By common consent, the biggest issue facing companies today is a wide-ranging skills shortage - dubbed, in the hyperbole of management speak, "the war on talent". This has been given added impetus in recent months by the competition posed by internet start-ups and other fledgling organisations that suddenly seem more attractive than the large, well-established employers that have traditionally dominated the "milk round" and other recruitment exercises. But in reality, it has been going on for some time, with leading corporations and professional services firms all battling with each other for the same handful of likely high-achievers.

By common consent, the biggest issue facing companies today is a wide-ranging skills shortage - dubbed, in the hyperbole of management speak, "the war on talent". This has been given added impetus in recent months by the competition posed by internet start-ups and other fledgling organisations that suddenly seem more attractive than the large, well-established employers that have traditionally dominated the "milk round" and other recruitment exercises. But in reality, it has been going on for some time, with leading corporations and professional services firms all battling with each other for the same handful of likely high-achievers.

The official reason for this constant dearth of the appropriate human resources is that successful businesses are expanding so fast that they just cannot get enough people to meet the demand. However, it seems that companies themselves are at least partly to blame for the situation.

That, at least, is the view of Javier Bajer, chief executive of the Talent Foundation, which has just been established "to provide a single point of practical guidance, research and information on developing talent for work within businesses and to drive the agenda for investment in talent".

Dr Bajer, a specialist in organisational learning, believes that the problem stems from managers applying the same sort of short-termist thinking to training as they do to strategy in general. When organisations say they do not have the right skills they are diverting attention from the real issue, which is development of people, he says.

"Our studies demonstrate that an overwhelming majority of employees feel their employers do not take personal development seriously," says Dr Bajer. "It is the development of more permanent skills, such as learning to learn, and other human skills, that quickly benefits both organisations and individuals by developing more confident, motivated and fulfilled and therefore loyal employees."

The initiative is being run on a not-for-profit basis with the support of the RSA, the Campaign for Learning (which is supplying it with its chairman, Sir Christopher Ball), as well as employers such as British Airways, BT, Andersen Consulting and the Army. Although based in the UK, the organisation will seek to assist employers and individuals worldwide via the internet.

The sentiments behind the venture are sound enough. And few would quibble with the main elements in the declaration signed by its early supporters. This states that the signatories will give priority to investing in "self-esteem, confidence, motivation, self-awareness and self-management; effective collaboration, leadership, creativity, risk-taking and knowledge-sharing; flexibility and adaptation through learning to learn, inspiring innovation and holistic thinking in all our people".

One of the signatories to the declaration, and a long-time heavy investor in training and development, Andersen Consulting, is in the front-line of the talent war. Andersen's latest staff initiative involves investing an initial $200m (around £127m) in e-commerce-related companies on behalf of the employees, with the aim of distributing the wealth created by such investments as "eUnits".

Joe Forehand, Andersen Consulting's managing partner and chief executive, explained that the investment plan was part of a range of measures designed as "an exciting new demonstration that Andersen Consulting is the best place to work today for high-performing people who seek to shape the new economy and share in its rewards".

Andersen Consulting understands what the Talent Foundation's Sir Christopher Ball means when he says that, with 90 per cent of chief executives describing the attraction and retention of talented individuals as their main concern, businesses have only one way of meeting this challenge. It centres on "developing and nurturing the talent within, and creating an environment where talent will flourish".

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