Your new workforce might already be in front of you.

Amid the ongoing examination of the worker shortage, something worth considering is that the talent you need might be hidden in plain sight – i.e., sitting across from you at the conference table, standing next to you in the warehouse or completing a checklist on the jobsite.

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Photo Credit: www.georgiaunions.org

It’s worth looking into – so says a growing inventory of industry insiders and reports. We’re often reticent to look in the direction of people we already have because we might think they don’t have the right skills, but there’s actually a strong likelihood that your company possesses more talent than you realize. In fact, creative problem solvers probably already exist at every level of your organization.

Are they all ready to move into areas or assignments that demand specific levels of technical expertise? Maybe not, but you probably have more than one individual within your workforce who exhibits innovative tendencies, a strong work ethic and a collaborative disposition. These folks are usually eager to learn, happy to help and capable of driving your company forward through challenging times.

Skills goldmine

In a recent piece for strategy + business, Vicki Huff, global leader for new ventures at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the largest professional services firm in the world, points to five steps that could help you identify creative/innovate talent within your ranks.

Gamify innovation: A lot of companies are holding hackathons and other events that showcase innovation and make a contest out of it. A traditional tech company hackathon is something like a grown-up science fair, held over a few days, with teams working on developing new code or products or internal solutions in a competitive but collegial environment. Obviously, this concept works across almost any industry and at companies of all sizes – customized for both transport and construction.

Adopt agile approaches: Tech companies have led the way in fostering creativity by using an agile approach. Teams break projects down into sprints, focusing intensely on solving one specific problem at a time in a short, set period. This can lead to quick, outside-the-box thinking and risk taking, and gives staff the ability to pivot to new ideas as short-term findings become clear. And, as with hackathons, these methods can be adapted to work in any industry.

Create innovation incubators: Another way to find the innovators hiding in plain sight at your company is to create teams tasked specifically with coming up with new ideas. This responsibility isn’t in most employees’ job descriptions, so they might not be prioritizing it. But you can create formal innovation programs, or even tie a pilot to an existing project, to give employees the time and space they need to show what they’re capable of.

Keep diversity in mind. Bringing together people with diverse backgrounds, ages and cultures can be energizing for everyone and unearth fresh thinking. If you expect innovation to come only from a certain place within your company or from certain types of people, you might be missing a goldmine of latent skills.

Embrace failure. When it comes to innovation, failure isn’t an option, it’s mission-critical. There are ways to screen current employees to find those who are comfortable with failing as part of the creative process. For instance, those who’ve been in the same job or at the same company for decades might be afraid to push outside their comfort zone. Ask them about the last time they came up short in a project but learned something significant.

As we’ve learned in recent years, most ideas that address the worker shortage are worth looking into. But not asking questions of ourselves and our companies – particularly members of our team who might be perfectly willing and able to advance the company – could prove counterproductive, and undoubtedly a step in the wrong direction.

At this point, we have to be smarter than that.

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