Webinar: The great fight for talent

A huge wave of change has hit the job market. Flooded with candidates and new opportunities, businesses can’t hire or fill talent gaps fast enough, as reported by Emma Greedy.

Fortune will favour those who manage to attract and retain the best people for the job, so what can HR do to keep up with the pace?

Over the summer we put this question to a panel of experts in an HR Lunchtime Debate in partnership with Eightfold.

Panellists agreed that one of the first things that needs to be considered is the rising importance of purpose. 

Jonathan Schipper, global talent management lead at chemical company DSM, said a job is no longer just a way to pay the bills, and companies failing to realise that will find people voting with their feet.

“Purpose is something that is becoming more important globally, and employees now have the power to leave companies that they don’t feel align with their idea of purpose,” he said.

“Employees are more willing than ever before to start over and join a new company.”

Similarly, Catherine Schlieben, chief people officer for talent at National Grid, argued a consideration of company purpose has risen in importance. 

“The climate agenda, involvement in political activism, and so much more, is incredibly important for candidates right now,” she said.

“[Employers who] are pioneering and innovating are really important to candidates right now, they want to know their employer will be able to hold their interest and align with their own core purposes.”

Given candidates’ social conscience, Shereen Daniels, managing director of HR Rewired, said she believes higher expectations are now placed on employers to speak up about social justice.

“Social issues such as activism, climate change and Black Lives Matter, are high on the agenda, and employees now want to see data that proves their employer plays a part in supporting, or at least commenting, on these issues,” she said.

Being shown a list of targets is no longer good enough Daniels said and people want to see action. She joked that job candidates want to ‘see the receipts’ of how a company has reacted to a social justice issue.

“This has put a lot of organisations in a tricky situation because they’re not sure what to disclose and how transparent they need to be,” she explained.


One eye on AI

Technology, and particularly artificial intelligence (AI), is often touted as one of the solutions to help HR wade through a crowded talent pool. When asked, most (72%) of the webinar audience said they would consider using AI in recruitment, yet only 9% were currently applying it to the process.

Taking action on issues of diversity, businesses have begun using AI as a tool to reduce bias in recruitment.

DSM has applied Eightfold’s AI tool to show only the first letters of the candidates’ first and second name and ensure that no gender, education or nationality is identifiable during the initial interview stages.

Schipper explained: “The tool has many controls, audits and procedures in place to continuously check the functioning of the AI and it is an ongoing conversation topic between us and them.

"On top of this, there are still humans involved in final decision-making, for example on candidate selection.”

Also using blind CVs, National Grid has started using AI to help remove bias from job adverts. As a test the HR team posted a job advert written by a person as well as one created by AI.

“The AI advert was run through a tool that removed any bias, whereas the handwritten one was pretty poor and could have done with a lot of improvement,” explained Schlieben.

“The advert that hadn’t been put through the AI system received nearly all white, male applicants, whereas the other one received a 60/40 mix of male and female applicants all with varying backgrounds.”

Although the AI tool was successful in attracting a broader range of candidates, Schlieben said it proved a human approach is still needed, which can deter some HR teams from using it.

“I’m sceptical that without the work put in by a human to assess where to go to attract candidates, how you attract them and what language you use, that an AI learning machine will have anything at all to screen,” she said.

Instead of being quick to dismiss AI though Schlieben argued that it may yet be too early to tell.

“The thought of using it can still be scary to some [in HR], so therefore more needs to be known about it before it can be widely applied,” she said.

Daniels added that part of the issue may lie in organisational silos.

“Traditionally within many organisations the people making decisions about AI are likely to be solely in the IT department, and
HR aren’t part of the conversation,” she said.

“It’s not that HR isn’t interested in AI, it is just usually kept separate from the conversation.”

Though extremely conscious of bias, especially in the recruitment process, Daniels said that the risk of taking one step forward only to take another back may also be holding HR back.

“AI may only fix one specific issue and may in turn exacerbate others. Businesses leaders don’t want to take this risk as they are aware of how vital inclusivity and diversity is to job seekers now,” she said.


Keeping the human touch

As technology is no substitute for the human touch, panellists agreed that a collaborative approach is needed.

When not using technology, Daniels said: “The question then becomes about how you try and mitigate the risk of overt human bias, because we all have it.”

She explained that HR needs to be aware of managers who have a tendency to hire based on how similar a candidate is to
themselves, as well as those that over index on needing to see proof of peoples’ abilities.

“You need to ask yourself as a business, ‘have we done as much as we can to make sure we are doing our very best to ensure people are evaluated fairly?’” she said. 

“It’s the same principle when you’re evaluating performance, potential and promotions.”

Schipper summarised: “As systems, AI, data, technology do more and more we have to make use of that because it makes processes more efficient and can really help us to make better decisions, but a human is needed to make the right decision in the end.” 


This piece appeared in the September/October 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.