This article is based on the Linkedin Live session from the xpathNexus series of live talks on global mobility topics. You can wat the entire series here.
The session “Talent acquisition and retention strategies in a time of recession” focused on several changes in the international economic and social climate that keep us on our toes. We still see Covid aftermath effects, there is a war still going on in Europe, increasing energy prices, inflation, and the Great Resignation which is still visible. At the same time we see huge layoffs mostly in the tech industry, we have Quiet Quitting and we have a new generation entering the labour market with new skills and behaviours (Gen Z), and many experts are expecting a recession in 2023. At the start of this year, we all learnt about the massive layoffs in the US in tech companies, however, the job market remains really tight, and apparently still employee-centric.
Together with leading HR expert guest speakers, we have explored the trends and challenges in terms of talent acquisition and retention in current times.
Guest speakers (alphabetically):
Adeleke Adesuyi, People and Culture Advisor, Parkland Fuel Corporation, Canada
Adrian Nicolescu, Talent Acquisition Manager, Logistec Corporation, Canada
Amanda Simon, Chief People Officer, The Briars Group, UK
Saher Usman, Area Head of HR, AP Moller-Maersk, Pakistan
What is going on out there in the labour market currently, from a general perspective?
Amanda Simon. What we’re doing is building and looking at the skills gaps actually and we educate our clients to do the same. We try to educate them to make sure that when they are thinking of streamlining and restructuring their departments, they’re actually looking at the skills gaps, rather than reducing costs.
Saher Usman. Most of the people here would agree with me that the entire labor market has shifted. One of the biggest challenges that we see is instead of candidates running after jobs, it’s now the employers seeking out the kind of candidates that would be a right fit for the role. That is one of the challenges that we continue to see and it has continued to get bigger and bigger, because of a lot of reasons. The great resignation is silently continuing and it’s not only concentrated in Europe or U.S, and it is a change in terms of how we operate, how we look at candidates and how we try to take our talent across the life cycle.
I think it’s a matter related to the retention of good employees. What we’ve seen across the market is that employers have started to become agile with time and innovative in terms of their ideas of how they utilize the talent at hand. Gone are the days when I was hired for example only to do talent acquisition. I would be much more entertained and more challenged if you were to give me cross-functional exposure.
If I were not only an employee who can be used in one center of expertise, but one that can be transferred in other parts – in this manner you keep me challenged and engaged. As we become leaner and the organizations are going towards smart workers, it has become very important for us to have the right skill set. So, if you consider the recruiters now, they are looking more at the kind of mindset that the candidate brings to the table.
Adrian Nicolescu. It’s not happening just in India, it’s happening everywhere in North America as well. You see a big shift towards looking at the attitude of candidates and looking at creating agile teams and collaboration between different departments. There is a huge gain in doing so. Having people working in different departments and participating in and executing different types of initiatives in the organization has become even more crucial.
In the past, mergers and acquisition departments were handling just mergers and acquisition files. You wouldn’t have a collaboration from HR in an M&A exercise. But nowadays everybody participates in this type of exercise. The same thing for an ERP implementation, for instance, as we are currently going through an ERP implementation in the organization. Each department is participating in this activity, so I believe that there is a huge shift lately and this is driven mostly by the lack of talent.
There is also the realization of certain organizations that you cannot always go and hire the purple squirrel (i.e. those candidates that are absolutely perfect hires). You look outside of the box and try to consider individuals and what they can bring to the table and not just in their area of expertise.
What would be the main trends in talent acquisition and talent retention?
Adeleke Adesuyi. I’ll speak about my specific industry where sometimes the employees you’re looking for are mono-skilled. There are very specific skills and the focus on finding the right candidates became even harder during Covid because the talent pool has shrunk. So, sometimes, you have to bring more carrots to the table in terms of compensation. You have to look at your compensation strategy and see if you’re competitive enough.
I know a lot of organizations have had to do their compensation survey midway into the year, because what they have currently could not sustain their talent acquisition drive for the entire year. So that’s happening and it’s a trend. It’s happening especially in industries where you need experienced people and you don’t have enough room to train from the scratch.
One trend for companies in industries like these is to go into the training centers, into the colleges, and to say ‘Hey, what’s discouraging young people from training into these skills, such that we have more pool to pull from?” Organizations are having to do that, to make it easier to access the talent pool. Sometimes you have to organically develop talent and you have to go to the source to ignite that process. That will take some time to gain some traction because, at the least, it takes between one to two years to train some specific skill set, especially in the skilled trades.
Adrian Nicolescu. It’s not just about professionals, it goes deeper into all the CBAs that we have (conventional bargaining agreements) with the unions. Sometimes we can have in the same CBA different types of positions that a person can handle during the day and they will switch in the same conventional bargaining agreement from one position to another. We are looking at it from different perspectives and in ways that we have never thought that we would look at the talent situation four years ago.
All of a sudden everything has changed, and everything has shifted especially in North America and what I see, I see a lot of effort that we have to put into our EVP (employee value proposition) as you have to differentiate yourself.
How do you do that, Adrian, what would be the best way to do that?
Adrian Nicolescu. Start with your personas, but not in the corner and with just a couple of people around you, just folks from HR deciding what persona you need to attract for your business. You have to look at it together with the entire business, so there is a huge partnership that you have to build with the operations, so you can bring them in and try to have them as your partners in defining exactly how you’re going to attract the talent in the future.
I hear in our community here in Canada and the US about a lot of companies starting to influence youngsters at the high school level towards the different types of jobs. At the end of the day, we’re lacking talent and quality of talent in so many areas from accounts receivables to machine operators going through IT folks and so on. Education needs to start early on. Yes, EVP it’s a lot these days as well as technology. I know there are a lot of investments in tech nowadays and talent acquisition is the area where companies spend most in terms of improvements.
Saher Usman. If you look at the research that have come through, I couldn’t agree more with you, Adrian, I think employer branding is one of the most important things in terms of not only attracting but also then retaining talent. You spend so much in bringing people on board and if you look at the latest research data it will actually come back to tell you that if you have a strong employer brand this reduces your turnover by 28 % and improves your attraction by 53%. These are huge numbers.
When you’re attracting talent, it’s also very important to have market competitive benefits that you’re offering. However, if you have a strong employer brand, you actually have an edge over everything else. I mean, if you’re making me Google you, then that just speaks volumes about the kind of employer I’m going to. Instead of that I will be happy to receive more information about you in my inbox when you approach me, so yes, employer branding is key.
Amanda Simon. Those are the questions that we’re getting asked by candidates in the first interviews now. You think about 3 years ago there were no conversations around policies, benefits, it was mainly about the skill set and candidates would be trying to sell their skill set to recruiters.
Now we’re looking at our interviews with our interviews and they’re asking about policies, about what our culture looks like, and they’re asking for evidence of it. We’ve been working for decades to try and improve, and now it’s shifted to not only flexibility, but to questions such as “what’s going to happen if I feel sick when I’m at work” for example. That would never be asked in your first interview 3 or 5 years ago.
We have to move with that trend too, it’s unusual, it’s new, but we all need to adapt quickly.
Adeleke Adesuyi. One interesting aspect of that situation you just mentioned is if you backtrack to an employee leaving an organization and going through that exit interview process what I have seen over the last two years is a situation where there is bad management or supervision. For those who have been putting up with bad management, it’s a time to be and it offers a unique opportunity to review the management as well.
It’s not only your talent management and talent acquisition conversation, it’s also about leadership so looking critically at this, but it’s also one of those issues that have come up through the current experiences at least in many industries where suddenly people have the opportunity to flee from their bad managers.
Question from the audience. How are the organizations prepared for the future crisis? Will we see only layoffs or there will be other business strategies?
Amanda Simon. Very good question. Layoffs are not the things that we are recommending to our clients. We’re trying to look at the skills gaps, how we can restructure the departments, rather than anything else. What we want to do is give them a future during this crisis – most of our clients are coming to us and they want to react immediately. We don’t know how long this is going to last, we don’t know how it’s going to affect us in the future, there’s a war going on and all the other things that are making our environments tough to handle.
What we’re suggesting is to stop and have a look for the future. Look at 3 to 5 years from now, look at your business plans. We’re seeing talent management specialists that are becoming more strategic. What is really vital for talent management to be successful and to adapt to the changing world is to tap into that strategic and commercial view as well. Especially the small startup businesses – when they’re working with us, we’re getting them to not think about the now.
Most of us on this panel have probably seen a few recessions and bad times when the companies were struggling…they got through them. We should learn based on the previous examples of what did and what didn’t work.
Adrian Nicolescu. I wouldn’t compare the last recessions we had with this one, because we are in a completely different landscape with the lack of talent. There is an opportunity for us, professionals in HR, a huge opportunity to get even closer to the business and be a partner and influence these types of decisions. It’s all about the connection between talent acquisition and talent management and after that, about operational excellence.
That connection has become very clear these days for everybody. I’m not going to say that all companies think alike, you will have some bad business decisions, for sure. But those companies will pay dearly if they’re going to try to remove certain individuals without involving talent management in the discussion. I believe that all that has changed and especially for companies that look forward as Amanda was saying.
Question from the audience. What role do you feel company values and commitments to areas such as DE&I and ESG are playing in the retention and attraction of talent? Can the company brand be adversely impacted by getting these incorrect?
Saher Usman. It just feeds back right into the employer brand. This is what attracts and then keeps people on board. I think everybody on this panel will vouch for the fact that when we sit in a recruitment panel and we ask candidates if they have a question for us, you know, and the candidate goes “Can you define your standing on DE&I? Can you tell me a little bit about the culture that you’re pursuing?”
This means you really have to be on the right side of it. One of the things that the researchers have shown us for recruitment trends is actually indicating that a psychologically safe workplace is a preference for all the new Millennials who are coming in, just like Gen Z. Mental health is a word that we hear more and more often now. How many times did we hear that when we started working? Mental health was something nobody would even talk about. Now, you need to have policies around it and candidates want to know what you provide for them in this respect.
All of this is actually feeding into your employer brand and if you’re not on the right side of it if you’re not evolving as an employer, then absolutely, you will not be able to attract the right kind of candidates.
What works best is hearing from the horse’s mouth, so if your employees are talking about it, going out and say so, if you’re actually providing it and then people are going out and talking about it, there’s nothing better than that in building your employer brand.
Adeleke Adesuyi. I would take it even further than that, especially in a workplace where you have a multi-generational component. It goes beyond just the employer in the process of recruitment on their website talking about it, the employees have to leave it regardless of the generation they fall into, so that continued education and engagement with the workforce is very important.
A younger person coming into the workforce can quickly see whether you’re paying lip service or whether it’s something lived within the organization. There’s so much information, reviews of employers out there that you can find on the internet… Five years ago it wasn’t that detailed, it wasn’t that graphic, now it’s very easy to access and learn more about an employer.
Training and continuous engagement in-house has to happen if you are able to attract and most especially retain talented employees. There’s a cost to this if you don’t do it. You will hit the bottom line at some point either through attrition or through the cost of bringing or replacing employees.
Adrian Nicolescu. I’m going to share with you a story when we had an interview with a student and the first question the candidate asked us was if we had a DE&I policy, saying that he was not going to join our organization if we hadn’t one. For me it was really surprising – coming from so many years of doing things in a different way, all of a sudden everybody realized that it’s not enough to say it, we really have to walk the talk!
Because you might have a very good EVP, your social marketing is strong, your talent brand is going very well, you have somebody who’s very savvy when it comes to social media and building that brand… but after that, the employees and the management are not following up on the promise, and that is very dangerous. Just putting something out there, in the market and on social media and after that not doing it, is a big mistake. It’s not enough to have that strategy and policy in place, you have to live it and everybody should follow it, I think that is the biggest challenge that we face right now.
ESG was also a part of the question and this is a great opportunity for companies. In the United States there are companies right now that are being pursued because they did exactly that. Based on the ESG commitments they said that they’re going to follow this and that and they’re going to do great things, etc. Right now they’re being pursued because they haven’t. Companies need to pay attention and it’s a great moment to be a candidate in the market.
Question from the audience. EVP should be designed keeping in view the different generations and demographic of the organization to match the employee preferences. How easy it is to do that? To take into account different generational cohorts?
Adrian Nicolescu. We just went through this exercise. Again, in the past EVP was good for five years. Nowadays it is good for a year and a half, 18 months, in my perspective. Because everything changes so much and the perception of our candidates changes so fast as well.
At the end of the day you cannot just build the EVP and say this is it, we’re done. You need to open it up all the time, look at it and every 18 months or so, you look at it and you try to see if you got this right.
Adeleke Adesuyi. When we come up with the EVPs in the first place there should be actually diversity in the process of developing and structuring the EVPs. Whether we like it or not, what the workplace looks like in 2023 will be very different from what it would look like in the next five years. It’s very obvious there’s a great exodus from the workforce and it’s partly triggered by Covid and pension programs and all that. If you cater for the human generation of employees whether we like it or not, Gen Z is here and we have to find a way to make that transition.
There is a lot to learn from that generation and I’m constantly trying to connect to see where the lines connect. If we don’t do that, there’s a cause to it and there’s also an opportunity cost.
Amanda Simon. I’ve seen that same space where we’re looking at you know gen Z coming in … we had a great graduate that we hired recently and during the interview I mentioned Facebook and I was horrified to realize that apparently Facebook isn’t that trendy anymore… I was horrified but you do learn so we’re assuming that we know what the Gen Z is looking … it was educational I should say.
What was the situation 3-4 years ago in terms of benefits? Can we make a comparison between then and now in terms of what employees value, desire and need?
Saher Usman. What used to happen 3 years ago was exactly what a conventional offer would look like. We would talk about basic compensation and some allowances and there you go, your offer is ready. Now, it’s more about including what you offer while the employee is at the workplace, the kind of benefits that you provide to them during the course of their employment, how are you managing the employee life cycle. All of these things have now started to add on.
If you do not have an established employer brand then you have to do a little bit more to be able to attract employees, as you don’t have that negotiation room anymore. When we interview the candidates the first question that comes forward is “Do you offer flexible working hours? Do you have remote working opportunities? Why do we not have location-free roles available?”
I’ve seen over the years organizations that are open and agile enough and they have shifted and are offering location-free roles and are providing remote opportunities – they get far better candidates than the ones who are still more conventional. These are not perks anymore, they are a necessity now: what kind of child care support, fitness and health safety packages, awareness measures, etc. All these have now been added to the package that the company brings forward. It all ties back to the fact that if you have not established your employer brand, then you have to do a bit more to be able to get the right people on board.
Adrian Nicolescu. In United States it’s starting to become like the norm to get paid every day. Companies offering HRS systems and payroll systems that are offering employees the possibility to receive payment on a daily basis, this is a huge shift, especially for the labour type of roles, like construction for example.
It is a differentiator in the market, people receive a card from the payroll provider and are getting paid on a daily basis. That speaks volumes to what technology can do to actually help companies when it comes to the employee value proposition.
Adeleke Adesuyi. From the union perspective, I constantly review the rates that have been agreed to in bargaining and I see a very huge jump in the rates that have been negotiated and achieved through bargaining and looking into the future I see a spike in the rates generally.
On the staff non-union side I would say that things have started shifting not only because some of these compensation components were not part of the package before, but the desire to have them in black and white is more pronounced. There’s more desire for employees to be independent. A lot of employees especially the highly skilled ones are coming to realize that they could get a rate of 200 an hour or a thousand dollars a day. So they are asking why they should commit to any employment long term. For the younger generation the focus seems to be on what they can get now. Professionals especially those who work in specialized areas like IT or engineering, they just want to get it now.
Employers who are looking for very skilled people have to be prepared for that conversation, have a structure in place, have the leadership supporting it and be able to implement such compensation strategies.
Saher Usman. Adeleke thanks for hitting the nail on the head. This is the new norm, it’s the flexible reward basket. The workforce that we have now with us is more focused on what they get right now. This is the question that they will have from you. The reward basket has to be more about flexible rewards now, it can’t really be the pensions and the Provident funds and the gratuities of the world.
These are not something that they’re very attracted to. If you look at the average span that an employee is spending with an organization this is 2 to 3 years. Gone are the days when people would qualify for a long service award. Now there’s hardly a handful of people you’re giving a long service award to.
The reward basket is something that we need to be on par with if you want to continue.
Would there be a difference between younger and more senior employees in terms of that reward basket? Would you assign different compensation and benefits according to different generations?
Adeleke Adesuyi. I think it’s already happening in a lot of companies where you have a two-tier or three-tier system depending on when you’re coming into the organization. For long-time employees who have received pension for a very long period of time, not having pension it’s like Doomsday. But for an employee whose goal is to save some more money because they will stay 2-3 years, the situation is different. It will take a lot of will on the side of the employer to be very flexible, because you will still find younger employees who believe in pensions because their parents had pension or because that’s just how they see it. For professionals, it’s time to start looking for this new approach that would help challenge management or talent research.
Saher Usman. Current circumstances are actually forcing us as HR professionals no matter what aspect you look at it to think differently. We’ve recently had a conversation about meals, so one meal is on the house from the organization. Now, we’re actually thinking – do we continue with that one meal on the house or do we make that part of the salary package that we’re offering? Because a lot of people are now working on a flexi work schedule so with the kind of the benefits that we’re offering they actually told us “I don’t come to work every day, so how does this benefit me?”
So from the company standpoint, we are actually providing a very good workspace, where one meal is on the company and you get to enjoy it. But their standpoint – and this is the new generation right – is different “How does that benefit me? You can continue offering fancy meals I’d rather take something home!” For a very long time, we’ve done things in one pattern, but now we’re forced to do things differently. And that is actually what’s needed anyways with the way the economic conditions the world over are.
Amanda Simon. For us in the UK and a lot of the EU, those wonderful ideas of being agile and mixing up these packages make us think about the tax implications as well.
When you think that you’ve got a really great idea, we’re going to offer everybody some kind of care package or help towards the cost of living, we then have to think about how that is going to affect that individual. There’s a low income in the UK that it would actually directly affect their benefits if we gave them something like a reward basket or cost of living payment. So we’re forever having to work closely with our tax specialists to make sure that that wonderful benefit that we thought about is actually not going to be a detriment to them.
Our job becomes even more complex when we’re having to navigate through these different generations and their needs and then being able to move the benefit quickly. We’ve also got to think about HMRC, governments, bargaining agreements, everything that goes with that, so I think our jobs have become way more complex than they were 4-5 years ago.
Adeleke Adesuyi. I believe in the Greater Vancouver area the cost of living has always been a factor. It’s become a big conversation trying to get skilled people in and it’s a struggle as we’re constantly looking for creative ways.
Adrian Nicolescu. It has changed in Montreal as well, I can confirm to that. I think we’re getting very close to the Vancouver market and cost of living is hitting us everywhere. Everything that we’re saying I believe goes back to listening to your influence and understanding what broadly the society needs. At the end of the day when we talk about compensation we have to look at the needs at the social level and individual level.
I believe that this is the most complex area right now in HR compensation – Total Rewards – because cost of labor has increased significantly. How do you present the data as a total rewards person to everybody to make them understand that if you are not looking at the cost and if you’re looking at the situation just from a cost perspective and you do not input the lack of talent at your bottom line you’re going to lose the war at the end of the day? It’s complex and I wouldn’t want to be in Total Rewards nowadays.
Four years ago, top of mind for me as a manager was to give opportunities to my people to flourish, to develop themselves. Nowadays it’s all about well-being – how can I keep my people in a safe, healthy environment?
The impact has been enormous on society with Covid and it’s still going on. It has awakened something in our minds and it’s not bad, it’s very good in certain areas. I do believe that it’s good as we’re asking ourselves certain questions and we’re asking ourselves should we tell our employees that they’ve been here for seven hours and a half and they should go home and close their computer?
You said earlier that technology is really important in the HR space. How is the available tech right now supporting talent acquisition and retention?
Adrian Nicolescu. It all starts with the type of people that you’re hiring and you have to look at the population and do that level of granulation and see exactly what works for the type of people that you are trying to attract.
At the beginning of the Covid we used to receive CVs, we were opening a new office and you get the CVs and you work with them and so on and so forth. Specifically skilled labor roles. All of a sudden we have no CVs and we realized that whatever we’re doing or not doing, you look around and you see companies doing a lot of Facebook campaigns and Facebook ads and so on.
So we get into the Facebook market and we recruit via Facebook and it’s going very well, but we realized that the majority of the people that we’re trying to attract do not have a resume. You get a lot of shifts like this, this is just one example. With IT professionals – all of a sudden you don’t find them on LinkedIn anymore. They do not answer on LinkedIn because they get bombarded by messages from around the world from recruiters.
This is where technology comes into place, this is where a good onboarding system tailored to your needs is very important. Artificial intelligence can help you where you need support, in creating shortlists and whatnot. Something that is very important that has changed a lot is the phone at the end of the day. Nowadays candidates do not expect a phone call anymore, they expect a text. Do we have platforms that enable us to communicate with candidates during their day?
Technology can help and I feel that nowadays if you like technology and you’re an early adopter you can test so many platforms in talent acquisition that are out there.
I would like to draw attention for those who are interested in doing it to pay attention to the legal aspects. There were a lot of changes in terms of GDPR for Europe already happened but right now in Canada and US you have a lot of shifts as well and we’re following more and more towards the GDPR. Some of the organizations and companies that you see out there selling technology do not look at this aspect and you need to protect your organization.
But it’s exciting, I mean you can get so many solutions from a talent acquisition perspective!
Adeleke Adesuyi. Thank you very much Adrian for drawing attention to the legal aspect of it, especially with regard to privacy, which is a different conversation entirely. You’ve covered all the grounds on technology but in addition to that also it is very important as the digital professionals or employers to be able to understand the importance of matrix.
Matrix so that you can get the right information and matrix that is very current before you could pour information every six months and make decisions on it. Now you have to do it almost on a monthly basis because the frontier is always constantly shifting and then that would address whatever strategy you’re going to use or whatever software or whatever technology you’re going to use. So it’s important to know what’s happening out there and it’s not always what you think because the drivers are becoming even more unstable on unpredictable.
The importance of having strong HR metrics, abilities or competencies or someone who actually understands the market is paramount.
Saher Usman. The more data analytics we rely on, the more accurate our responses will be. I think the life of a talent acquisition person right now is on the edge because every three months, data is changing. And when we have an organization where it’s a mix of blue collars and skilled workers and white collars and all the legal implications in it, it’s very important to be able to make the right decisions. That’s why technology has made life very simple.
I will use my example: I did not land my current job because I have a resume. And I wasn’t responding to LinkedIn either. I landed it because I received a very nice company dossier in my email where it had all the information about the company culture, what are the progressions they’re offering, etc You get attention, you then look at it and you say “oh, okay, let’s explore”. That’s what people are looking at more and more right now.
For us, as HR professionals, for both retention and acquisition, relying on technology is the only savior right now. This generation that we’re working for literally wants us to give them proof points, so when you approach them it has to be about something that link back to data points. Technology has made interviewing more easier, somebody in the audience was talking about ghosting candidates, that is happening because we are overwhelmed.
Because you advertise a role and you get 50 applicants and not one of them is actually fit for the role. Now with all these virtual interviewing gadgets that we have, the situation is different. You don’t get the mindset through the resume, you get the mindset through hearing them talk, seeing what capabilities they bring to the table.
Making use of technology is something that we need to do – it’s a need, not a want anymore.
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It’s early 2023 – what’s your vision, prediction let’s say for the most important challenges in the next 2 years in terms of talent acquisition and retention?
Amanda Simon. This is a hard one. The biggest it’s got to be ensuring that our clients are protected when they’re thinking about reducing the size of their departments, or trying to hire differently. We’ve got to think not only internally, but we’ve got to think about the clients that we support as well. I think technology is going to get better, but there’s going to be costs involved … I wouldn’t like to predict too much because it changes so quickly now.
Saher Usman. Finding the right candidate for the right job. Honing into the mobile talent, looking and hiring across the world and then offering the right kind of solutions for people, I see that for us. Also globally, the next 2 years will be about finding the right candidate, at the right time, for the right role, anywhere.
Adeleke Adesuyi. Two things I would say: succession planning and leadership development. As talents are leaving the workplace, talents include leadership too. Leadership provides the direction for the future, so you have to have the right leaders, the right fit in the right organization. That would be a challenge going into the future -how do you develop these leaders and keep them engaged and keep them able to handle the dynamics of an ever-changing work environment?
Adrian Nicolescu. I don’t know what else to add, but it’s an old HR saying that says recruitment starts with retention, as much as I like my function in talent acquisition, recruitment starts with retention.
Many thanks to all of the speakers who took part in this live event. If you’d like to watch the entire discussion, please do so HERE.