Winning the Talent Game at Academic Research Institutions

Although on the surface academic research institutions and nonprofits may seem to have little in common, academic research institutions are nonprofits, and their heavy reliance on funding from external sources–grants, donations, etc.–creates very similar cultures and challenges for staff. In Liz Maw’s post, Winning the Talent Game, she discusses how nonprofits are falling short in their ability to attract talent, and it resounded with me. Her point about how hiring is not a top priority at nonprofits, allowing corporations to attract talent that would flourish at and enhance a nonprofit, struck a real chord. As the economy improves and hiring increases in the private sector, administrators at academic research institutions should heed the experience-based advice the nonprofit sector offers.

In a challenging environment, how can nonprofits and research institutions attract talent? Ms. Maw suggests nonprofits step up their recruitment game by stressing the benefits nonprofits can provide:

  1. positive culture
  2. work-life balance
  3. interesting work

Many academic research institutions, as part of campus culture, can score points with potential staff talent by providing access to work-life balance and interesting work. But in my experience, it is that positive culture element that can be the challenge for professional staff at many academic research institutions. The struggle of professional staff to be treated as professionals in these environments challenges the academic hierarchy and so often remains a struggle, especially for women (who often experience gender-based inequity in pay, as well). This, in conjunction with the very limited opportunities for upward mobility that often exist for staff at these institutions, often discourages talent from entering the academic sector. This impacts retention as well. How many universities offer tuition reimbursement to staff, yet offer no opportunities for advancement once the degree is earned?

The takeaway for me is that, as research dollars decrease and corporations increase their interest in attracting talent that might otherwise join the nonprofit sector, administrators tasked with hiring and managing staff at research institutions would likely benefit from studying the approaches of nonprofit administrators who have acknowledged and addressed the challenge of winning the talent game.




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