... and if so, how much?

How the persons progresses in their career depends not only on how much talent they have, but what type of talents they have, and what talents are required by the professional environment. In this interview, Andreas Frintrup explains why the identification of talent is so crucial for personnel decisions.

Mr. Frintrup, what is talent?
Talents are resources in a person that can be accessed in various occupational environments. This means that the specific talent can actually be related to another area – for example if an accountant is good with a screwdriver outside of work. Talent is therefore an ability that exceeds the current professional situation. Talent can serve as a guide for those who have not yet decided on their future occupation. If you're all thumbs, you will not be able to become a carpenter or an electrician, but you will have resources for other professions. The task of talent diagnostics is to make these resources in a person visible.

What is the difference between talent and potential?
Potential is forward-looking in the sense of: where is development of an individual possible based on what he already does? Is there a chance that they can do a qualitatively more demanding job than at presently, for example through learning and experience? This is what we call potential. Talent, on the other hand, is something more static and stable – a talent that is inherent in the person. This can, of course, be the basis of the potential, but I prefer to refer to talent as the resources of the person. The resources are what anyone can call up straight away.

So does this mean that talent is innate and not something that can be acquired?
I believe the answer is no and that talent can indeed be acquired, even if not overnight. To stay with the example of manual skills, talent can refer to having the dexterity to perform a specific manual task quickly. This is of course something you can learn, but there are certain physiological and psychological limits within which development can take place. Even old people can learn to play the piano or to knit. However, most of the abilities that are required are innate. If you do not have good spatial abilities, you will not be able to earn a living as a carpenter.

So talent is therefore essential to be able to knit or to perform ballet.
Exactly. Those with no sense of rhythm will never be able to learn to dance properly so you will need this talent in order to be able to dance Samba.

I see a mechatronics engineer in you.

So how can you recognize talent?
First there is the obvious talent. When I see that someone can balance things, juggle, or speak good English, then it is obvious that no further diagnosis is needed. But then there are the less obvious cases where a talent diagnosis can help to find things that have been hidden up to now – we refer to these as “latent skills”. For example mathematical understanding, spatial skills, and technical skills and knowledge can be examined and say something like: “Your family, the people around you and the school all say you are a super bakery salesperson, but I see a mechatronics specialist in you”. And that is exactly what we do with talent diagnosis: we figure out what latent skills are in a person that cannot be seen by others.

But what is so special about that? There are other people who analyse strengths and weaknesses.
Within the concept of talent, it is important that that the strengths of the individual are considered and not the weaknesses. It is not like at school, where the teacher tries to find mistakes, but it is about figuring out what an individual can do. If I happen to discover that someone is not able to do a particular thing, then it does not matter. This just means that the person is not suitable for certain jobs. Instead I focus on what they are able to do, and then I search for an occupational environment that suits them. That is the idea behind it.

Who carries out talent diagnosis? Companies or employment agencies?
Unfortunately too few of them do this. But there are some companies who have already made it standard in their personnel selection process: focussing on talent and resources instead of formal qualifications and school certificates. We are working on this for two large companies in the automotive sector. We test applicants about whom too little is known. For example, people who do not have specialist training and who have nevertheless applied for a technical job in an automobile factory. There we test the latent success requirements to examine whether their abilities fit to this profession.

So in this case, the talent diagnosis is not preceded by a specific vacancy.
Exactly. The talent diagnosis is exactly the other way round; the individual is the main focus. You do not say “Here is the position – who is suitable for it?” but “Here is the individual – what different jobs fit to him and how well?”

The requirements for a profession are constantly subject to change.

Obviously, this was not always the case. We now have to deal with a labour market that still responds relatively unsympathetically to the idea of a work-life balance for more and more people, particularly the younger generation. This will become much more important in the future. In the past, this was not a big issue for companies. But particularly for apprenticeships, there are now extreme shortages on the candidate market. This year again, many positions for apprentices could not be filled, simply because people still look too statically at the requirements of a certain profession. At the same time, the idea of focusing on the requirements of a profession assumes that these requirements will be stable over time and still be valid in five or ten years. But this would not be the case. The occupational environment is currently changing rapidly both for supposedly simple and for complex activities.

Can you give an example?
Let us take the example of a tax inspector: they used to go into companies and had to go through file after file of documents manually. They checked travel expenses for irregularities and deducted overnight rates. This was a manual process. Nowadays, however, this is a highly automated and digitized process. The people do not even touch any documents, but do everything via IT routines, which they do not even understand themselves. They just need to press a button.

They are able to sift through hundreds of thousand documents at once and the computer then suggests documents that they should take a look at personally. And this of course changes the occupational profile – in this case it has become more IT-intensive. It is exactly the same when you look at industrial production. Where previously a lot of precision manual work was necessary or even physical strength, we now have robotics, and the employees have to be able to maintain and programme the systems. Again, the requirement profile has changed.

And with it the necessary talents.
Exactly. Plumbing, on the other hand, is now a highly complex profession. Plumbers used to have to open up walls and lay pipes. Nowadays, they have to understand solar energy systems as well as heat pumps, geothermal sources and the whole networking of this technology in a building together with the electronics needed to control it. It has become an extremely complex occupation. So we see that professions are developing in different directions – some are becoming easier and some harder. At the moment we can observe a fast rate of change in professions in general. And it is thus much more important nowadays for companies to know what every employee can do, and where they can be redeployed and benefit from specific further training if necessary. Because the job they do today may be fully automated tomorrow.

People must be happy in what they do.

Do people have to be more talented today than before?
About 15 years ago, there was a debate on the subject of employability. The question was asked: what individuals are unemployable? I found this word very inappropriate at the time because everyone is capable of employment, except of course in serious cases of physical and mental illness that really do rule out work. But otherwise, everyone is employable. The real art is figuring out in what capacity. And this is precisely the idea: I start with the abilities and the talents of the person and find out what is suitable for them. It is important that not just one option is identified, but ten for example, and then, depending on their interests, the individual can choose what they prefer. People need to be happy in what they do. Companies benefit from this because it increases the employees’ motivation and productivity right from the start. It reduces absenteeism and staff turnover. What is important is that their jobs exactly match their talents.