At both the SIA conference in Miami and in talking to our friends at the American Staffing Association, some clear themes emerged.
The first is that everyone is experiencing shortages, and that pay is rising, led by the hourly paid sectors. So far, so much the same. But many of the dynamics are different.
For instance, it is clear that full remote working has embedded in internal and agency talent teams far more in the US than it has here.
With around half of US agency recruiters still working fully remotely, the business model has changed. Of course, the greater distances faced by US firms means that remote management has always been a more important part of the managerial skillset, even for modestly sized firms.
Perhaps that underpins greater confidence in letting employees work remotely more? Either way, we should be looking to our US colleagues for pointers on getting hybrid and remote right.
Turning to how firms are tackling the candidate shortages that they face, it’s clear that just doubling down on the same old approaches won’t work. The growth of Aya Healthcare, an agency nursing business that has growth exponentially – faster than Uber at its peak – was on everyone’s lips. Aya’s easy-to-use platform-based candidate management is at the heart of this.
The idea that the value of talent professionals is in doing the things that they can make a difference on – landing the relationships – while resting on tech for the rest, was paramount in the discussions I had in the US. That is the secret of Aya’s growth. Even so, UK firms are not behind; few US staffing firms are yet in a position to copy Aya.
The main takeaway from this was that successful hirers made themselves the masters of their technology, not passive buyers or users of it. They brought relevant tools well, and those tools were designed to engage clients and candidates better, not make consultants marginally more productive.
This resonates with many discussions I have had here in the UK, as firms look at the rising costs of suppliers. But it is also about bringing your team with you. Tech projects tend to fail on staff adoption, not tech delivery. Know what you are buying, own the tech, and help your staff to use it.
My final thought relates to our current zeitgeist, AI excitement. Colleagues in the US were careful not to overplay this as an issue; all things have a hype cycle and we are probably at the height of this one. Nevertheless, more advanced automation and AI advances are likely over the next few years.
I was pleased to hear the warnings we have given along with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation here in the UK on ethics reflected in the US market.
It was also good to hear some messaging that supported the chance for small companies to compete. Each step from getting data right, to building automation onto it, to building AI systems into the automation is like Darwin’s On The Origin of Species: each step has benefits, even if you can only take them one at a time. It’s clear a long-term tech plan, based on sound staff engagement and business needs analysis, is more important than ever. But we must never look too far.
I came away from the US full of optimism. Businesses are elevating talent as a topic like never before, and starting to act on it driven by getting value, not lowering cost alone. For talent professionals, this is a huge opportunity, but we must meet clients where they are, with a different and easier to access product, which harnesses technology that makes a difference and insight that helps firms plan. If that isn’t a good time to be in recruitment, when is?”
Neil Carberry is CEO at Recruitment & Employment Confederation