Demand for continuous improvement talent continues to grow, possibly fueled by a recovering economy, with the desire for lean skills easily outpacing that for Six Sigma expertise.

Those are two primary findings in the Avery Point Group's eighth annual talent study, which is based on an analysis of nearly 7,100 recent Internet job postings.

The combined demand for lean and Six Sigma talent has risen more than 103% over 2010 levels, according to the executive search firm's study. Demand is up 6% over last year's study.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the swift and steady growth of lean talent demand over Six Sigma talent. Lean talent demand exceeds Six Sigma by almost 68% in the current study, almost double the 35% edge it held last year.

Demand for lean talent over Six Sigma talent has accelerated at its fastest year-over-year pace in the study's history, according to Avery Point Group.

"We are beginning to see a very clear and accelerated trend in the demand for lean skills versus Six Sigma that may also indicate a decoupling of the two initiatives in relation to job requirements," says Tim Noble, managing principal and partner of the Avery Point Group.

As recently as 2005, the demand for Six Sigma talent exceeded that for lean by more than 50%, according to Avery Point Group. In 2007 the two gained parity, notes a video by the recruiting firm.

Why has a desire for lean talent overtaken that for Six Sigma? Noble suggests that companies may be seeking a "more practical way" to get results with fewer resources -- and to get those results more immediately. For some, Six Sigma carries a stigma of "paralysis analysis," with results considered a more long-term endeavor, he says.

Noble noted several other factors that may be driving the lean surge:

  1. Companies may be trying to balance their continuous improvement stable of talent by adding lean expertise to existing Six Sigma talent.
  2. Companies are seeking more "pure" lean skills in their hires rather than talent who are Six Sigma-focused with lean as a secondary skill.
  3. Institutional momentum also may play a role. Companies see other firms pursuing lean and take a "me too" approach.

The Avery Point Group's research indicates Six Sigma talents are a diminishing requirement among job posters seeking lean talent. The firm's 2007 survey showed that more than 50% of the lean jobs posted wanted candidates with Six Sigma skills. That percentage has dropped to less than 34%.

And jobs seeking Six Sigma talent exclusively account for only 20% of the postings reviewed, the lowest percentage in the study's history.

Noble declines to definitively identify the diminishing desire for Six Sigma talent as a decoupling of lean and Six Sigma. He says it "has more to do with companies shifting their priorities to where they feel they can get the best leverage with their continuous improvement initiatives and seeking the required talent to execute those initiatives."