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Ep 386: Future Talent Acquisition Trends

Recruiting Future Ep 3860

As I say in pretty much every interview on the podcast, predicting the future accurately is impossible. However, identifying and tracking the trends that will shape the future is not just possible; it is essential for any kind of strategic approach to talent acquisition. It’s very clear that we are at the start of a new phase in the evolution of recruiting, and understanding where we are heading has never been more critical.

My guest this week is Kevin Wheeler, Founder of The Future of Talent Institute. I’ve known Kevin for over a decade now, which is long enough to understand just how skilled he is at identifying the trends that matter.

In the interview, we discuss:

• What is the purpose of talent acquisition, and is it structured in the right way?

• Why is internal mobility so hard

• How does talent acquisition need to evolve

• Workforce flexibility

• Recruiting automation and the future of recruiters

• Investment levels in recruiting technology

• Exponential Growth

• Upskilling and reskilling

• What has surprised Kevin the most in the last two years

• What can we expect to see in 2022

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 19s):
Hi everyone. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 386 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. As I say in pretty much every interview on this podcast, predicting the future accurately is impossible. However, identifying and tracking the trends that will shape the future is not just possible, it’s essential, for any kind of strategic approach to talent acquisition. It’s very clear that we’re at the start of a new phase in the evolution of recruiting and understanding where we’re heading has never been more critical. My guest this week is Kevin Wheeler, the Founder of The Future of Talent Institute.

Matt Alder (Intro) (2m 3s):
I’ve known Kevin for well over a decade now, which is long enough to understand just how skilled he is at identifying the trends that matter, which makes this an absolute must listen interview.

Matt Alder (2m 17s):
Hi, Kevin, and welcome back to the podcast.

Kevin Wheeler (2m 19s):
It’s great to be here, Matt. Thanks for inviting me back.

Matt Alder (2m 22s):
Always a pleasure to have you on the show. Those people listening who may not have come across you and your work before, could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Kevin Wheeler (2m 34s):
Sure. I run the Future of Talent Institute. And what we try to do is look at the trends primarily focused on recruiting and learning and development. And kind of wanna see, where things are going? What are the trends? What are the likely changes that are going to occur over the next half decade or so. You know, we don’t have a crystal ball or anything like that. We’re really just looking at the trends out there. And our discussions with people or observations about what’s going on. So, I spend most of my time looking ahead as much as I can to see what’s potentially going to happen out there, and have an impact on what recruiters do, and what people do in the HR field.

Matt Alder (3m 16s):
Fantastic stuff. Now, I’ve actually known you long enough now to know that a lot of the trends that you spot on the sort of the predictions that you make, or the suggestions that you make about the future tend to be pretty accurate. Some of the stuff that we were talking about 10 years ago, the US sort of saying was going to happen, has happened. So, I was sort of very keen to get you back on the show at this very, very sort of strange time that we’re currently in, where seems like the pandemic is over but it’s not over as we sort of go into the northern hemisphere winter. There’s huge amounts of changes going on in talent acquisition, talent markets, a tough everywhere.

Matt Alder (3m 56s):
It’s a very sort of disruptive, very disruptive time. And I thought it would be great to have a chat about the trends that you’re seeing in talent acquisition. And really how is this going to play out in the medium term? So, let me start by asking you about talent acquisition. What do you think the purpose of talent acquisition is moving forward? And is it structured in the right way?

Kevin Wheeler (4m 26s):
Yeah, it’s a great question. And, you know, I think that the whole concept of talent acquisition has been defined people who can fit predefined categories of work. That’s kind of what we’ve done for the last 70 or 80 years, or maybe 100 years. And I think that’s what’s fundamentally changing. We’re going to be looking for skills to solve problems that we have. It’s really about problem solving. It’s about dealing with the issues we have as an organization. It’s about how do we get something done. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that one person is going to be the entity that gets this whole thing done.

Kevin Wheeler (5m 7s):
It may be a variety of people to get it done. So, from a talent acquisition perspective, it’s really probably more skills acquisition that we’re really looking at than people. It’s what, who are the people that have those skills? And they could be employed in a variety of ways. You know, it doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional permanent employee. So, you know, I think we have all these sort of assumptions that we just sort of base our life on, work on it, and it makes life and work easier. But they’re all being challenged by the pandemic. And that’s really what’s shaken us up, and what’s really, you know, changing everything exponentially, really.

Matt Alder (5m 50s):
I think one of the interesting things is sort of throughout the last 12 to 18 months, companies have been talking much more about internal mobility, and how they can find skills within their organization, and move people around and upskill people, and all those kinds of things. But actually, when you sort of dig below the surface, that’s something the employee has really struggled to do. And I’ve struggled to find any great examples of employers doing that brilliantly. I mean, is that the same in terms of the sort of the conversations that you’ve been having?

Kevin Wheeler (6m 25s):
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think actually, I’ll push back a bit and say that I think it was done quite successfully earlier in the 20th century. And I think companies like BP, IBM, Philips, lots of the big companies, Unilever, they actually always practiced internal mobility. And they tended to hire fresh graduates from university, and hire only a handful of experienced people from outside. And they had an internal development process where people move through different jobs, could take on different roles, could switch from being an engineer, to being a manager, to being a salesperson, and so forth.

Kevin Wheeler (7m 11s):
So, I think we have that earlier in the 20th century. And we could have lost it somewhere in the 80s. I think when we started to get rid of middle management, and the word was efficiency, and boost our stock price, and get rid of extra people. And, you know, unfortunately, those extra people that we were getting rid of were the ones that were learning on the job of how to do the things that we needed to have done. So, you know, we kind of created our own mess in a way here. But maybe fortuitously, it’s working out better in the end. Because now rather than, you know, having these jobs that last for 20 or 30 years that are fundamentally the same, you know, jobs are changing every year.

Kevin Wheeler (7m 55s):
Even within a year, the skills needed, the jobs are changing, the requirements are changing. So, we need a lot more flexible process. And I think part of the gig workforce, and this more flexible hiring models are helping us to do that.

Matt Alder (8m 12s):
And how do you think talent acquisition needs to evolve to play a part in that process?

Kevin Wheeler (8m 19s):
Well, I think that we really need to talk a lot more about using the technologies that exist out there to help us do what we’re doing, to help us quickly identify the talent, the skills that we need, identify the people that have those skills, and get them into the work that we need done as quickly as possible. But there’s a big paradigm shift. It’s a paradigm shift for recruiters. It’s maybe even a bigger paradigm shift for hiring managers, who’s tend to have very traditional views about who they should hire and what their qualifications should be. And they have a much more traditional view of this.

Kevin Wheeler (8m 59s):
So, it’s sort of a two pronged approach here. One is recruiters, I think need to be more agile. They need to leverage technology much better than they have. I think it’s inevitable that most of recruiting will end up being automated in the near future. And hiring managers in the same time have to say that not everybody has to be a full-time permanent employee, not everybody is going to have all the complete set of skills that historically, they ideally wanted them to have. So, there’s going to have to be a lot of given take on the hiring manager side as to the kind of people they need. How long they need them, and what they need them to do?

Kevin Wheeler (9m 40s):
So, we’re going through really significant change, massive change and how we think about, how organizations are structured and what they accomplish? How they accomplish it? How many do we even need hiring managers per se? So, these are fundamental questions that will be addressed in the next few years. We’re just at the earlier stages accelerated and pushed by the pandemic.

Matt Alder (10m 3s):
Absolutely. There’s a couple of sort of points I want to pick up on there. The first one is around automation, which is something that you’ve spoken about before on the podcast. And I know you’ve kind of written about it extensively. It took us through what you think is going to happen in terms of automation in recruiting?

Kevin Wheeler (10m 23s):
Well, I think, you know, if you really look at what’s going on with artificial intelligence today, we’re seeing exponential improvements in what it can do. And, you know, right now, if you really take the recruiting process, and I’ve put diagrams in my newsletter many times and charts showing this that if we take the step, the basic building blocks of a recruitment process, like branding, sourcing, and so forth, every one of those steps can be either completely automated or heavily augmented with technologies. So, we can find people, we can screen and assess people, We can even communicate with people almost seamlessly and with very little human contact, all using chat bots and the automated tools that exist.

Kevin Wheeler (11m 11s):
Now, I know, most recruiters that I talked to look at me and go, “Yeah, you’re full of it, Kevin.” You know, bull. They can’t do. I’ve used these tools. They’re horrible. They’re simplistic. They promise everything and can deliver. And that’s always the case with technology, always. But the bottom line is, it’s getting better every day. And it’s getting better. I mean, literally, every day it’s getting better. And these tools are improving, becoming more sophisticated. And it’s just a matter of time. Before they will, we’ll be able to do these things in a way that is indistinguishable from the way a recruiter would do it. And then better, more precise, more accurate, than a recruiter would do it.

Kevin Wheeler (11m 54s):
So, I think that recruiters have to accept the fact that this is coming. Understand that we’re in a period when we’re we have Model T software. Alright. We don’t have Corvettes yet. And we don’t have Jaguars. We’ve got fairly limited tools, but they’re getting better so quickly that it’s almost hard to imagine. Things that robots couldn’t pack small things in boxes effectively. And the story was that when Amazon was they’re still going to have to hire 100,000 people to pack the boxes. And in the last month, they’ve come out with robots that are very good at packing boxes, and putting things in small spaces.

Kevin Wheeler (12m 37s):
So, you know, the bottom line is I doubt if Amazon will ever hire those 100,000 people, because they’ll end up using these automated robots to do it. So, you know, we have to figure out – how can we use the tools that currently exist, no matter how primitive they might be? How can we start to integrate these into our hiring process? How can we have a roadmap to lay out this process? I wrote this article, just a few weeks ago, a two-part article on I call it, The Six Steps to A Candidate Manager Driven Process. The whole point of this is that ultimately, we’re going to have a process, a tool, set of tools and a manager can almost seamlessly use to find people and hire people without very little to any intervention by a recruiter.

Kevin Wheeler (13m 29s):
And that means that the recruiting function, as we’ve known it, traditionally, is pretty much going to disappear for the most part. I mean, there will be recruiters, but what they do will be very different than what they do today. It will be more again about advising, consulting, partnering with hiring managers, and doing other things like managing some of this automation and software. But you know, we’re gonna see this happen. And I think it’s inevitable that it will come. It gets, it’s coming to manufacturing, it’s coming to financial services. It’s coming to banks. I mean, everywhere, it’s being impacted. So, you know, we can’t sit here as recruiters and say, “Oh, we’re different than all these other organizations, and all these other occupations.

Kevin Wheeler (14m 13s):
We’re just the same. And we’re going to be impacted in the same way.”

Matt Alder (14m 19s):
On that point round, technology everywhere but technology and recruiting, and HR is developing, literally on a daily basis in terms of sophistication. I think even the most of the visionary of commentators has been quite surprised by the sheer level of investment that’s going into recruiting technology and how that’s kind of really accelerated over the last year. Does that surprise you? And do you think that’s something that’s going to continue?

Kevin Wheeler (14m 48s):
It doesn’t surprise me at all. Like I say, I mean, it’s inevitable. It’s just going to continue, it’s going to it’s going to continue to grow. It’s going to become more and more sophisticated. You know, we’re in exponential cycle. And you know, we have a really hard time as human beings dealing with anything that’s exponential. Our life we live is linear. You know, we expect things are going to evolve in a systematic way over time. And, you know, suddenly an exponential world things quadruple every hour. So, when we’re in this kind of space, it means that the technology isn’t just going to incrementally get a little bit better next year.

Kevin Wheeler (15m 30s):
It’s going to get a whole lot better next year. And it’s going to get even more a whole lot better beyond that. So, it’s, and this is what’s so hard to get your head around. I think, for me, for everybody, it’s hard. But when you look at — you know, what the little Microsoft paperclip did a few years ago, that little thing that popped up to kind of help you and drive you crazy on your screen. I mean, that was an early Chatbot. And you look at the chatbots today, and how sophisticated and powerful they are. And they’re going to even double and triple on that power in the next year or two. So, you know, it’s all about computing power, it’s all about the cost of computing, and it’s all about the development of neural networks, which have completely changed the game because computers learn by themselves now without being programmed or taught by people.

Kevin Wheeler (16m 24s):
And so, you know, when you look at recruiting somebody, their computer is soon going to learn exactly what a manager wants. They’re going to look at what the company needs. It’s going to be able to look at all the data that exists within a company around strategic plans, needs, skills, skill gaps, etc. And it’s going to be able to recommend to a hiring manager, or even maybe order the hiring manager to hire this person because this person has the requisite set of skills to solve a problem the company has, and the hiring manager might not even recognize or know that. So, you know, it really puts the whole role of the hiring manager in question as we move further into this, as you know, who do we trust more of the hiring manager or this omniscient software that knows so much about our company and our organization because of its ability to analyze this huge amount of data that exists inside the company?

Matt Alder (17m 18s):
There are so many follow up questions I want to ask you about that. There isn’t time to fit them into this podcast. I’ll just pick up on an earlier point that you’re making about upskilling, and you sort of mentioned skills again there. One of the big debates at the moment, is the work, really the future of work this whole sense of remote working and hybrid working. I’m talking here for desk workers people who can work remotely. And one of the big arguments that’s coming through from some of the more traditional forces sort of particularly in the UK, is that people need to get back to the office because that’s the only way that you can upskill and rescale people is by doing that face to face.

Matt Alder (18m 0s):
And I know that you wrote a really interesting sort of piece on that, this week actually or last week. And I just wanted one to get your view on what does the future of upskilling and rescaling look like?

Kevin Wheeler (18m 11s):
Yeah, I mean, it clearly doesn’t require you to be in the workplace. In fact, that’s probably the worst place to be, to do it. You need, I think there’s several things. Number one is there’s all sorts of tools and information, and resources available to you via the internet, and other applications on your phone, and whatever. That can help you to learn new skills, practice new skills, simulate new skills. Very soon, we’re going to have virtual reality, that’s going to be able to actually immerse you into doing something and let you practice it. Just like you can practice flying an airplane in Microsoft simulator for flying.

Kevin Wheeler (18m 52s):
You’re going to be able to do that for many jobs within an organization. So, you’re going to be able to train yourself how to do these things, learn the rules. And remember, as you go along, we used to require people to know a lot of stuff, a lot of facts, a lot of data, a lot of formulas. They don’t need to know that anymore because they can access them from the internet and from the software. So, the software makes you smarter, gives you that stuff that used to have to memorize, and let you use your human skills of judgment, decision making, negotiation and so forth to put these into practice. So, you know, we’ve got a whole new paradigm emerging here, rather than having to sit down and learn every formula for chemistry.

Kevin Wheeler (19m 38s):
I just say, to the computer, I want to put these three things together, what do you think? And the computer is going to say, “Well, you know, that’s not going to work, or let’s try this, or it’s going to give you advice because it knows all about those formulas, and all those equations and everything else involved in that. So, it’s about how do we use human creativity and innovation to solve problems and let the computer act as our guru on our guide around those more quantitative technical things that computers are really, really good at doing. And again, this is a paradigm shift. So, learning and development upskilling is really, really, in some ways, it’s about learning how to live with the computer, how to access computer intelligence more quicker and more accurately?

Kevin Wheeler (20m 27s):
And then how to apply that using human skills effectively on the job? So, if you want to be a bookkeeper, for example, or a financial announced CFO, it’s not whether you can balance a checkbook, or you know, whether you know accounting rules. The computer knows all the accounting rules. What you need to know is, what do you want it to do? What do you want it? What do you want the end result to be? How can you make that happen? And you can get advice from the computer on how to make something happen. So, you know, it’s using the more higher-level cognitive skills that we all have as humans, and let the computer provide those more basic technical fundamental skills that we often lack or have a hard time acquiring because it takes so much time to do that.

Kevin Wheeler (21m 17s):
So, there’s all sorts of things online to help you right now that augment you make you smarter. I mean, just think of what you can do with the internet now. If you want to, you know, you can use the world’s knowledge at your fingertips really. So, it’s really about how can you access that? Or how good are you at searching for the information? How good are you at figuring out which information is the best? So those are the things that humans have to focus on, and let the computer provide that bulk of data for you. Kind of rambling a bit here, but I hope you kind of get the idea of what I’m talking about. It’s a whole new paradigm. It’s not sitting in the classroom and memorizing formulas.

Kevin Wheeler (21m 56s):
It’s about how do you apply the formulas that the computer is going to be able to deliver to you?

Matt Alder (22m 2s):
Absolutely, it kind of makes perfect sense and it is such a big topic. And I’m trying to get you to squeeze it into such a short period of time. You mentioned when I was talking about the tech investment that hadn’t surprised you at all. What has surprised you in the last few years in terms of some of the things that have happened?

Kevin Wheeler (22m 27s):
I guess that the biggest surprise is just how quickly the technology is advancing. And again, it’s even for me understanding exponential growth is really hard. It’s really hard for human beings to grasp that. That how quickly things change, and how significantly they change in such a short period of time. And that, I think, is the fundamental quandary of the time right now. You know, the pandemic was an exponential change. It forced an entire world, 8 billion people to shift what they were doing completely. Rarely do ever have anything like that happen.

Kevin Wheeler (23m 9s):
So that was a massive push that everybody is staying home for some period of time, and everybody in the world pretty much has got to stay home for some period of time, and do everything on a computer or online. That alone, just that one simple thing changes everything. Because now you’ve got all kinds of people that maybe didn’t have very good computer skills or weren’t comfortable with it or whatever, but now they are. Now they could do that. So, you know, I think that really is what surprised me. How quickly that happened? How quickly the software is advancing? And how many people are resisting going back to work right now?

Kevin Wheeler (23m 50s):
I think these are the even the economists are scratching their head about, you know, why don’t people want to go back to work? Don’t they need money? You know, it’s this thing. So, we’re seeing lots of things change. You know the quality of life, the way people look at work and life is changing. And it was driven by this pandemic, which was obviously something that none of us predicted.

Matt Alder (24m 19s):

Kevin Wheeler (24m 19s):
And totally change the world. And you’re comfortable at with the growth of software, and you have something that we’ve never seen in the history of the world before.

Matt Alder (24m 28s):
My final question, when I’m doing these interviews is to normally get someone to predict what they think is going to happen in three to five years’ time. But really, that’s what we’ve been talking about for the whole of this interview. So, I’m going to ask you a slight different question about the future, which is, what could we expect to see in 2022? We’re sort of recording this November 2021. What can we expect to see happen in a few months’ time?

Kevin Wheeler (25m 3s):
Well, I think you’re gonna see the continuing struggle between companies and employees about whether or not, and when and how often they go back to work in a physical location. That’s going to be one of the ongoing questions that’s going to dominate. I think the next six months or so we’re going to see this whole idea of hybrid work where you work at home, some of the time, and the office some of the time probably become the dominant way that people end up working. But I would say even that is transitionary. And within three to five years, we’ll probably all be working mostly remotely.

Kevin Wheeler (25m 44s):
But I think we need this sort of intermediate phase of hybrid to recalibrate ourselves and how we think. I think that you’re going to see more and more automation in the selection of people, in how we screen them, how we communicate with them, how do we make a decision about which ones to hire? I think we’re going to see an increasing growth in the use of the gig workforce. The contingent workforce is going to continue to be a major discussion point for governments, for the legal profession, for the HR profession, and for individuals that are looking for work.

Kevin Wheeler (26m 26s):
We’re going to have a real struggle to work our way through this. And I don’t think there’s any magic here. We’re just going to have to kind of muddle our way through how we decide. You know, who’s… what gig worker? Or who should be a gig worker? Who should not be a gig worker? Who should be a permanent worker? Should we even have any permanent workers? These are going to become significant questions in 2022. They already are now. So, I think we’re gonna see a lot of continuation into 2022, particularly as more people, and more countries become vaccinated.

Kevin Wheeler (27m 9s):
And therefore, theoretically could return to the old way of life, “Does anyone really want to go back to the old way of life?” And I think the answer is going to be, no. We’re going to come up with a new and probably intermediary way of life that will continue to evolve into a completely different, probably mostly remote way of working in the future.

Matt Alder (27m 33s):
Finally, we’ve mentioned your excellent newsletter a number of times. So, finish off by just telling us, where people can find you? And where they can subscribe to your newsletter?

Kevin Wheeler (27m 46s):
Sure, you can subscribe to the newsletter just by going to fotnews, And if you go to that URL, you will see a link to a free subscription, or a paid subscription, your choice, for this newsletter, which I publish weekly. And you’ll have access to all the archives of the last three years or so of all the articles that I’ve written, primarily around recruitment and around the future of recruiting, and learning and development.

Matt Alder (28m 20s):
Kevin, thank you very much for talking to me.

Kevin Wheeler (28m 25s):
Thank you, Matt. Always a pleasure.

Matt Alder (Outro) (28m 27s):
My thanks to Kevin Wheeler. 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.

Matt Alder (Outro) (29m 23s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time. And I hope you’ll join me.

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