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Ep 571 – The Road Ahead For Talent Acquisition

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As we come to the end of another interesting year, I know that many of you will be looking towards 2024 and planning for the new year ahead.

One of the best things about 2023 for me has been the opportunity to get back on stage and start presenting again. I’ve spoken at prominent industry events, including The HR Technology Conference in the US and The CIPD Annual Conference in the UK, and delivered talks and workshops for several employers.

Back in September, I spoke at the ATAP Global TA Day about the future of Talent Acquisition, and I’m delighted to be able to share the audio of my presentation as this week’s podcast.

If you’re unfamiliar with ATAP, it is short for The Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals, and they do some great work around standards and training in the industry. Their website is here, and you can get a 50% membership discount using the code ATAP50 before the end of the year.

In my presentation, I talk about:

• Why we can’t predict the future but how we can have strategic foresight

• Three Forces Shaping Talent Acquisition

• Three Critical Trends for 2024

• Practical steps you can take right now to stay ahead of the curve

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts

Transcription:

Matt: Support for this podcast comes from Greenhouse. In today’s competitive hiring landscape, taking a people first approach is business first. That’s why Greenhouse helps companies adopt a flexible, fair and efficient approach to hiring. Greenhouse empowers everyone, from recruiters to hiring managers, to make confident decisions that help strengthen your business, so you can get measurably better at hiring. Discover how Greenhouse can help you hire for the business you want to build. Learn more at greenhouse.com/hire. That’s Greenhouse dotcom slash hire.

[Recruiting Future Podcast theme]

Matt: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 571 of the Recruiting Future Podcast.

As we come to the end of yet another interesting year, I know that many of you will be looking towards 2024 and planning for the new year ahead.

One of the best things about this year for me has been the opportunity to get back on stage and start presenting again. I’ve spoken at prominent industry events, including The HR Technology Conference in the US and The CIPD Annual Conference in the UK, and delivered talks and workshops for several employers.

Back in September, I spoke at the ATAP Global TA Day about the future of Talent Acquisition, and I’m delighted to be able to share the audio of my presentation as this week’s podcast.

If you’re unfamiliar with ATAP, it is short for The Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals, and they do some great work around standards and training in our industry. Their website is atapglobal.org, and you can get a 50% membership discount using the code, ATAP50 before the end of the year. I hope you’ll keep listening to hear my thoughts on the forces and trends shaping TA’s future and find the advice on how to stay ahead of the curve valuable.

Thank you very much, and thank you so much for inviting me back. Did this last year, so an absolute pleasure to do it again. Thanks everyone for tuning in. I’m Matt. I am the producer and host of the Recruiting Future Podcast, and also a consultant in Innovation Around Talent Acquisition. Now my title is The Road Ahead, the next five years, For Talent Acquisition. So I wish I was able to give you a detailed breakdown of everything that’s going to happen in the next five years. But predictions are hard. And to prove how predictions are hard, I’ve gathered together some predictions from the past just to show you how accurate or inaccurate those can be. So I’ve gathered together some predictions of what people thought life would be like in 2020. So some of these are very old, some of them weren’t that long before 2020. So these are some of the predictions that people made about what life would be like in 2020.

We’d all own personal helicopters. We’d all live to be at least 100 years old. Living apes would clean our houses. Humans would become a one-toed species. That’s one of my favorites. Houses will be able to fly and will be able to relocate themselves. And most outrageously of all, no one will want to drink coffee or tea anymore.

Now, for those of you who can remember 2020, it was three years ago, in some ways it feels like 103 years ago, you’ll know that not many of these actually came to pass. In fact, 2020, most of us spent our time trying to homeschool kids in the kitchen while working from laptops, which is not something I saw in any of the predictions about the future. So predicting the future isn’t just hard. It’s impossible. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t build working models about the future, and it doesn’t mean that we can build something that gives us a very, very good guess as to where talent acquisition is going and what the next five years are going to look like. So the word I would use this is future casting, and just a few elements of what goes into it. Some of these you’ll recognize in the trends and the things that I’m going to talk about. So how do we future cast? How do we predict the future?

Well, first of all, we focus on the things that are likely to happen. So what’s very likely to happen? What can we pretty much count on unless something absolutely extraordinary happens? We can identify the trends that matter. And most of this presentation will be about trends and why they matter. Now, this is easier said than done because particularly in the age in which we live, there’s a lot of noise and there’s a lot of hype. So the real skill here is spotting the signal amongst all that noise in order to identify the trends that matter. So that’s actually probably the most difficult bit.

Learn from adjacent areas. So particularly, obviously, I’m going to talk a fair amount about AI because it’s illegal to do a presentation about talent acquisition in 2023 without talking about AI, particularly if it’s one about the future. But actually, if you look into your organizations and if you look at how marketing teams are using AI, how finance teams are using AI, I don’t think I’m offending anyone if I say that very often HR and TA is not the fastest moving, most innovative part of the enterprise. So there will be other areas of the enterprise that may be ahead of us in terms of what they’re doing and that we can learn from. There’s also adjacent industries and things like that that we can literally take a structured look into the future. So learning from adjacent areas.

And then finally studying historical patterns, which can be very misleading because history doesn’t necessarily always repeat itself and those patterns change. We can look at things with something that’s called hindsight bias, where it seems really obvious that there was going to be a pandemic in 2020. And obviously at the time, it doesn’t. So studying history is important, but it’s only one element of it. So just wanted to give you that kind of primer on future casting, and I’ll touch on some of the elements of this as we move through the presentation.

So what I’m going to talk about are three things. So three forces that are driving change in TA, three trends that I’m seeing that I think really will help us plot a course for the next five years, and then finally some practical thoughts on what we can do now to plan for the road ahead, and I’m going to try and do all of that in about 22 minutes. So wish me luck. Here we go.

So forces. You have to take a real helicopter view, not a personal helicopter view, unless you own a helicopter, but you have to take a helicopter view and think about what’s really driving the change and disruption that we see now. And from a simplistic level, I think we can split this down into three critical forces that are driving change. So technology, talent and the economy. And I’ll go into a bit more detail about those in a second, but I think we’re in this unique time, certainly unique in terms of in my career, I’ve never seen this before, where all three of these things are converging to create this perfect storm of disruption, which means that I think that we’re going to see a much faster pace of change over the next five years than we have over the previous 5 years or even the previous 10 years. So these are the forces that are really pushing things forward.

So to break those down a bit, the economy is probably the most obvious one. Lots of countries at the moment have very high inflation, which has huge impacts on lots of things, cost of living crisis in many areas. Also, economic cycles seem to be changing or getting shorter or more disruptive. And also, lots of questions about productivity and work and who does the work and all those kind of things. So economy has always been a driver of change in talent acquisition. And at the moment the economy, the economic situation just seems very much more volatile than it has been for a while. So that’s one of talent.
This is really interesting, because of the pace of change at the moment, it means that organizations continually need new skills in their business. As all of you will know, a lot of these skills are very hard to come by and finding people with these skills is very, very difficult. Now, if we look five years in the future, in fact, if we look 10 years in the future and think about what does the workforce look like in 10 years’ time, well, actually, everyone who will be in the workforce in 10 years’ time is either in the workforce at the moment or in the education system at the moment. I think if we look at the skills that are being learned and the skills that are being taught currently in many countries, not all, we’ve got a real problem in terms of future skills crisis and future skills shortages. So the pace of change in business education systems, training systems are not keeping up with that which means that we can pretty much guarantee that there will be ongoing skill shortages for the near future.

Add to that demographic’s in certain countries. Certain countries have aging populations, they have shrinking workforces. Again, this creates issues. And also, after the pandemic, what we’ve seen is some real changing attitudes towards work. So what people think is important from their job, people valuing flexibility, people retiring early and then unretiring again, great resignations, great hiring, all this crazy work disruption where it’s very difficult to know what’s going on. But fundamentally, attitudes to work are changing and that will impact the availability of talent and the jobs that people want to do.

Thirdly, technology. I’m sure, in fact, I know that’s a very big theme of today. AI dominates, and everything that AI drives in terms of automation and all those kind of things just driving more and more disruption. And the pace of change here is off the scale unprecedented. So the disruption and the velocity of change that technology is driving, we’ve never seen anything like this before. So, three key things that are creating the moment that we’re now in.

Throw up some fundamental questions. Now I don’t have the answers to these, but I’m just putting them out there because I think they’re things that people need to think about. When will employers rethink their whole approach to talent? If we’ve got this skills crisis that’s going to get worse, if we’ve got a situation where currently lots of employers are hiring talent acquisition teams, then laying them off, then hiring again, there is lots of things that have to change in the long-term about the way that companies think about talent. So when is your organization going to have that realization? That’s one question.

How can talent acquisition keep pace with the rest of the enterprise? This comes back to what I was saying earlier about looking at adjacent areas in terms of what they were doing. I feel that there’ll be a lot of pressures within enterprises from the C suite to use AI to drive efficiencies. It’s important, I think, that as TA professionals, we’re very much up to speed with what’s possible with technology before we get outflanked by the rest of the enterprise and assimilated into something else or change happens to us rather than us driving change.

And then finally, will there ever be as many corporate recruiters again as there were in August 2022? I don’t know the answer to that. I think it’s an interesting question. I think it’s something that we really need to think about in terms of how the TA role is changing, how companies are thinking differently about it and what’s happening with technology. But it’s a question that I really want to put out there for you to consider.

So when we think about the future, we go on these hype cycles. So tremendous hype about AI at the beginning of the year. I read things in March that told me I would be out of a job by July because AI was going to take over. And actually, that hype in the short-term doesn’t happen. So sometimes when we’re looking to the future, we can look back and say, “Do you know what? Actually, recruiting hasn’t changed that much in decades.” It’s still all about people talking to people, and the tools have changed, but the fundamentals are the same. So I’ve taken the road ahead as the title of this presentation from a book by Bill Gates that he wrote– It must have been in the late 90s about technology change. He had to rewrite that book six months later because he missed out the internet, which just shows [laughs] how difficult it is to predict things.

But one of his famous quotes, which he may or may not have said, but this is the crux of it, “Always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” Because AI hasn’t changed the world of TA just yet, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to in a couple of years’ time. There’s another business guru I like to quote who says this in a much more succinct way, which is Ted Lasso, for all you Ted Lasso fans out there. And his quote is, I’m not going to do his accent. “There is two buttons I never like to hit, that’s panic and snooze.” So this isn’t about hitting the panic button, but it’s also not about hitting the snooze button. We need to do things now to embrace what’s going on.

Three trends. I’d love to talk more and give you lots more trends, but time is limited, so let’s stick to three. First up, generative AI. As I say, illegal to give a TA presentation without talking about it. I’m going to point you to my podcast at this point because there’s a QR code on the screen that you can scan to get to this episode. I published this episode last night. I do a lot of work on the podcast to try and uncover the trends that are going on. The guy on the screen here, John, he’s a Chief Data Scientist. I interviewed him back in 2019 where he gave a superb primer about AI and how it works. So it was brilliant to have him back on the show, and he does this amazing 30-minute deep dive into generative AI that just doesn’t quite go too technical to understand that I think everyone should listen to, because it really affirmed to me just how transformational this could be.

I think the thing about conversations around AI at the moment is, you have to think about what it’s like in the future, not what it’s like now. So obviously, going out there, learning loads of prompts, looking at how it can fit into your current workflow is a very valuable thing to do. But AI won’t be like that in the future. It’s going to be baked into things. So here’s something to just make you think about. So I don’t know, I can’t see everyone [chuckles] who’s in this presentation, but some of you, like me, may be old enough to remember the first time you bought an MP3 player.

Now, I used to own this Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra. I bought it, and I was very excited because there was this whole world of MP3 music that I was going to listen to, and I thought it was going to change my life. I bought it and it was the single most difficult thing to use, I think I’ve ever had. And part of that was because most music wasn’t digitized. You had to rip the CDs yourself or download them from illegal sources. There wasn’t an easy way to access digital music. Anyone under 30 is going to think I’m talking Martian at this point, but there wasn’t. So, this is what AI is like at the moment. It promises much, but it’s actually quite tricky to use and do all these kind of things.

What happened next is Apple invented the iTunes, and they invented the iPod, and that was great, so now I had all the music that I wanted. However, it was still a conscious effort. So if you want to get on a flight, you have to download all the music you want to listen to individually from your computer with a wire onto your iPod. Apple’s first answer to it was to make iPod with bigger and bigger capacity, but it was still a conscious effort to get your music where you wanted it to be. If you look at it now, digital music’s just built into my phone, I don’t even think about it. It’s just there. I think this is a really good analogy about what generative AI is going to be like in the future. It’s just going to be there and it’s going to power what we do. We’re not going to have to think about the mechanics of it. And if you think about it like that, it has some massive implications. I think one of the things about that interview is we talk about the speed of innovation that is now possible for existing vendors into the TA space because of what large language models do. So some massive things coming with AI.

At the moment, my favorite quote about generative AI is, “It’s like a universal personal intern.” It’ll do things for you, but you have to check its work all the time and give it quite explicit instructions. In the future, that’s going to change. And some of the predictions about the future of AI are dramatic, to say the least. So top AI researchers and CEOs warn against the risk of extinction in joint statement about AI. There’s lots of this stuff out there. If you listen to that interview, you get a sense of why. So I’m not predicting the extinction of humanity in a TA presentation, but it’s obvious that there is some dramatic change coming with this technology, and we need to understand that and we need to embrace it.

Okay. The next one is talent itself. This is really all about the move to thinking more on a skills basis, so skills-based organizations, skills-based hiring. Again, I point you to the podcast. I’ve got an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with David, who’s the CEO of Degreed, which is one of these skills’ development platforms. He talks about the value of skills-based hiring, what it does to organizations and some of the potential that it has.

Now, what I’ve noticed from the interviews that I’ve done on the podcast is the adoption here is very slow because most organizations aren’t set up to do this, but it’s definitely going in that direction. I think one of the implications of this, which again I’m starting to see in some organizations is this total talent thinking, this bringing together of lots of disparate silos of HR and talent into thinking in a more holistic view. So bringing together talent management, L&D, internal ability, talent acquisition, all kinds of flexible workforces, the experience that people have. So really breaking down that silos to look at skills across the business internally and externally, and thinking holistically about that. I think we’ll see more and more of that. One of the interesting things is, this is all about also giving equity of treatment to all workers, whether they’re part time, fractional, contract or permanent, which I think is interesting. And the other thing to say is not all skills will be provided by humans. So there’s a question about what’s AI going to do for us.

The third trend I want to talk about is recruiting transformation. So starting to have more and more conversations about this as people are really looking at some of the things that I’ve talked about and looking at how their TA strategy is set up or their TA team is set up, but actually, I think we can probably look forward to some fundamental shifts in the way that we do recruiting that haven’t really happened over the last decades. And why is that? Well, again, it’s down to AI.

So one of the things that’s interesting is that people can now apply for jobs in the traditional way that we have people applying for jobs, and they can just use ChatGPT to do that to write cover letters, to write CVs, all of those kind of things.

Now, whose fault is that? So what we’re saying is that, if we want of a better word, you can cheat the recruiting process. So is that the candidate’s fault or is the candidate just using all the resources that are available to them that they probably use to do their job? Is it the AI’s fault? Well, it’s definitely the AI’s fault, but there’s not much we can do about that. It’s here to stay. So is it the recruiting process and that’s the only thing that we can actually change and that we can think about. So I think that we are in for quite a lot of rethinking and changing in terms of the way that we recruit people. We’re starting to see it in a couple of areas already. So there’s an absolute revolution in assessment technology at the moment. Huge amounts of providers coming into the market or reinventing their offerings with different types of science to measure soft skills and all those kind of things and really looking to get into that gap to say, “Well actually we can really, really assess the person rather than their ability to use AI.” So I think that’s one interesting area.

The other interesting area and where I think there’s a huge amount of innovation is around frontline hiring at the moment, whether that’s hospitality or retail or whatever that is. Because the talent shortages are so great and because speed is so important, that’s where I’m seeing that we’re getting the most in terms of AI and recruiting automation. So for those of you who are working in frontline hiring, you’re obviously already aware of this and probably using some of the tools or thinking about it. If you’re not, this is a great example of an adjacent area to go and look at and say, “Right. Okay. That’s how recruiting automation works.”

How’s that going to work in the other sectors? Now, it won’t be exactly the same, but really that is where a lot of the innovation is at the moment. I think it’s a really interesting area to watch. So the road ahead, how do we plan for all of this? So three forces, three trends, which I’ve gone through very quickly. The road ahead, how do we plan for it?

Now, the biggest problem that we have as an industry is we are terrible at learning from history. So on the screen are three quotes that I heard all the time at various points during the last couple of decades. So for those of you who were in the industry back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, you’ll be familiar with the phrase, “The internet will never catch on for recruiting.” My very first job was an internet job and I was told time and time again that people would never use the internet to look for a job. It’s utterly ridiculous that they would do that. So obviously that came to pass that people did.

Next thing up was social media. So there was a huge hype around Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, and whether LinkedIn was actually social media, that was a big debate at the time. And the prevailing wisdom early on was that it was a massive fad that we could safely ignore. If there’s two words that don’t apply to social media, it’s safely and ignore in terms of the long-term. So that happened. And then finally, no one will ever use their mobile phone to look for a job. So this was pre-iPhone. iPhone was coming in. Mobile was revolutionizing lots of things, but people believed that no one would ever use their phone to look for their job. All of these things weren’t true.

What happened though, there was a very long time to course correct. So it took a number of years for internet recruiting to meet the hype. Same with social media, same with mobile. It was a bit shorter. The distance now between hype and impact is getting shorter and shorter.
So AI is the flavor of the month. There isn’t time to course correct and spend two or three years thinking about why we were wrong to say that it wouldn’t change recruiting. We have to move quickly. So that’s a lesson that we do need to learn from history.

So my overarching advice to you is to be relentlessly open minded. And by that, that includes challenging some of the longest held assumptions that we’ve had in recruiting and the longest held assumptions that we’ve had about work. So everything that we think is the case may not be true tomorrow. Having that sense of open mindedness makes it easier for you to plan and predict for the future.

You’re allowed to change your mind as well. I’ve made some very bold predictions about things in the past that have ended up being nonsense, but it’s important to learn from that and recognize that and be open minded enough to change your mind about something that you believed yesterday. So I think this is the biggest skill that we can develop to get us through the next few years is to be relentlessly open minded.

To break this down as a final thing into some recommendations to take forward, three important actions. Think strategically, move quickly, and find the right balance between humans and AI. So what do I mean think strategically? This goes back to being open minded. Think the unthinkable and challenge everything. So challenge everything that you believe about recruiting. Some of it will be right and some of it won’t change, but it’s difficult to predict what that will be.

Balance long-term thinking against inevitable short-term actions. I think one of the biggest problems that we have as an industry and it’s not our fault, it’s sometimes just the way it works is we’re always driven by very short-term thinking and short-term actions and short-term targets, especially so at the moment where things are so volatile. It’s important to look beyond that and really think about this next five years and have that long-term thinking.

Part of that, and I know that there are other presentations going on today that talk about this aligning TA as a strategic driver of the business showing that the value that it brings to an organization and why it’s so important and how it can move things forward. And a lot of that comes back to brewing talent crisis. If companies want to plan to expand and add value, they need talent to do that. If they can’t find talent because there isn’t enough talent, that sounds like a strategic imperative to me. Move quickly, be curious, open minded, and questioning, learn and experiment, take calculated risks but don’t hurry. Why am I saying don’t hurry on a slide that says move quickly? And that’s because it’s moving quickly, but actually thinking properly about things. So not jumping in and just buying loads of great new technology because someone said it was the next best thing. It’s like, “Let’s just take a step back and think about it, but at the same time, move quickly.” Empowering people, building agile processes.

Finally, right balance between AI and humans. Really important to understand your current process and candidate experience. That sounds like a really obvious thing to say, but I know lots of employers that don’t. I know that many of you listening may be involved in job searches at the moment, and applying for jobs, and seeing for yourselves just how much employers don’t understand their own process and their own candidate experience. So if these things are being automated or changed, we need to understand them. Keep up to date with the art of the possible, what’s going on, how do we need to do it? Give candidates the communication they want. Use automation to optimize all the human touch points.

So just to finish a bit more on future casting, I mentioned future casting at the beginning, would love to go into it in much more detail. I’ve got a whole load of new content coming out about this. So if you just want to scan that QR code, sign up to my newsletter, I’ll make sure you get that content.

My thanks to ATAP for inviting me to speak at Global TA Day and letting me share the audio with you. If you’re interested in future casting and trendspotting in talent acquisition, I’m launching a course in January to give you the tools, techniques and knowledge that you’ll need. If you want to be the first to find out when the course is launching, just go to mattalder.me/course. That’s Matt Alder dotme slash course. If you’re interested in having me speak at your event or workshop in 2024, drop me a message on LinkedIn or go to mattolder.com for more details.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. You can also find and search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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