Turning on the taps of global talent pipelines

We report from the CIPD 2018 conference on the changes to recruitment that will be created by AI technologies, online personal data and social media that will speed us assessment of potential employees.

Audience clap at conference
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine.
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Getting the right people in the right place at the right time is becoming more pressured. Survey after survey point to low applicant rates, high numbers of unfilled vacancies and skills shortages in key sectors. Brexit takes it to another level in some sectors. But could this be about to change? Ruth Holmes reports from the 2018 CIPD annual conference.The shift to agile ways of working demands greater responsiveness from everyone, including organisational support functions, like HR, talent resourcing and recruitment. Being able to quickly access pools of skilled people is a critical element of companies’ commercial advantage, be they in business services, technology or resource extraction.Yet from mining to hospitality, healthcare to high-tech, demographic shifts are combining with other disruptive trends and forcing us to rethink skills and talent, both for now and the future.

Recruitment in times of transition

While the extent varies from sector to sector, region to region and country to country, the search for people with the right skills is getting harder. In the UK, the latest CIPD Labour Market Outlook puts the net employment balance – the number of employers looking to recruit as opposed to lay off – at close to an historic high at +22%. Among employers with vacancies, 70% report that at least some of are proving hard-to-fill, higher than summer (66%) and spring (61%) 2018.Automation of basic tasks and roles is helping soften the impact of aging populations on labour markets. Nevertheless, filling these new highly skilled and new technical posts brought about by automation, AI and data architecture and management, are presenting a growing challenge to innovation and insight-hungry employers.Speaking directly to this conundrum, a fascinating case study at the CIPD’s annual conference and exhibition in Manchester from Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill, an award-winning talent resourcing and recruitment specialist, co-chair of leading recruiters’ interest group RL100 and now group head of talent and resourcing at Stepstone, shows it is possible to change the narrative around talent scarcity by taking a purposeful and data-intensive approach.

Consigning unfilled vacancies to the past?

“For me, the greatest myth that has ever been popularised is that finding people is difficult,” says Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill. Given this has been the overriding skills story for close to two decades, it is a bold claim.Yet the increasing array of automated talent identification, assessment and selection, information and relationship management tools – as well as recruiters and in-house expertise properly trained in using them – could be changing the rules of recruitment. Importantly from the prospective recruits’ perspective, such developments are within GDPR safeguards.Companies are now able to leverage data and build better personal relationships with candidates, improving the odds around more effectively identifying, attracting and employing people – in volume and individually – into emerging and in-demand roles.Explaining her viewpoint, Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill demonstrated how easy it is today to find out information about people – and plenty of it.“The story we have got here is that a hiring manager came up to the recruiter and said I want to fill this role and I have met this one guy and he is the kind of guy I’m looking for. I met him at a conference and I don’t know much about him. But I’ve got a picture of him.”A Google image search by the recruiter matched the picture with a LinkedIn profile via Twitter, and from there a personal email address, the postcode, then a mailing address. The recruiter could also, if he wanted to, go on to Ancestry.com to get a little more information about the potential candidate’s family background.

Following the data bread-crumb trail and staying compliant

The public data-trail does not end there. In the US, for example, some employers use this data to eventually run soft credit checks, which could offer insight into an individual’s financial commitments and wellbeing.Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill is no advocate of this approach, recognising the issues around how ethical and proportionate it is to access and use personal data in such a way, even within GDPR, and the importance of building trust in talent pools.Nevertheless, while it is one challenge to find out basic personal information and contact details in an age where public phone directories are forgotten, an individual’s willingness to consider a new role with another employer or their propensity to move is another matter entirely.

Prospecting for talent by mining data

To explore this aspect further, Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill described a case study from a previous role of difficult roles to fill. Looking to appoint 29 people into agile solution architect roles, the company was well aware of the challenges this presents. “These people are rare as hen’s teeth,” explained Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill. “The unemployment rate for solutions architects in the UK is 0.05%. In other words, they are all pretty much in jobs.“The tiny percentage not employed have probably decided to take a career break or self-employed and not reporting it. We tried through all channels to recruit for these people, but with no success. The other option was through other recruiters. If that was the right answer, we would have done it.”Recognising any recruiter the company would engage for this task would likely be using tools it already had – and paying a fee of £21,000 for each of the potential 29 hires – “we had to think different,” said Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill.Combining its recruitment management system to create and maintain talent pools with tailored communications to activate potential candidates, the company overlaid these with a marketing tool to mine the data available to it.“We wanted to find people in the UK, who had a job title that was aligned to a list of 12-15 variations of the job title we were looking to fill,” she explained. As well as casting the net by job title, the company also searched for people actively engaging in content on small niche job boards and sharing knowledge on forums. This way, it knew potential candidates were engaged positively in this arena.Ideally, the company also wanted people who were actively seeking new openings on LinkedIn and weighted that on the selection and attraction criteria. The combination of this funneling and data-led approach found 35,000 generic prospects on CV sites, narrowed down after data sifting through 1,230 prospects who met the criteria for the 29 roles it was looking to fill and each then ascribed a candidate ID.

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Narrowing the field – the personal touch

Crucially, this approach is within the confines of GDPR because the company already had permission from the people in its talent pool, and those who weren’t already in it had been given a chance to opt out.The next stage was to ascertain if the cultural fit was just as strong as the skills fit. Highlighting the importance of employer brand, vision and purpose, this approach provided an authentic insight into the wider team, its work and challenges.“We started to send out some really gentle brand-awareness messages,” said Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill. “The first one we designed wasn’t a ‘please come and work for us’ call to action because these guys get that 15-20 times a week.“Instead we sent them a message from the CPO [chief product officer] via our system that came into their inbox as an email about a real-life challenge that we knew that most of these people were struggling with: how do you combine waterfall with agile in one project methodology?”The email was sent to the top 320 target prospects – and with surprising results. “What we hoped would happen was that those 320 might convert to about 70% clicking onto the email and reading it,” says Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill. “The system tracks click-through so you can see if people are opening the email and how long they keep it open, if they got to the bottom of it and if they clicked through on any of the other links.“What was really interesting was that we got a 78% click-through rate, which is unheard of in marketing. We also got from that first email two proactive applicants who had read that article and said ‘I didn’t know you guys are doing stuff like that – this is phenomenal. Here’s my CV. Please could you put this against this role which I see you are advertising.’”A further 17 people emailed their CV. Around a third of the initial 320 prospects asking to be removed within the first six contacts of this process. “Normal for marketing is upwards of 60%, so that was a positive message,’ said Ms Hutchinson-O’Neill. Such personalisation of the talent attraction process continued throughout the communication depending on how people engaged with the content.

Counting the costs and benefits

Overall, the company received 30 applications in the first 14 weeks of its pilot, with 12 resulting in engagement. This delivered a nominal cost saving in excess of £200,000. More importantly, it meant the company started to fill roles that added value to the bottom line and it could add new products and features for customers.Given the competitiveness of the talent market for key roles, Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill believes the requirement for integrated tooling like those used in this approach isn’t going to change. She also warned against quick-fix solutions.“My own personal view on the industry at the minute is that we have a lot of magpie-ism. That is if there is something shiny and new, people hope this is the silver bullet. But this can also do a lot of damage to your organisations. You also need to the right skills and process in your team.”
She advised delegates to carefully consider any investment in talent management and recruitment platforms, adding: “Two things you really need and call to action are a team or partners who can properly use the tools you buy. You also need to invest in the resourcing and invest in your HR and IT team if that’s separate to your resourcing team. There is no point giving grade A tools to people who aren’t able to fully utilise them and deliver a full return on your investment.In this increasingly data-led world, it therefore looks like the human touch remains as critical as ever in talent resourcing and recruitment.
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