The argument that the new competitive battleground is hiring the best people has been going on for years. In the past, though, it was thought that best in class people were what was wanted, no matter what area of the business was hiring.
Things are different now, though. The war for talent is still going strong, but the battlefield has changed significantly.
The most obvious place this is occurring is in the technology space.
Pure technology skills are going cheap. Ask for an architect and you get plenty of applications. A database administrator or a coder, and you get lots more. Contractors are far less desirable than permanent staff, simply because the rates are higher. And in any case, temporary staff can be had much more easily when one goes offshore.
These are people who have chosen to specialise in a particular technology set because they thought it sensible to be the best in class at the one thing they do. They thought this would be a sensible career move, surely one that would guarantee their futures. They assumed that any employer would jump at the chance to have them given their wealth of experience and obvious capability.
They were wrong. The battlefield changed. Technical sills – no matter how good –are completely commoditised.
The new war for talent is for people who know how to grow business value and that has little to do with technology. The people you can't easily get are the ones that can spot opportunities, work out how to exploit them, and then, as a bonus, put the gadgets together to make it happen. Theirs is a general knowledge of lots of things, rather than the laser-sharp focus on the specific.
But my comments are equally applicable to the business side as well. The product manager who knows how to twiddle terms and conditions or change interest rates is all very well, but ask them to create a disruptive new product that takes out the competition and you'll likely grow old waiting for a result.
The era of the specialist is over. Specialists you can get by picking up the phone. They're the ones that have all been let go, by the way, as institutions have rationalised their operations, contributing to their own commoditisation.
The generalist, on the other hand, has a very bright future. The fact that so few are available means they'll always command decent salaries. The people who are equally at home on the technology or business side, and who don't really see all that much difference between the two are a rare breed indeed.
In the past, the list of skills on the CV was the most important thing. Now, though, its much more about career achievements: those personal – and unique – contributions individuals have made to their employers' businesses. The ones that make you wonder where your organisation would have been if you'd had the services of that person instead of the competitor down the road.
This new war for talent is as vicious as it ever was. But the battleground is smaller, and the stakes much, much higher.