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Ep 403: The Skills Challenge


Skills shortages have always been an issue for employers and have certainly come into sharp focus in recent months. Skills mapping, predicting future skills requirements and opening up talent pools via hybrid and remote working are just some of the solutions employers will be looking at in 2022.

So what kind of strategies should talent acquisition and HR leaders be planning, and how can technology help?

My first guest of the year is Vanessa Tierney, CEO of Abodoo. Vanessa’s organisation recently surveyed 100 HR Directors and C-Level Executives
from the world’s best companies to work for and asked their
opinion about their firm’s working strategy, talent, workforce, and
social infrastructure. Unsurprisingly skills were the number one issue.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Attrition and skills shortages

• Opening up talent pools globally via remote and hybrid working

• How do you make people feel connected?

• Adapting working models

• Presenteeism

• How can employers better understand the skills in their workforce?

• Hard and soft skills matching.

• Predicting future skills requirements and understanding gaps

• Spotting opportunities in geographical skills clusters

• Driving inclusivity in talent identification

• The Metaverse

• Advice of selecting HR and Recruiting Technology

• What should we expect in the medium and long term future?

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 15s):
Hi there and Happy New Year. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 403 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. Skills shortages have always been an issue for employers and have certainly come into sharp focus in recent months. Skills mapping, predicting future skills requirements and opening up talent pools via hybrid and remote working are just some of the solutions employers will be looking at in 2022. So what kind of strategies should talent acquisition and HR leaders be planning, and how can technology help? My first guest of the year is Vanessa Tierney, CEO of Abodoo.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 57s):
Vanessa’s organization recently surveyed 100 HR Directors and C-Level Executives from the world’s best companies to work for and asked their opinion about their firm’s working strategy, talent, workforce, and social infrastructure. Unsurprisingly skills were the number one issue.

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

Vanessa Tierney (2m 21s):
Hi, how’s it going, Matt?

Matt Alder (2m 23s):
Very good, thank you. An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Vanessa Tierney (2m 30s):
Certainly, my name is Vanessa Tierney. And I am CEO of Abodoo where skills, mapping, and matching company focused on data in this new world of work. And I’m also a director of Yonderdesk, a new virtual working space supporting remote and hybrid teams around the world.

Matt Alder (2m 49s):
Fantastic stuff. So here we are, we’ve got 2022 stretching out ahead of us. It’s been a very disruptive to the last 24 months or so. And I know that people are anxious and keen to know exactly what might happen in, in the year ahead. Now, I know that your organization recently did a survey of HR leaders about the key challenges and issues that they were looking at in 2022. Tell us about the survey and tell us about the key findings.

Vanessa Tierney (3m 18s):
Yeah, we were really keen to understand from leaders of enterprise companies internationally. What their focus was for 2022, and this year ahead, like what’s their major concern and where did they need to invest? And what came through the overarching areas around attrition and skills. You know, different surveys have been conducted, but once again, and again, it’s the skills shortage that is the biggest disruptor to being able to grow and achieve targets. And it’s putting hate or under tremendous pressure. Having said that, what was amazing is that so many companies were saying that they will indeed be investing in the technologies to enable them to hire anywhere in the world.

Vanessa Tierney (4m 5s):
So, whether they’re fully embracing remote or hybrid, what used to be important, which was the big corporate building and all of the games and incentives to keep staff in the building. And looking at what was the available talent within maybe a half an hour or one-hour drive? Now, companies are focused on a very different area, which is, where are the skills clusters globally in the markets that are going to fit culturally to the organization? What’s the social infrastructure there to support people? And what sort of work-life harmony, balance, whatever term you want to give it will their employees have? But a lot of them felt that, how can you make people feel connected in a fully virtual world because we’re all exhausted from video meetings?

Vanessa Tierney (4m 50s):
I’m delighted. This is just audio. All day, every day. And by the time you get to the end of the day, you’re exhausted. It’s a very intense thing. So, companies are looking at innovation to see. What can we do to make that more pleasurable experience for their staff?

Matt Alder (5m 6s):
That’s interesting stuff. And I think that there’s lots to unpack there, but maybe let’s start with the remote hiring and looking at remote pools of talent. Obviously, that was something that everyone was talking about at the start of the pandemic, as a possible upside. There was also talk that actually, as people got back to the office, that that would fade away, it was too difficult. It wasn’t someone that companies necessarily wanted to be sued. Obviously, nearly two years on, all over the world, there was still work from home mandates in place, and we’re not quite sure how long they might continue. Is this now a long-term thing?

Matt Alder (5m 46s):
Are companies looking at remote hiring as a long-term solution to the skills shortages there that facing?

Vanessa Tierney (5m 53s):
I think that the short answer is no, they’re not looking at just remote, but I think they are looking at evolving and adapting their own working models to suit their needs. So, smart working a term we’ve worked with for years is essentially when a company establishes their own model that will suit the needs of the business, the people, and the organization. If 96% of the leaders that we surveyed said they will be embracing remote, working our percentage of the time, then it’s essential for companies to have a model of that. It’s not just clear to C-suite, but communicated throughout the organization and externally.

Vanessa Tierney (6m 34s):
I know my background is in recruitment before Abodoo and Yonderdesk. And we often would work with companies at VP level, where at that point in time, I’m going back maybe 5-10 years, they would look at talent outside of the commuting distance because it was hard to get the right leaders perhaps in size or specific technologies. And at that time, they were very aware of the extra pool of talent they could reach. However, many times those organizations failed at the final stage to hire that person because they didn’t have a policy in place that would support that individual. And the other downside was that the person felt that presenteeism was still in the culture.

Vanessa Tierney (7m 17s):
So, they were not in the office, or if the CEO was there every day, well then there would be biased against that leader. But companies now, like we have jumped a decade in the space of a year or two. Companies have an amazing opportunity to put the structure in place now and attract incredible talent by doing so.

Matt Alder (7m 37s):
I think that’s really interesting. And I think it really underlines the challenges that the companies have this year in terms of how they sort of permanently evolve the way that they work particularly against this background of this skills crisis that certainly doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. Just sort of focusing on the skill as part of this for a second. What was really sort of clear in, in 2021? Was that companies didn’t actually know that much about the skills that they had in their business, or actually sometimes the skills that they needed to hire? And what’s gone on is kind of really expose that?

Matt Alder (8m 18s):
And I think what you’re saying there about presenteeism and people being able to demonstrate skills because people could see them, you know, literally physically see them doing it and have a sense of what’s going on is kind of a key point here. What can organizations do to sort of better understand the skills they need to hire and also the skills that they already have within their workforce?

Vanessa Tierney (8m 44s):
You know, this is a passion for us, and actually the pandemic forced us to evolve our technology into this space. However, you can do this yourself, like essentially, it’s skills mapping, but it’s not just hard skills mapping. It’s actually mapping the soft skills as well. Like even in this survey, it’s come through, for example. The big skills for this year ahead, or technical, engineering, cyber security, software engineering. So, what a company can do is this, they can assess the skills, but they can also look at the soft skills because technology is advancing and it’s automating more and more. So, the soft skill, the emotional intelligence of a human is becoming actually more important, but very few companies are tracking and mapping this.

Vanessa Tierney (9m 33s):
Furthermore, you have a hugely rich assets that perhaps you haven’t seen it this way, but that’s the candidate database. I mean, remembering from my recruitment days, working with companies, a typical enterprise could have a database of 50,000 to a hundred thousand candidates. And these are candidates who have engaged with the HR recruitment team. But perhaps at that time they didn’t fit what the company was hiring for. But if you truly look at your organization today to where it was two years ago, it has evolved a lot. Not only are you probably now embracing remote, your culture is probably adopted. And another survey I read recently, leaders are not saying that in five years’ time, the revenue that they will make will actually come from products they haven’t even built yet.

Vanessa Tierney (10m 19s):
So, I go back to the candidate database because there’s rich skills in there. And if before you were looking at people who could only work in the office, perhaps now you can embrace the diverse talent that’s out there, whether it be the parents with young children, whether it be the carer or the older person who just didn’t want to commute anymore, or people with mobility challenges. So, I would really encourage companies to skills map. That’s the technology we’ve built to do two things. One, see the assets that you have. You’ll reduce your recruitment spend because you have the talent. And two, you can see the gaps. And then the beauty is when you can visualize that data. I mean, and that’s a point I’ll bring up.

Vanessa Tierney (10m 59s):
None of us in HR or very few, I should say, are data analysts. So, the data has to be easy to see, and it needs to be visualized. And I would say for enterprise, if you’re an international organization and you don’t have a global map of your skills, your talent, you’re missing a trick. But once you have all that technology, you can then use AI to predict the insights. Future skills for example in China, or in Silicon Valley, can now be mirrored into your database. So, you can see what are the gaps? Where can you either one, re-skill, or two, source to get the competitive edge. So, I think it’s a really exciting time to skills map for enterprise.

Matt Alder (11m 44s):
Absolutely. I mean, I couldn’t agree with you more. And I’ve had a number of guests on in the last few months talking about the importance of understanding the skills that you’ve got in your business, but also the importance of understanding how and when to re-skill people. Because technology, for example, is changing so fast at the moment, the skills that enterprises need. You know, and affects that they’re constantly evolving and, you know, it’s very, very difficult to continually hire people with the skills you need. You have to develop your own teams

Vanessa Tierney (12m 20s):
Yeah, we’ve started to work actually with universities. Because I think now in this new world of work and learning, it’s really important for corporations to be working really closely with universities. And the part that we play is looking at the skills that are being developed through the current curriculum, then interviewing the corporations to understand the skills they need. And hopefully they’re doing the same skills mapping exercise, so they can give us those future skills, and feeding it in, so we can actually ensure that the curriculum being developed this year ahead is going to meet the needs of industry in the next three to four years. Because there’s still lots of high unemployment for young people and regional areas.

Vanessa Tierney (12m 60s):
You know, the European union’s focus has been on regional balancing. This is an amazing time. And in the UK, you know, the governments had been backing leveling up. This is an incredible time to back this fully and understand the skills of regions. And I know for many companies, their big fear is maybe just hiring one or two people and this scattered approach, and how can you get people feeling connected? I have some US clients who are now being quite strategic. And what they’re doing is they’re working with us on our global skills mapping to see, are there skills clusters in markets that they’ve maybe never even considered before? But not just skills clusters, is there a digital hub? So, if people want to get together, maybe once a week, once a month, they can.

Vanessa Tierney (13m 44s):
Is there 5G connectivity into that area? So, there’s definitely consistency. And is there a good social infrastructure to support them? So, you know, in terms of schools and hospitals, because if you have that, it doesn’t matter where in the world it is. That’s the talent pool that perhaps you haven’t discovered before.

Matt Alder (14m 1s):
Absolutely. And I think it’s, as I say, it will be fascinating to watch how this develops. One of the things that you sort of hinted at earlier in the conversation was how was skills mapping in this way could help companies to be more inclusive in terms of who they hire and also that, how they promote people, and how they re-skill people? Tell us a bit more about that.

Vanessa Tierney (14m 25s):
Yeah, well, I mean, 86% of leaders in the survey expressed that, you know, the, an inclusive talent identification process was extremely important to their firm. You know, but having worked in HR tech and recruitment for a very long time, now, the products don’t necessarily support the level of inclusivity we need now more than ever. It goes back to that idea of not just external talent, but internal talent. And that idea of not pigeonholing someone to a fixed career path. So, Abodoo, how we actually started was as an inclusive matching ecosystem.

Vanessa Tierney (15m 9s):
So, something that a company can now put in within their company and enable people to create a skills profile, hard skills and soft skills, but be anonymous. So, hiring managers, can’t at first point, see age, sex or ethnicity. And we’re truly making the decision based on skills, and you’re pushing sort of the individual in the driver’s seat, so they can see the opportunity and decide if they want to go into process. And I think now more than ever, it’s really important that we do truly embrace diversity from the first point of contact, whether it’s that employee being redeployed, whether it’s an internal employee who you see has certain hard skills, but clearly has soft skills that the current leader has and you just need to put a re-skilling program in place for them, so they could be a leader in two years.

Vanessa Tierney (16m 2s):
That’s sort of intelligence I think HR leaders deserve now. And I think from an attrition perspective, I know with some of our technologies, we see attrition reducing by over 22% because they just have that information to hand to know where should they spend the money on to be more diverse, inclusive, and give everyone the opportunity to re-skill in a path that they need to, or want to go in? I’m involved in a social project called My Work Life, Vision. And My Work Life Vision is actually for people in emerging markets who for the first time ever, can I work for companies globally.

Vanessa Tierney (16m 42s):
But for them, the barrier is really just the know-how, and how to represent themselves, and the intercultural communication. And I think as well for HR, if they were to see those markets as opportunities, maybe not for 2022, but perhaps for the year after when you stabilize the current workers, it just like talent shortage skills shortage would be a thing of the past, if don’t well.

Matt Alder (17m 9s):
Absolutely. I couldn’t, I really couldn’t agree with you more that. Technology is the key enabler. We wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things that we’re talking about without technology sitting behind everything. You’re a technology leader yourself. So, you have your own technology, but there are lots of other technologies that I’m sure you connect with. And lots of other technologies that are used by employers. What other main things that you think employers need to be looking out for and considering when it comes to assessing the technology that they use in 2022?

Vanessa Tierney (17m 45s):
This is a brilliant question because of my answer probably would have been different six months ago. So, it’s changing fast. But I think for this year ahead, the technology perhaps the talent and HR have leaned on. It can’t be just isolated to talent and HR. And by that, I mean, HR, or have been the champions of the pandemic, in my opinion. Like they have led this new world of work. They have ensured that people had what they needed. They support them remotely. They’ve done an incredible job. And, they’re at the C-suite. They’re in the boardroom. They’re representing, which is amazing, but they need the tooling’s to come to that meeting.

Vanessa Tierney (18m 26s):
And I think in many cases, the technology available for HR, when we were reviewing it to build a room, we felt it was isolated HR and you have to be a data analyst to really dissect and understand it. Our focus was building up tool that you could actually bring to the boardroom. I’d be very proud of demonstrating exactly what the talent is today, tomorrow, and where the investment needs to happen. Because for HR leaders, it can be tough to sometimes raise that money and investment into their division. I think of an organization is leaning on technology that can predict a future skills. It’s like you’re running blind because your finger in the air in terms of guesswork. And we’ve all experienced it in recruitment where hiring managers are coming down and saying, “I need this skillset and I need it yesterday.” You know, we need to now work far more smoothly and really be able to predict the needs, not just three months ahead, but we’re talking two to five years ahead.

Vanessa Tierney (19m 20s):
I think as well for GDPR in Europe and, you know, data protection full stop, we have to be very, very powerful kinds of databases hold a whole lot of information. We spent a long time working on how we could anonymize data and feed it into a visual map and central system so that anyone at a high level could access and not be concerned about the personal data. But skills mapping and matching is game changing. And I think if the technology you’re using right now is still working on CV screening human interaction, like it really needs to be an inclusive process and, you know, remove the bias as much as possible. If the bias is going to kick in, it needs to be later on in the process when humans are involved.

Vanessa Tierney (20m 3s):
But at the early stage, it should be that, but it should also be capturing. And it was something that took us a long time to build when we first started. It should be capturing the needs of today. So, for example, if you make an offer to a candidate and then you find out afterwards, they don’t have the level of connectivity to do the job, you’ve just wasted so much company resource. So that should be a minimum requirement. And I’d say, overall, it just needs to be a new world of work class forum that is very user-friendly, open to all, and data protected. And it, and it should have a return on investment. Like we say to our clients, if you don’t see attrition drop by a certain percentage, we’ll actually refund.

Vanessa Tierney (20m 43s):
That’s the way technology should be today.

Matt Alder (20m 47s):
Absolutely. So final question, we’re talking about 2022, but let’s look a little bit further into the future. So, say we were having this conversation again in January 2025. What would you have hoped to see happen over those years? What do you think the sort of the medium to long-term future looks like?

Vanessa Tierney (21m 7s):
I think that, you know, the buzzword at the moment is The Metaverse. And I foresee the companies that will really crack this new world of work, will not just have a physical office, but we’ll have a virtual office. And by a virtual like office I mean, not necessarily headsets where your 3D avatars, but you have a virtual space online that replicates your physical building so that whether I’m physically in the office or I’m working from home, I have a virtual office that I go to. And the importance of that is as we start to build our teams, if you’re a 100% remote, everyone needs that connection just on video links all day, people will burnout.

Vanessa Tierney (21m 51s):
If you are an a 100% office, but letting some people work from home, you can’t let the people work from home, feel isolated. And if you’re a true hybrid model, you need a virtual space where everyone can connect. Like, obviously I’m a big fan and director of Yonderdesk desk. That’s been game-changing for us. I just showed someone into our floor plan there. And, you know, we could see people working all around the world, but we’re all in a central floor and we’re having a celebration this afternoon. Things like that will be very important. I also think that companies will actually lead on soft skills, moving forward. The rest can be trained. You know, this idea of, we have to get people with three to four years job experience. If you can get the right cultural fit, everything else can be trained very fast.

Vanessa Tierney (22m 36s):
I see the leading companies as well, embedding themselves with key universities and educational channels so that they’re supporting graduates. Before they’ve even left, many universities are now implementing a third-year placement program. And because these can be done remotely, it’s such a brilliant opportunity to build future pipeline. And then the final thing is the culture that cares is going to win. The culture that gives back that operates like a social enterprise and that speaks openly and honestly about how they give back will just attract so many great people in the future.

Matt Alder (23m 13s):
Vanessa, thank you very much for talking to me.

Vanessa Tierney (23m 15s):
Thank you so much, Matt. It was a pleasure.

Matt Alder (23m 16s):
My thanks to Vanessa. 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 very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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