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Ep 372: Workforce Agility


Employee experience, hybrid working, DE&I, workforce fluidity and workplace technology. These are just a few of the challenges employers face as they shape their talent strategies for these disruptive times.
So how are the leading companies thinking and behaving, and what lessons are there for everyone else to learn.

My guest this week is Tammy Browning, President of KellyOCG. Kelly OCG has recently published their 2021 Global Workforce Agility report, and in our interview, Tammy talks through the findings and identifies what vanguard companies are doing to deal with the current challenges.

• The current state of global talent markets

• The main challenges employers are now facing.

• The relation between leading edge technology and productivity

• Deploying DE&I strategies across the total workforce

• Workforce fluidity; bridging talent gaps with contingent labour

• Why employee experience is critical to overall success

• The Great Resignation

• How technology is being deployed and adopted

• What long terms trends should we be monitoring?
Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript (Ad) (0s):
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Matt Alder (49s):
Hi, everyone. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 372 of the Recruiting Future Podcast, Employee experience, hybrid working, diversity equity and inclusion, workforce fluidity, and workplace technology. These are just a few of the challenges employers face as they shape their talent strategies for these disruptive times. How are the leading companies thinking and behaving, and what lessons are there for everyone else to learn? My guest this week is Tammy Browning, President of Kelly OCG. Kelly OCG has recently published its 2021 Global Workforce Agility report.

Matt Alder (1m 31s):
In our interview, Tammy talks through the findings and identifies what vanguard companies are doing to deal with the current challenges. Hi, Tammy, and welcome to the podcast.

Tammy Browning (1m 43s):
Hi, there. Thank you for having me.

Matt Alder (1m 45s):
Absolutely pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Tammy Browning (1m 51s):
Sure. My name’s Tammy Browning. I’m the president of Kelly OCG, which is a business unit of Kelly Services, the larger organization. I’m responsible for our managed service programs or MSPs, and then RPO, which is Recruitment Process Outsourcing. We find work for people that, in ways, enrich their lives across the globe. It’s very exciting.

Matt Alder (2m 15s):
Fantastic stuff. I suppose, just to start with a bit of context, this is something I’ve been asking everyone about at the moment because we’re obviously going through very unprecedented times when it comes to the global talent market overall. Give us your take on what’s going on at the moment. What are you seeing happening in the various time markets that you work in?

Tammy Browning (2m 38s):
Yes, we’re seeing, as you indicated, unprecedented times. Work more demand today in terms of the number of job orders available for individuals than pre-pandemic levels. In fact, we’re up about 25% in the demand, and the opposite is happening with respect to the candidate market. Our candidate market is in fact shrinking and becoming more difficult as we speak. Some of the skills that we’re really struggling to identify that next-level talent is in the manufacturing, light industrial labor categories, and skilled labor where we’re really struggling to identify that talent across the globe.

Tammy Browning (3m 20s):
It is not a North America only issue. While you’re seeing a lot of information about that in North America due to the pandemic and some of the stimulus packages, it is really a global issue that we’re seeing across the world.

Matt Alder (3m 34s):
Obviously, the other thing that’s going on at the moment is companies are rethinking their whole approach to work, where their employees are, and how things are going to work moving forward. I know that Kelly OCG has recently done a really interesting piece of research, your 2021 Global Workforce Agility report. Tell us about the background to the report, what it’s about, and how you put it together.

Tammy Browning (4m 1s):
Sure. Let me give a little context. What we’ve done is, over the last number of years, we’ve run a Workforce Agility report. Initially, out of what we would call the APAC regions, we’ve received such a wide range of feedback from the stakeholders we engaged there. We extended the overall survey to a global reach of over a thousand executives, 20% of them being either C-suite or board member titles and levels in the organizations across 13 different countries, which was Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Singapore, the UK, the US, of course, and others.

Tammy Browning (4m 47s):
What we’ve discovered is just significant findings and well-received feedback around this report related to what we like to call the vanguard, those organizations that are very ahead of the curve, and the laggards, those that are maybe behind the curve but are seeking or aspiring to do something slightly different from a talent attraction or what’s next perspective.

Matt Alder (5m 10s):
It’s a report that makes fascinating reading. I like to dive into it in a bit more detail. First and foremost, what are the main challenges that you’ve identified that employers are currently facing?

Tammy Browning (5m 24s):
Yes, so with that, what we’ve identified in the Workforce Agility report is that really the challenges stem more around what the vanguards are doing to bridge those gaps. What they are specifically are diversity equity and inclusion, and really employee wellbeing or the health of the employees. In fact, most organizations who are in the vanguard space are suggesting that their employee health and wellbeing is actually more important than their own customer service relative to their performance in this organization, meaning their financial performance is going to be better as a result.

Tammy Browning (6m 4s):
DE&I is one. The second is really around that tech adoption and the adoption of being able to manage a workforce in a way of not having texts-enabled strategies, how difficult it would be for organizations to really be able to manage their workforce, understand their productivity levels. What we’ve identified is 88% of the vanguard say that leading-edge technologies have actually helped them drive a more fluid workforce and having much more capabilities around just overall employee wellbeing and their production in their job, direct connections to both of those things.

Tammy Browning (6m 49s):
We’re seeing some other impactful things in the report as well around just overall how training is a critical component of employees workforce in the future. Vanguards are investing further in trainings and incentive programs. Then in North America, we’re seeing many organizations, of course, step out and embrace this full-time work-from-home model or this optional hybrid model. We’re seeing that more prevalent in North America than we are in some of the other regions, although I anticipate and what the report showed is that in APAC, over 11% of the workers will sustain remote.

Tammy Browning (7m 32s):
Yet in Europe, what we’re seeing is about 7% of the organization saying that they’re going to allow their workers to stay remote. If you think of the disconnect between what the workers want, what the employees themselves want, and what organizations are saying, it’s vast.

Matt Alder (7m 48s):
Yes, absolutely. I think that’s a really interesting point. They’re obviously very key areas as we move forward. Could we just take them one by one because I think it would be very useful to find out a bit more about what the vanguard companies are doing differently that’s really helping them with these four key areas basically?

Tammy Browning (8m 10s):
The vanguards make DE&I their priority for starters and this is a global finding. So often, when we hear diversity, equity, and inclusion, we think about North America specifically where diversity dollars or tracking of diversity spend has been so prevalent where it’s been more difficult in Europe and Asia to deploy some of those initiatives. What we’ve really seen and what we’re seeing with the vanguards, in particular, is, globally, they’re looking at diversity spend more around the talent and the communities that they serve so that mix of talent. Equity and inclusion are equally as important as the diversity of the talent.

Tammy Browning (8m 52s):
What we’ve seen is the vanguards are twice as likely as the laggards to fully deploy a DE&I strategy for both their contingent or their temporary labor, as well as their permanent talent. Meaning, they’re enabling their total workforce to participate in their DE&I initiatives and they’re ensuring that their underrepresented groups are, in fact, part of that. Also, the vanguards have measured goals so they’re very clear on what their objectives are, what their DE&I initiatives and outcomes of the expectation of their organization are, and they’re also very aware of what the policies related to contingent work participating in DE&I so they know where they can engage, they know how to engage that contingent labor, and they know how to bring them into the fold.

Tammy Browning (9m 53s):
What’s really interesting as part of the report is less than half of North American companies have actually fully executed DE&I strategies for full-time work and only 22% had DE&I strategies for contingent labor. When you think of just the vanguard’s holistically, that they’re that far ahead, it’s very interesting to see that while North America is further ahead in that market space, we’re still very far behind in terms of what that looked like. 80% of those that took the survey say that having hiring managers understand their goals is critical to their success as it relates to DE&I.

Tammy Browning (10m 35s):
Communication is critical for organizations to understand what their initiatives are, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how their company can come along with them in terms of the people that work for them directly.

Matt Alder (10m 46s):
You mentioned contingent workers and the whole workforce there. I know that one of the care, as you’ve been looking at, is workforce fluidity. Obviously, that speaks to what we were talking about in terms of skill shortages and the crisis of getting talent that we’re seeing right now. What was happening in that particular area?

Tammy Browning (11m 8s):
It’s interesting because when we look at workforce fluidity in general, and we understand what that really means, and it means that we’re really meeting the talent, the vanguards are significantly more likely to bridge the gap between the skills of the workers and the jobs that need to be done. When you think about workforce fluidity, what does it really mean? It’s really understanding how you can create these hybrid models, how you can take your organization from where it sits today and where you want it to go through your labor categories, and then it’s really about adding workers to the existing team.

Tammy Browning (11m 53s):
Meaning, having a contingent workforce added into existing full-time work, bringing in and exposing them to the full-time work, looking at overall gaps that organizations have in their full-time workforce, and looking at where it can be bridged with contingent labor. Fluidity is really important and it’s not a new or novel area. In fact, I believe the pandemic, what it has done is it’s brought back this need to bridge the gaps between all of the full-time work for the setback organizations had today and creating a fair balance between contingent labor and full-time so that they have the ability to ebb, flow, and flex their talent more than they have before.

Tammy Browning (12m 37s):
This is a very normal environment for global corporations, but it wasn’t as normal for those smaller organizations that are now really embracing this, which is why earlier as we talked, I talked about the demand being significant in contingent labor and we’re seeing about a 25% uptake. Part of the reason for that is because organizations are bridging that talent gaps with contingent labor.

Matt Alder (13m 4s):
One of the major topics of the last few years has been employee experience. As you alluded to earlier in the conversation, that huge focus on this through the pandemic and hopefully as we move out of the pandemic, what is it that the best companies are doing in this area?

Tammy Browning (13m 27s):
Employee experience is really been the number one area that our report pulled out as being so incredibly important to overall success. For example, the vanguards are focused on building better experience, hands down. 91% of them ranked improving the employee experience as high as their business priorities. Meaning, they know that their employees and the way that they feel in their job is the most important thing in today’s world. Some of those statistics that I think I mentioned early on, the Vanguards in North America have suggested that they will, in fact, 14% of the North American vanguards, will continue to focus on employee experience as critical to their business performance.

Tammy Browning (14m 16s):
Again, 91% of them ranked this as being important, but now 14% in North America say they’re going to keep this as top of mind or topical, and the same in APAC. It’s 11% and in Europe is about 7%. Vanguards conduct regular employee surveys to hear from their resources, from their employees to understand what it is that they’re seeking. They’re looking for things like affinity groups, understanding where they can engage or where they can get more connected to the work that they’re performing. The Vanguards are also very involved in employees defining and shaping their roles in their overall employee value proposition.

Tammy Browning (15m 3s):
The employee and their message are just as important to the overall success of a company. They’re value propositions. They’re helping to craft what those look like for a company. What we’ve found is that employee experience is so important to the retention of an organization. What we’re about to see unfold is what we are calling The Great Resignation. Many organizations are seeing employee engagement decline in mass. When you think about the worker population just across the globe, today, our millennials make up the bulk of that workforce and only 32% of millennials are actually engaged in their job.

Tammy Browning (15m 44s):
Meaning, there is a huge population looking for new work. With demand on the rise, meaning more and more jobs than there are people today and this potential that we could have significant out of the workforce, meaning they’re looking for new work, the employee experience is so important to the productivity, the engagement, the retention, and really again, those overall business results as an organization.

Matt Alder (16m 11s):
To come back to the other aspect, which was using leading-edge technology, and obviously, it came as something you mentioned right at the beginning. I think it’s really interesting to get the employer’s eye view of this because so much investment has gone into HR technology in the last few years. There’s a very big investment in the marketing of HR technology so there’s a huge amount of noise in the marketplace when it comes to technology and what people should be doing. Just really interested to get a view from the survey in terms of what people are actually doing with technology and how the leaders are deploying it to drive things forward, basically.

Tammy Browning (16m 56s):
Yes, tech adoption for organizations is incredibly important for different reasons now than what the reasons were before when those investments were previously made. When you think about the vanguard specifically, 88% of them say adopting leading-edge technology is critical to enhancing the employee experience. Going back to that last question, the technology and experience go hand in hand, really for long-term business success, and 94% of the Vanguards believe it’s their responsibility to ensure employees have the skills they need to adapt to the technology.

Tammy Browning (17m 37s):
Many of the vanguards have already begun implementing new technologies that alleviate workload pressure. When we’re all now sitting at home and working from home as we all have in this last year and a half, making it far easier for people to work from a remote environment was just one piece of the pie. It’s really also about utilizing the workforce a little differently through tech adoption. Adopting new workforce technologies is really the biggest challenge organizations are going to face. A majority of North American companies, in fact, 83% of them say their organizations could benefit from technology.

Tammy Browning (18m 19s):
They’re recognizing this as a gap considering 83% of them are saying they need it. Then when you really look at an overall organization’s giving employees options to work remotely long term, tech adoption will be increasingly more important to attract talent, to bring them in as part of that employee value proposition to foster the collaboration, the team collaboration so that work can still be done in a way that is in enabling people’s best work to show up and to really gain visibility into overall work performance, work output, the way that work is being done, and really to understand the talent mix that an organization has.

Tammy Browning (19m 4s):
Where I think, we’ll see much more in the future is really going to be how tech enables organizations to work more closely together. When we have those that choose to work physically onsite, at their client location, headquarter location, or maybe remote locations, and then those that choose to work from home, organizations are realizing the technology can be the glue of their initial output for their business results. That’s why tech is so important. It’s less about, “Do I have a computer that works,” or “Does my Skype work,” or “Does that?” It’s really more about, “Do people have the technology to foster overall continued growth within the organizations that they work for?”

Tammy Browning (19m 51s):
That’s why it’s so incredibly important.

Matt Alder (19m 52s):
As a final question, obviously, we’re going through a time of very quick, quite dramatic change. How much of this is going to stay in the long-term? What do you think the trends are that we’re still going to be talking about in, say, two or three years’ time?

Tammy Browning (20m 12s):
From my seat, I do think there are many areas that will sustain. I do think the work-from-home strategies will continue. I think many organizations will find ways to enable the work-from-home. When you think about the value that has come as a result of that, particularly in my world where our job is to find work for people, we’ve now been able to open up jobs to the world that can now be done anywhere in the world at any time, and time zones and other issues are not a factor anymore. I do think we will sustain this remote work environment.

Tammy Browning (20m 52s):
I do also think, over time, we will see, and what our report has shown, is that the four workforce agility dynamics of our research will be that workforce fluidity. Meaning, that ebb and flow of the workforce to be able to create a more flexible work environment is going to sustain. There’s no question that DE&I will also sustain. The question that we continue to ask ourselves is what’s more important? Is it the diversity of the talent? Is it the engagement of the talent? Is it the inclusion? Is it all of the above and where? What we’ll see as we continue to do further Workforce Agility reports, we will double click into things like DE&I and others to understand what these things mean over time.

Tammy Browning (21m 40s):
I do think that the employee experience is going to be critical as we think about the skill gaps that we are headed into now and the work that is going to need to be done. When you think about the future of work related to now what I would like to just really quickly mention, we are seeing a recruitment process automation, robotics, AI, all of that technology is coming into play. It is in fact replacing work that is going to need to be done at a different level. The employee experience around making sure that we’re training, that we’re investing, that we’re up-skilling, where reskilling, we’re considering what the talent skills need to be in the future.

Tammy Browning (22m 27s):
Those things are going to stay. We’re going to see them unfold and we’re going to see them be a part of our everyday nomenclature as organizations that are far ahead of this are going to be the ones that win the talent in the end. Then overall, I don’t think that the tech strategies are going to change in any way. I do think that with the four dynamics, it’s going to require long-term strategies that are going to support the resources and implement successful programs, implement successful business results. I do suspect that we’ll see these things continue to struggle. If I could just close it out with, make sure the employees that you have today are engaged, that they’re supporting the work that you’re doing, that they feel like they’re part of your organization, that they feel like they’re impacting the work that they’re doing, so that when you’re looking holistically at where you sit amongst those four dynamics that I mentioned, that you don’t lose talent that you could in fact be retaining, and then also really consider how you can use talent differently in the future.

Matt Alder (23m 32s):
Tammy, thank you very much for talking to me.

Tammy Browning (23m 36s):
Thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (23m 38s):
My thanks to Tammy Browning. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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