What do recruitment leaders need to succeed in a rapidly evolving talent industry? On 5th October, TALiNT Partners hosted their annual World Leaders in Recruitment Summit at London’s NatWest Conference Centre – shining a spotlight on the big challenges facing the recruitment industry in 2023 and how to maximise opportunities in 2024. Supported by Amdaris, Bullhorn, giant group, NatWest, Odro, Sonovate and SourceWhale, the event was attended by 100 staffing and talent solution leaders alongside trail-blazing industry speakers.
A diverse range of topics were debated, from how recruitment leaders can future-proof their businesses with AI to how to optimise talent, funding and training to build stronger foundations for growth.
The summit opened with a warm welcome and industry analysis from Alex Evans, Managing Director of TALiNT Partners, acknowledging that recruitment has experienced the “best and worst of times over the last three years.” Rising interest rates and declining vacancies have combined to create a tougher environment for recruiters as more cautious employers prioritise internal mobility and upskilling over recruitment, with shrinking TA teams and better adoption of tech and talent intelligence,” Alex observed. “However, agile recruiters with a diverse service offering and optimised tech stack are better insulated from the downturn and more able to meet new client expectations.”
Nicola McQueen, CEO of NHS Professionals, (NHSP) opened the first panel on Leading Transformation with her leadership lessons from the organisation’s ongoing tech transformation. NHSP is the leading provider of flexible workforce solutions to the NHS working with over 100 NHS trusts and healthcare organisations across the country. Explaining why Bullhorn was chosen to support their transformation, Nicola said, “We were looking for a partner who would help us re-engineer our business to suit the technology we were buying, so it’s as much about organisational transformation as a technology programme.”
Shaun Weise, VP of Enterprise International at Bullhorn, explained how the supplier role has morphed. “Expectations have changed significantly and COVID-19 was a definite factor… Candidates are looking to work with the right agency, with purpose and values that match their own. We felt that same obligation to the market to ensure that not only are we providing a good technology solution, but good advice and experience.”
Candidates are looking to work with the right agency, with purpose and values that match their own.
Tech will always play a huge role in retaining talent, but what can be done to help recruitment consultants use it better? Ryan McCabe, CEO of video interview solution Odro said the key is for everyone to understand the benefits rather than just be told it’s a KPI without explaining why, “We do it in phases so people can see the impact of adoption in 24 hours where possible and that’s vital for engaging consultants who need to see value quickly.”
More recruiters and RPOs are outsourcing specialist talent to deliver higher-value solutions. Glyn Blaize, COO of Amdaris, which specialises in extending teams with highly-skilled tech and software talent, explained how this is helping to win and retain clients,“We can sit alongside recruiters with a client and explain how they can get the return on investment that they want to achieve from delivery of tech-enabled services. We also work with recruitment CTOs to help them build the business case for new systems and show how they are going to get value from them more quickly.”
AI in recruitment
As the discussion moved to the impact of AI on recruitment, Glyn said it can enable enormous capability improvement but should be treated with caution, “AI can process in one minute what it would take a human 32 billion days to process manually. But warned to be cautious about its role in decision-making, especially in recruitment, to manage bias and ensure the right people and roles are being recommended in the right way.”
With New York introducing legislation to curb the use of AI in recruitment in May this year, the panel was asked what the UK can learn from this. “When we get better at giving the language models the right context to make a decision, then AI will be a more effective tool,” said Odro’s Ryan McCabe “But, until we get to that point, AI can only be used to educate the human making the decision rather than make the decision on behalf of a human.”
The second panel looked at cashflow solutions for those hit hardest by the rising cost of borrowing and growth capital options for those looking to fund growth. Chris Biggs, Relationship Director of Corporate Banking at NatWest, kicked off by saying, “The last 12 months have been more challenging for most, if not all, of my recruitment clients and my advice is to engage early with your banker and make the tough decisions sooner rather than later.”
When we get better at giving the language models the right context to make a decision, then AI will be a more effective tool.
Offering an M&A advisor’s perspective, Keely Woodley, Partner, Head of UK Corporate Finance at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said, M&A volumes were down circa 65% but it’s nowhere near as bad as the COVID-19 downturn.
“The debt markets and liquidity are generally freeing up a bit, which is an encouraging sign. Coming back after the summer, it’s not a typical flurry that some were predicting, but there are slow but steady signs of revenue recovery in terms of confidence in the market and reasons to be more optimistic.”
The advice from Keely and Chris is to keep a firm focus on cash, be honest with lenders, buyers and investors about your financial position, retain high-performers and manage under-performers, and be as agile as possible.
The pace of change
Rebecca Watson, CEO of RSS Global, a staffing and workforce solutions company acquired by Twenty20 Capital in March, explained lessons from the last six months since moving from public to private ownership. “The pace of execution and decision-making is much faster in private equity, the focus on cash flow is paramount, and we’re seeing the impact of technology on effectiveness and profitability, as it makes us more agile.” Rebecca added, that keeping close to clients and adapting to their changing expectations in current markets is very important, don’t presume you know what they need or require.
Mark Thompson, Group Head of Sales at embedded finance and payment solution provider Sonovate shared his perspective on growth funding and what recruiters are investing in. “What we’ve seen, as a fintech company, is agencies asking us how we can utilise technology and funding to mitigate costs across more areas of the business, not just providing invoice factoring or lending but supporting pay and bill to maximise opportunities around RPO and MSP solutions.”
Daniel Haslam, Group Sales Director of giant group, which offers end-to-end workforce management solutions, highlighted the increasing importance of compliance as a service for recruiters, “Contingent solutions bring more complexity, which is scary, with different rates and checks for contractors in different industries and countries with different legislation to navigate. Getting it wrong is not good for your brand so you need partners who can deal with complexity in different markets.”
After the break, John Zafar, Chairperson of Inclusive Employers opened the third discussion on inclusive recruitment. “We believe by being inclusive, you will be a better-performing organisation and a better-performing employer.” Commenting on the role of NEDs and board advisors in DE&I, he added, “I have no power, but I have influence. The key thing is bringing that awareness to the boardroom and ensuring leaders use the right language.”
Contingent solutions bring more complexity, which is scary, with different rates and checks for contractors in different industries and countries with different legislation to navigate
“If the voice of the people isn’t in the room, who is going to be their voice? We have to recognise that this takes effort,” said Sheri Hughes, UK & MEA DE&I Director at PageGroup, who added: “If we don’t have our ducks in a row, how on earth can we advise any of our clients? To be able to advise employers on DE&I, recruiters need to understand the objectives and metrics that help to drive change in behaviours and processes. Are you creating an environment of inclusion – making sure everyone feels they belong?
Adrian Adair, COO of Morson Group, believes that if you focus on social mobility, then you will cover many other areas of DE&I. “Social mobility will make the biggest impact, particularly if you’re engaging with local communities and reflecting the mix in your own and your clients’ businesses. If you can demonstrate improved productivity and output and how more inclusive and loyal people drive it, then clients and consultants will buy into it..”
The inclusion panel unanimously agreed that ‘Reverse Mentoring’ is a game-changer, where senior leaders are mentored by more junior staff members or those from different backgrounds. “The benefit of our reverse mentoring programme is it gives an opportunity for individuals to find out more about the lived experiences of people who may have been excluded,” John explained.
Lee Gudgeon, MD of Reed Talent Solutions, opened the final panel debate on how to develop future leaders in recruitment by identifying the skills needed to recruit the best talent. To maximise AI and talent intelligence, recruiters will need to understand how to optimise data and analytics to be valued as strategic advisors and career consultants, he said, but the human touch is still the biggest differentiator for recruiters.
“Technology can only tell so much of the story,” said Dougie Loan, CRO of SourceWhale, the business development and headhunting platform. “Having access to all of the data is great, but if you don’t understand how to use it, you’re not getting any leverage.”
The panel agreed that an effective data strategy is vital, not only in enhancing the human element in recruitment but increasing the effectiveness of marketing. Lee said his own marketing team had increased in both size and function to ensure quality data input for better outcomes.
Recruitment firms of all sizes are having to monitor and manage a more dispersed workforce. “We are more reliant on performance data to identify future growth leaders, not just top billers, and managers are having to adapt the way they coach, train and support people who are in the office less,” added Lee.
Jo Matkin, CEO of Grayce, a specialist in upskilling graduates and emerging talent for transformation projects, advised recruiters to be more open-minded about recruiting from other industries. “Digital natives will find it easier to optimise new tech and data solutions to enhance roles in recruitment but experienced recruiters able to adapt to this new way of working will be in a very strong position,” she explained.
AI for the future
TALiNT Partners CEO, Ken Brotherston observed that it’s not AI that will make recruiters redundant but those best able to use AI who will be fit for the future.
We all want to make huge profits; but we also want to create an environment where everyone pulls together, has the same values and enjoys being at work.
Andrew Anastasiou, MD of Pertemps Professional Services, and a finalist for TIARA Recruitment Leader of the Year, has built a leadership team with an entrepreneurial mindset but with purpose and inclusion at its heart. Asked what he has learned from 32 years in recruitment to develop future growth leaders, he said listening to individuals, understanding what motivates them and cultivating a ‘can do’ attitude are fundamental. He said, “Collective consciousness is the key to driving our business in the right direction. Yes, we all want to make huge profits; but we also want to create an environment where everyone pulls together, has the same values and enjoys being at work.”
But what about toxic top billers and under-performers? The panel agreed that in this market, leaders needed to make tough decisions early to ensure only the best performers are contributing to culture as well as growth.
Ken Brotherston closed the summit by urging recruiters to maximise talent intelligence and labour market analytics which will help them to enhance their reputation as strategic advisors.
“Instead of starting emails with ‘hope you are well’, the best recruiters will introduce themselves by saying ‘did you know’, with insights about the client’s business, workforce challenges and how they can be supported,” he said. “Despite the macro-economic challenges, I have never seen so much opportunity for the recruitment sector who have the tools, talent and tenacity to make the most of them.
Outlining this opportunity, Ken concluded by saying that employers have core recruiting capability, but need help with spikes and overflow, access to a wider talent pool, hiring for skills, DE&I, internal mobility and managing the complexity of compliance at home and abroad.