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Ep 577: Hiring In Challenging Talent Markets

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Despite the recent increases in applications that some sectors are experiencing, there are still many talent markets with acute skills shortages where hiring is a considerable challenge. So, what long-term strategies are employers using to ensure they are recruiting effectively when talent is in short supply?

My guest this week is Ellie Harte, Head of Recruitment at AtkinsRéalis. AtkinsRéalis is focusing strongly on skills-based hiring as well as using employer branding and employee advocacy as attraction tools to compete in a highly competitive market for talent. They also think long-term, working to champion STEM education in schools and inspire a future generation of engineers.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Talent market challenges in the engineering sector

• From LVPs to a global EVP

• Aligning corporate brand, employer brand and employee experience

• Managing attrition and growth

• Moving to skills-based hiring

• Working with schools to nurture STEM talent and challenge assumptions about engineering

• Using employees as brand advocates with authentic and genuine content

• Getting talent attention and showcasing culture rather than advertising jobs

• How skills-based hiring and AI will shape the future of talent acquisition.

Listen to this podcast on Apple podcasts.

Transcript:

Matt Alder: Support for this podcast comes from Talent Collective, the dynamic, nonprofit community dedicated to empowering, connecting and advancing women plus in the ever-evolving realm of talent acqui
sition. Talent Collective’s mission is to elevate the careers and networks of its members through carefully curated experiences, ensuring women plus in recruiting thrive, learn and connect. Whether you are a global TA leader, head of talent, corporate or agency recruiter, or an expert in recruiting or people operations, Talent Collective is tailored just for you with over 200 women in recruiting globally, you could enjoy a multitude of benefits from quarterly fireside chats, monthly networking events, boardroom peer groups, mentorship programs, engaging workshops to a dedicated recruiter job board and discounts from their recruiting service partners.

Talent Collective is more than just a community. It’s a supportive ecosystem where careers flourish, explore unique experiences and opportunities to connect with like-minded professionals on their free community platform at talentcollective.community. That’s Talent Collective dot community. Follow them on LinkedIn and Instagram, and join women in recruiting whose careers are thriving and flourishing.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt Alder: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 577 of the Recruiting Future podcast Despite the recent increases in applications that some sectors are experiencing, there are still many talent markets with acute skills shortages where hiring is a considerable challenge. So what long-term strategies are employers using to ensure they are recruiting effectively when talent is in short supply?

My guest this week is Ellie Harte, Head of Recruitment at AtkinsRéalis. AtkinsRéalis is focusing strongly on skills-based hiring as well as using employer branding and employee advocacy as attraction tools to compete in a highly competitive market for talent. They also think long-term, working to champion STEM education in schools and inspire a future generation of engineers.

Hi, Ellie, and welcome to the podcast.

Ellie Harte: Thanks, Matt. It’s nice to be here.

Matt Alder: An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Ellie Harte: Yes, of course. So my name is Ellie Harte. I am the Head of Recruitment at AtkinsRéalis. I’ve been here for, gosh, it’ll be 16 years in March. So I’m a little bit like old furniture here.

Matt Alder: Wow. And tell us a little bit more about what AtkinsRéalis does for people who’ve not heard of the company.

Ellie Harte: Yeah, absolutely. So, we are a global engineering consultancy. We have our headquarters over in Montreal in Canada. We offer engineering consultancy to a multitude of clients across a number of disciplines. So, you’ve got transportation. We do a lot in the nuclear and power space, aerospace, defense technology, security. Infrastructure is a huge, huge business for us. And then we’re starting to emerge into new areas that focus around net zero, digital as well. So, we’re vast in terms of the services that we offer.

Matt Alder: Now, you’ve recently been through a significant rebrand because the business was called different things before. Tell us a little bit about that, but also how that’s affected your employer brand and who and how you recruit?

Ellie Harte: Yeah, absolutely. So I was a key part of the rebranding activity, actually, as a global recruitment lead. And very difficult having to keep something like that under wraps and very, very quiet for a long time. But the rebrand has been absolutely great. It’s so exciting. The way it looks, the way it feels, I’m so fortunate to be involved in that project as well. But it’s landed at exactly the right time for us as an organization. It’s an inflection point for us, following years of transformation to trying to unite the company. So if I take us back to 2017, actually, when were acquired by SNC-Lavalin, we kept our global brands of Atkins and F&G and SNC-L, which at the time was exactly the right thing to do. But it made it very hard to become the one SNC-Lavalin that we talked about.

From a recruitment perspective, we had different, separate social media channels. Not just in name, but in tone, how we portrayed the company culture, how we looked to be feeled. We talked about being a global company, but candidates would have had a very, very different look and feel, depending which of our social media sites they landed on, for example. Till now have one name and single channels globally. We’ve got consistency in our approach to market. But for me, it’s such an opportunity to revise and refresh our EVP, our employer brand, really show the global nature of who we are across the organization to all candidates. We’re in growth mode still, and very much in growth mode, so be able to become as appealing as we can to candidates is so important right now.

Matt Alder: I can imagine. Tell us a bit more about your EVP.

Ellie Harte: So it’s actually something that we’re working quite heavily on at the moment. We created local LVPs. Again, probably going back, not long after the acquisition, so maybe 2018 time. They worked really well at the time because although we were one organization, we were quite segregated because of the brands. We’re using the brand now to leverage pulling together a global EVP, aligning it to our employee experience, because they are very separate things for us, although there’s a lot of consistencies between the two. But really using it as an opportunity to refresh what’s important to us as an organization, stripping it back to look at our company purpose. So we’ve got a purpose that is engineering a better future for the planet and its people really making sure our EVP aligned with that. We’ve got something that we can live and breathe as well.

Matt Alder: Tell us about the talent markets that you recruit in. Obviously, massive business recruiting all over the world. What’s the talent market like for engineering talent and the sort of technical talent that you need?

Ellie Harte: Yeah. It’s a very challenging market. It has been consistently for a number of years, and consistently globally. I don’t think there’s any one region in the engineering space that would say they find it easy to recruit. There was a lot of talk wasn’t there about the great resignation. I don’t think as a company, personally, I don’t think we ever fully experienced that, but it definitely impacted our attrition levels, they increased. So trying to then meet growth, because we have been in a few years of significant growth and backfill that attrition in what’s in already a very challenging market to find the skill sets in, it has been really, really tough. We have had a real strong focus on early careers and bringing talent in through that route.

Again, very challenging though, because the statistics out in the market demonstrate that there are less and less females still studying the engineering and STEM subjects that are really, really vital to us. So there’s also been a shift in effort from us as an organization to really, really focus on working with schools in that space. So yeah, like I said, still incredibly challenging. It is very candidate led as well, which leads to the competitive nature of the market. So we are trying to encourage the business to have a shift on how we recruit and try and focus on skills-based recruiting rather than just perhaps traditional competency based.

And then I guess another significant challenge for us, which is probably not just within our industry, but others are feeling the pain here as well are the immigration challenges that have come off the back of Brexit as well. There’s really, really strong engineering skills that sit across Europe that we used to have a free-labor market around movement. That’s now really, really hard. It’s restricted our pool, but it’s also significantly increased our costs as a business. We’re having to work with the business to really influence that. The immigration challenges are actually now a cost of doing business and something where we’re learning to absorb as well.

And then probably the last challenge for us is offer declines. They’ve been high. This year, they’ve been high the last couple of years, and it just reflects the nature of a very competitive, fast-moving market.

Matt Alder: There’s quite a few things to dig into there. I won’t have time to dig into all of them. But just to go back to the bit about future talent, early careers, schools, because I know that working in schools is something that you’ve done for a number of years. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Ellie Harte: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a really, really strong STEM strategy across the business that just doesn’t just sit with recruitment. Actually, we have STEM ambassadors throughout the business who really, really championess with the schools in their local areas.

We do something at the moment which is called governor for schools, where we’ve actually got senior people in the business who are out sitting as governors as parts of schools and trying to support and influence some of the agendas there as well. And that’s something that we’ll be investing hopefully quite heavily into 2024 and really trying to expand that as well.

We’ve got a real appreciation as an organization that you need to nurture the young talent very, very early on in the STEM space. We attended The Big Bang Fair this year, that was great. It was over at the NEC in Birmingham. I think I saw more students and schools coming through the door this year than I ever have. And the enthusiasm from those individuals is really, really positive as well. So I’m hoping that we can influence more in that space.

Matt Alder: And what is it that you’re trying to influence more there? Is it an understanding of an engineering or is it trying to get more people to take STEM qualifications? How does it work?

Ellie Harte: It’s kind of both of those, to be quite honest, Matt. I think if I think about my kids, they’re still very much– “What do you enjoy at school?” They’re never screaming about math’s and science necessarily. So I think there’s got to be a shift to make those subjects more interesting and appealing to individuals when they’re at school.

I think one of the other things we’re really trying to do is there’s a bit of an assumption on what engineering is. It’s so high level when you use the term engineering that there’s a lot that comes with that. So at the beginning of our conversation, I talked about there’s so many different facets that we touch into as an organization. We’ve got a huge ecology section, for example, within our business, and they do some fascinating stuff.

One of the pieces of work we’re working on for Sizewell C at the moment, which is one of the nuclear plants, is actually the rehousing of badger setts. The complex nature of being able to do that and how we do it logistically is fascinating. It’s not something, unless you’re in that industry and in the weeds of it, that you’d automatically think an engineering organization would get involved in.

Digital is new for us. When I think about digital and AI and the opportunities for us as a business in the digital space is almost endless, and I don’t think we’re even scratching the surface of that at the moment. And then you’ve got engineering net zero. So really, really important space for us. Fairly new to us as an organization, probably over the last 18 months, but I know it’s so, so important to our younger generation growing up. It’s not about exciting projects anymore. It is about sustainability, ESG, social value. So it’s demonstrating to them the impact that engineering has in that space.

Matt Alder: You mentioned what a competitive talent market it is. How do you use things like employee experience to differentiate yourselves?

Ellie Harte: For us, our real, real push at the moment is using our employees as advocates and ambassadors for us as an organization. So across our talent attraction teams, it’s really thinking about the lived and breathed experiences of our employees and the people and the culture, and how we bring that to life externally. We’ve got some amazing staff networks internally that– We do an awful lot to promote internally and really talk about the successes of, but don’t always think about that external lens of, well, actually this is going to be really appealing to somebody outside who’s looking to join an organization that’s inclusive and supportive and has the networks to support them as well. So utilizing networks, our employee voice, I think there’s nothing more powerful in the market than authentic, genuine content from individuals that work in the business already.

Matt Alder: So how has talent acquisition changed in the last few years? How have things evolving? What role is technology playing now?

Ellie Harte: Gosh. Well, I think I alluded to the fact that I’ve been here in 16 years. So I would probably say the biggest shift that I’ve seen, if I think about talent attraction and with my saucer hat on since 20– When was it? 2006, are probably the mediums that we used to go to market with at the moment. And a lot of that, I think is technology led. But I used to sit there and contacts. Some of the journals about how I can get a job ad physically in a paper or in one of their journals. It was all about traditional job boards at that point. And there’s then been a shift to, well actually, let’s advertise on social media. We used to have a focus on advertising jobs on what was Twitter at the time.

And now we’ve moved to a point where we don’t advertise jobs at all on social media. And it goes back to, I think, the point that I was just making around. We showcase our culture and our purpose, and actually the career site is very much the place for the jobs. But our social media channels are about not necessarily attraction. Sometimes it’s about getting attention of individuals and really piquing their interest in who we are.

I also alluded to the fact that people’s interests have changed in terms of talent attraction over the last few years. We used to be able to talk about the big shiny projects that we’d worked on. London 2012, for example, the Burj Al Arab, I think we rolled those out quite a few times. They’re not necessarily what interest people now about joining an organization. I think they know the projects are there, but actually they want to know what our social value agenda is, what are we doing in the net zero space? What our agenda and journey is around ED&I is incredibly important, particularly to some of that early career’s population that we talked about earlier as well.

And then touching on your point about technology, the tools that are available now are so much more sophisticated. I think back to when I used to talent pool on Excel spreadsheets and we used to use really clunky ATS. We’ve now got a really solid ATS and process that we use within workday. We utilize a CRM which has elements of AI built within it that helps us find and organize our talent globally. It helps us talent pool in a way that’s really, really succinct.

And then I probably can’t mention the change without mentioning love it or hate it, but Teams. I think COVID has forced the use of technology during that period, but also, I think there’s some real benefits to that as well. It’s made the recruitment process much easier where we can interview anybody anywhere, no matter where they are in the globe at the moment, in a much speedier and a much lower cost perspective as well. But it’s been a tool that’s essential for us to collaborate globally. Without Teams, I don’t think from a recruitment perspective, you would have seen the global collaboration that we’ve had.

Matt Alder: I think that’s such an interesting point as well because I think that’s something we just take for granted. But actually, three or four years ago, it wasn’t something that you used all day, every day. So it’s really interesting how that has changed everything, but in some ways, we haven’t noticed that it has. So final question. What do you think the future looks like? How are things going to evolve over the next few years?

Ellie Harte: So if I’m going to think about this, and some of it links back to what I’d already talked about, but I think how we recruit in the market will be vital. I talked about skills-based recruiting earlier. There’s a tendency within engineering to sometimes be slightly old fashioned about how we go out to market. I’m sure there’s other organizations that you have a resignation and you think, “Right, I’ve got to go and recruit the same person that’s just left that role.” We don’t think about the possibilities of looking at key companies. That’s always been our focus, rather than looking at skills and transferable skills, identifying a candidate persona rather than backfilling like for like.

We talk about blind recruitment and how that supports a fair and consistent process from an ED&I perspective. I do wonder, will we ever get to a place where we have blind CVs around the companies somebody’s worked in, so that we don’t have that bias around where somebody’s worked and the focus is purely on their skills, maybe, for example. Internal mobility as well, a real big focus on homegrown talent. We’ve talked about how competitive the market is at the moment. It’s not just about filling roles, but how do we hold on to the good people that we’ve already got as well. And the only way you can do that is reskilling, looking at transferable skills, putting the right people in the right places and in the right roles, and having that strong EVP as well to make people want to stay.

And then there’s technology we couldn’t talk, but I don’t think about what the future will look like without mentioning technology. I sometimes dread to think what role AI might have in the future. It’s already in some of the tools that we’re using. I talked about the CRM that we use, and I’m starting to see other tools come onto the market where it’s evolving. I think the key challenge will be, how do we use AI in a way that ethically feels right and correct for an organization, and I think that’s probably going to be the biggest challenge we face.

Again, when I was thinking about weird and wonderful ways that technology might evolve, I wonder if we’ll end up with something that’s a bit like a dating style app, but for finding jobs. So some algorithm somewhere that takes your skills, and it matches you to a job, and you can swipe left or right depending on whether or not you’re interested in that job. I don’t know, AI that sifts based on JD requirements, possibly again in the future, takes the role of sifting out. That’d be very interesting because I’d probably say 90% of the job descriptions that I see out there aren’t written in a way that would allow that. But then also, could AI be writing the job descriptions in the future? You just don’t know. I think the possibilities are unlimited from an AI perspective. I think one of the things I stand quite firm on is I don’t see it taking over the role of recruitment.

I think there’s so much emotion in finding a new role that you still need to be able to retain the human elephant element of delivering that solid candidate experience as well. But I think organizations that can get that balance right, so can bring AI in with the right balance but keep that human centric element will probably the ones that create a standout experience in that space.

Matt Alder: Ellie, thank you very much for talking to me.

Ellie Harte: You’re more than welcome. It’s been really good. Thank you, Matt.

Matt Alder: My thanks to Ellie. 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 @recruitingfuture. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and 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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