Is Time Running Out For Talent Acquisition?

There is a growing consensus that 2024 will be a year that sees the start of fundamental change in Talent Acquisition. The Generative AI innovation cycle and the acceleration in adopting skills-based hiring are important change catalysts. To understand what is actually happening, we need to take a step back and understand the forces driving this potential revolution.

Work is changing fast, skills have an ever-shortening shelf life, and talent is still in short supply in many markets. Hiring and retention are becoming an issue at the C-Suite level, and companies are starting to realise they need to think differently about talent to grow and deliver value.

We have already seen the impact in areas such as frontline hiring, where the capability to hire workers quickly has an instant and evident impact on the company’s bottom line. It should be no surprise that recruiting automation has already been fast-tracked into these areas.

In the same way, skills-based hiring is now being used as a strategy to deal with talent shortages elsewhere as employers start to move away from the narrow definitions of talent and inflexible thinking that have made it impossible to recruit the skills they need.

Another critical driver of change comes from the efficiencies that AI can drive in businesses. These are already being realised in other areas of the enterprise, such as finance and marketing. Company-wide automation and data intelligence strategies are also becoming more common and are often facilitated by a single central robotic process automation platform. It is ridiculous to think that Talent Acquisition and HR are somehow exempt from the corporate direction of travel, and any leaders who believe this does not apply to their team may not be in their roles for long.

There is also an additional factor coming from the candidates themselves. Mass access to Gen AI threatens to break recruitment processes as employers become overwhelmed by automated applications. Ultimately, the only credible solution is to fundamentally re-engineer the application, assessment and selection process at a scale that has never happened before.

So we stand on the cusp of industry and career-defining change, but unfortunately, from the evidence I’ve seen, many Talent Acquisition functions are in denial. Over the last six months, I’ve run polls as part of event presentations and on LinkedIn and have had many conversations with TA professionals to see how people feel about this disruption. Although the sample sizes were somewhat unscientific, the answers were remarkably consistent. People agree that significant change is coming but don’t feel it will negatively affect their jobs or careers.

This cognitive dissonance has led to a collective view that AI will not replace recruiters but will instead act as a co-pilot that allows them to focus on all the parts of recruiting that are the most enjoyable and intellectually challenging.

It’s a lovely vision, but what if it is entirely wrong? What if AI becomes so sophisticated that it takes the part of the job everyone wants to keep? What if companies decide they don’t need recruiters at all?

We don’t know what the answer will be, but hoping for the best while going about business as usual isn’t an option here. Talent Acquisition needs to be proactively owning the change and, in so doing, demonstrate the unique value they have to their business.

The challenge is that, as an industry, we are awful at proactive change. Some aspects of recruiting haven’t changed in 100 years, even though there is a broad consensus that they don’t work. An example is a massive body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence going back decades that debunks the effectiveness of resume-based screening, yet this is still the norm for recruiting worldwide. Two other indicators are the slow rate of technology adoption compared to other corporate functions and the tendency to want to talk about evolution rather than revolution every time change is on the agenda.

Of course, there are also outside factors at play here, including a lack of resources, imposed short-term goals and uncooperative hiring managers. However, this is just reality; there is no such thing as the perfect conditions or time for proactive change. Indeed, we saw during the pandemic that reactive changes to events we don’t control can quickly revolutionise recruiting. At the beginning of 2020, the accepted wisdom was that we were at least five years away from the mass adoption of video interviewing. In reality, we were three months away, and the mass adoption process didn’t take years. It took just a few hours.

TA still has a window of opportunity to help shape its future before the function is forcibly reinvented and re-engineered. The challenge is that no one knows whether the window is measured in years, months or weeks.

Knowledge is power here, so let’s have some useful discussion and debate. I urge everyone to educate themselves and their teams on the current art of the possible and the likely future scenarios.

If we get this right, we can reinvent recruiting to be fairer, more effective and enjoyable for everyone. The consequences of doing nothing are still unknown but could be unthinkable.