago Apprenticeship Network to help companies kickstart their apprenticeship efforts. We’ve been building the network to provide hidden workers whose jobs have been or will be disrupted by technology with reskilling and career path opportunities.

The talent gap is a challenge that impacts everyone—middle market banks and their technology and community partners too. When a problem affects everyone, everyone should be part of the solution. So I encourage middle market banks to take the lead and rally the ecosystem. It will mean more jobs for people and banks getting the skills they need to drive future growth.

If you would like to contact me, you may do so here or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors.