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The AI Mirage in Hiring: Are Vendors Innovative Solutions or Industry Snake Oil?

March 6, 2024
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      5 min read
      Max Armbruster
      Max Armbruster
      CEO Talkpush

      Hiring in STEM: Talent with Potential -  PaR Systems’ Head of TA, Zac Engler  

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      Episode 17 full coverIn this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Zac Engler, Head of Talent Acquisition at PaR systems, walks us through the hiring process for technical engineering fields. He talks about diversity, opportunity, and the importance of mentorship — and making the right junior hires for the future.


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      Don't feel like listening? You can read the entire transcript right here. 👇


      Welcome to the Recruitment Hackers podcast. A show about innovations, technology and leaders in the recruitment industry brought to you by Talkpush the leading recruitment automation platforms. 


      Max: Hello, and welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers podcast. I'm your host Max Armbruster. And today I'm welcoming Zac Engler, who is the head of talent acquisition for a company called PaR Systems, which he'll tell us all about. Zac, welcome to the show. 


      Zac: Hey Max, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.


      Max: It's a pleasure. When I saw that you moved into this new company  I thought that was a real good match between the kind of recruiter that you are, a tinker, somebody who likes to play with tours and the kind of business that PaR System does. But for those who don't know you, perhaps, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you come from? How did you get into recruitment? and then we'll talk about your business next.


      Zac: Yeah. So, thank you. I started off with a career in more of an HR generalist capacity at Target headquarters. Transitioned over through to, more of a retail leadership slash talent development and recruitment person while in my time at Apple. And that's really where I got my taste of full-on recruiting. And from there I just realized that it needed to be a hundred percent of my job. I landed an opportunity at Amplifon, the world's largest provider of hearing care solutions, and I oversaw the build-out of their North American talent acquisition team. And from there, you know, was really on a great pace in terms of exploring new technologies and bringing new capabilities to recruitment.


      When PaR Systems came along with really the dream job for me, as you said, I'm a tinkerer. I love all things nerdy when it comes to space flight. When it comes to nuclear reactors, when it comes to nuclear energy, when it comes to robotics and automation, and PaR does all of those things. So it just was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities that I got to capitalize on, and they're slated from some tremendous growth over the next few years. So they brought me on as a head of talent acquisition to really help grow out that capability and scale the team. 


      Max: I believe this company has a few hundred people today. 


      Zac: Yeah, we have 450 people. We have locations here in Minnesota, in the Minneapolis area. We have another large location in Brunswick, Georgia, and then we have satellite offices around the world. Some of the locations are in the United Kingdom, South Africa, France, Japan, but overall, the biggest locations are Minnesota. 


      Max: Minnesota and Georgia. Okay.  And PaR Systems, hires a lot of engineers then, and finds what it's looking for in Minnesota. 


      Zac: Yeah. 75% of our staff is either engineers or highly technical positions, a lot of the projects and products that we design and build are one of a kind or first of a kind solutions. The robotic crane system currently tearing apart Chernobyl is one example of something that had never been done before. That we designed and built. But yeah, as far as the engineering talent that we're looking for, a lot of that is based here in Minnesota, whether it's applications engineers, controls engineers, systems engineers, mechanical engineers, electronics engineers, you know, we are looking for them all And so getting into those work streams has been a unique challenge for me as well. 


      Max: Yeah. I think you're the man for the job but, these roles seem like perhaps you would find them in the sort of fundamental research university sector, find these kinds of profiles, because if you said it's first of a kind, you're not going to find people who have, you know,  nuclear crane on their resume much. I'm sorry if I'm misquoting your example. Is your funnel focused on more general traits? And then, you know, you need a solid engineering background and then general traits of the tinker? Or you know, can you learn on the job kind of thing?


      Zac: Yes, our team full heartedly believes in, in training and development and mentorship. A lot of the people that come into our organization in a junior position are given a mentor almost immediately, and are set on a path for development. And one of the nice things about joining the PaR team is that, you know, if you would go join a larger organization, you might be assigned as an engineer to work on a piece of the widget that's a bigger part of the project for the next two years. Whereas at PaR, you get assigned projects almost immediately that you get to own, you're giving guidance and support as you work through those projects. But you can almost think of us like McKinsey or Deloitte in a way where we're not the company always necessarily turning out the product. We're the ones helping other companies design, then build the things that will go out and make their products. So it's really fun to be at that very leading edge of the production line.


      Max: I see. And working on the production line, so from design to production and then figuring out how to optimize there. 


      Zac: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. 


      Max: Cool. So as part of their recruitment process for you, when you were being considered for this job, did they ask you to show the toys you've been building? I remember you were one of the first people to experiment with chatbots for the world of recruitments, was this part of the selection process?


      Zac: I think it helped my case. But yeah, in the 10 interviews I went through, it was definitely a great exposure to the organization to learn all the different quadrants that we work within, whether it's material handling, crane and nuclear work, whether it's military, marine. Whether it's aerospace and aeronautics or alive sciences automation, those four areas. I got a chance to work with those folks and share my story of how we streamlined candidate workflow through automation to allow us to actually connect with the person behind the resume, and get to the best candidates more quickly, if we're on the sourcing side of the candidate funnel. So there was definitely a lot of hope and positivity around that aspect of the work that I'd done in the past. 


      Max: Well in North America, in 2020 people are complaining about the fact that in spite of the highest unemployment rates in the history of the country, practically, it's still hard to find people. It's still hard to find enough talent to go work. And even entry-level jobs like retail and call centers. In your space, I suppose the impact has been lesser, both for the talent and the employer, because engineering keeps on engineering. There hasn't been a massive impact. So two part question, first, hoping my assumptions are correct. And secondly, what can you do to expand your town pool if it is, you know, the ongoing hustle that it has been to find enough engineers? 


      Zac: Yeah, for sure. So I think your assumptions are spot on. You know, with the baby boomer generation moving in towards that retirement age. You know, we have 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day for the next nine years here in the US, and as they vacate these skilled positions, they're leading openings that we won't necessarily have the talent to backfill. And I think one of the unique things that we're challenged with at PaR, is figuring out what are some of those pathways from skilled trade to STEM, right?


      How can we bring in people who maybe don't have a four year degree in an area, but have an associates degree. And train them up, and train them into those other types of roles and positions within the organization. And this doesn't have to be just engineering. This could be, in my prior world of hearing care, in pharmaceuticals and nursing, for example, right?


      Zac: There's a lot of entry points to those other types of businesses where you can enter in, as a pharmacy tech, as a nursing assistant. And go through schooling and get support as you then train yourself up to those higher levels within those businesses. It's getting those tracks in place and making that easier for companies to do, that I think will definitely be helpful.


      There's a local organization here called Make It MSP or Greater MSP that is focused on drawing talent to the Minneapolis and Minnesota region, and some of the work that they're doing is focused on just that. How do we create more visibility and opportunity for a diverse candidate set that did not always have the privilege of going to university, for example?


      Max: Yeah. And so explain to me how that imaginary perfect candidate would look like? Are we talking about a technician who was doing mechanical repair work on, I don't know, air conditioning units? Because he needs to, you know, put food on the table, feed his family, his or her.


      Although I have never met a female air conditioning technician, I'm sure there are plenty of them. And, so I had a mental picture. So this person would have the intellectual curiosity and the ambition to move into the engineering space. And then start to receive more fundamental training into these, let's say, into the nuclear field, does that kind of transition can happen?


      Zac: In certain instances. Absolutely. And you know, I think women are now a bigger part of the collegiate population in general, in the United States anyway. So, targeting, empowering and creating visibility to these types of opportunities, I think it's one area that businesses in STEM fields would benefit from. Right? 


      Because a lot of times we're just running into this situation of, It's not top of mind for students, whether it's high school or college students, they don't know that they can become a shop floor technician with only a two year degree, that pays $50,000 a year, right out of school. They don't know that they could become a pharmacist or tech or a hearing care professional right out of school, with minimal training and certification and so creating that type of awareness for students. I think it is a cultural shift as well for us to get through it, because I think that the baby boomers did a great job of, you know, propagating college and saying college college college. Whatever you do. Just go to college. It doesn't matter. Just go! 


      Max: They got away from the real work. 


      Zac: Right. And we shifted and pivoted from college being the emphasis, to now I think we need to just figure out where are the priorities for economic success and how do we align that with people's passions and desires?


      Max: No, I totally get that.  Now that we've put the blame on the boomers, I totally get it. Zac and I are both. I believe gen X. 


      Zac: Not at all. 


      Max: No?


      Zac: I'm an elder millennial, we'll say. 


      Max: Okay. So, elder millennials  and young fresh gen X-ers like myself. There's a very high chance that we were raised in a family where our parents did not work in industrial work, right? Because, our parents' generation, they're the ones who... Well the industrial work turned South for most of Western economies. And so, I guess, yeah, you've to start from scratch to show a new generation of people, that there is this kind of work available.


      Zac: Exactly. I think organizations can also, you know, work harder to create that visibility for those opportunities. And even if you just look at some of the technology that's in place that a lot of major corporations, you know, the ATS can either be a great tool for companies to use, or it could be the bane of everybody's hiring experience, right?


      Like there's still sadly, so many companies. That just let the ATS be this never-ending pool of people applying and getting responses. There's also some really great examples of companies diving in and creating those personal connections. Those career networks and giving people, support mechanisms after they're rejected, like what a concept that we would, even though we're saying no to you, we would help you out and give you thoughts and advice and areas to investigate that might be better aligned with your skillset.


      Max: Yeah. I think the ATS stronghold is also because in North America in particular, there's a legal concern of compliance for EEO, OFCCP, FCRA guidelines. And, for a tinkerer like yourself, maybe I can ask you, is there a way to be compliance with these guidelines without using the ATS? Are our town’s acquisition people making a big thing out of something that doesn't need to be?


      Zac: I think that the ATS definitely has its place in the recruitment process and in the talent acquisition process. I don't know that we're able to get past that, per se, but it's like anything, how you use it should be the focus of every business, and using it just like we're focusing on diversity and inclusion, just like we're focusing on championing women leadership capabilities. We should be focused on creating a highly engaged, personal process for every candidate. 


      Max: Yeah, I feel like you're dodging the question a little bit. The question I'm trying to get at is, can we do compliance without asking the candidates to go through the ATS? And I think the answer is yes, but I'm happy to hear your opinion on this topic. If you think I'm wrong. 


      Zac: If we're able to get to the information we need to know to be compliant, then my answer would be yes. Maybe there is a chat tool out there that could help people get to that spot within the process to streamline that candidate flow. The thing I would caution there is just, are you still gonna ask the same question that you would, when people are clicking through the 15 Taleo steps, right? Only just now, they're having to do it on SMS with their thumbs. Not to throw them under the bus, but they're an easy target. 


      Max: Right. Yeah, the question it's still gotta be there, if I understand your comments on the chat, you obviously know which angle I'm coming from. I am not  an advocate for chats interface all the time, for everybody. And if we're talking about a long checklist of tick marks you have to fill in, I do think that an actual forum UI is more appropriate than a chat. But  I also think it's a shame. If what you're trying to build is trust, if you're trying to build engagements to get all of this compliance and all these checklists done at the front of the funnel. Might dilute your message. And you might miss out on some good candidates. You can take them from cold to lukewarm or very warm before you have to go through the compliance stuff.


      Zac: Yeah. I think that's where automation can definitely step in. How are you finding the best fit for your organization quickly? And how are you teaming that person up with another person as quickly as possible? Because I am a little bias that a recruiter who's looking at a job holistically from start to finish, will be a great, what I like to call a talent liaison, for the company and for that candidate, so that you can build trust with them throughout the recruitment process, so that you can have a true rapport and understanding of...


      Even if this particular role doesn't work out, there may be other opportunities that align in the future. and that person will be more likely to participate as well because they had a confidant at the organization teamed up with them, rather than a siloed experience where they got passed off from person to person, or had they continuously apply through this, you know, stale old process, to not get any results or traction with  their application, even though they might be a huge promoter of the brand. 


      Max: And, when somebody changes jobs and moves into a new company like yourself, like you did a few, a couple of months ago, it's usually an opportunity for the new company to like pick their brains and get the best ideas from, from the new, the new person. What are some of the early initiatives that you've been able to implement coming into the new role that you can share with us?


      Zac: Yeah, one of the first areas we're tackling is our job posts, actually. To this point, we are just copy pasting job descriptions onto our careers page, and as you may have heard me say in the past, too many bullets kill people. So let's say, if people aren't going to read the full thing or you're only going to pick out a couple bullets that are relevant and then apply anyways, that doesn't help anybody in the process. Right? It doesn't help the company or the candidate. 


      So we're trying to, pilot and pivot to a performance-based job posting. Methodology, which will tell a story about the role. It'll give you a sense of what your first 90 days or first year are going to look like. It'll also tell you what you're going to get out of joining our organization and not just say like, you will do this for us, but here's what you'll get out of that experience.

      And, it's our goal to use that as a lever, to set us apart from the competition. Looking at 30 or so different competitors that we have in our industry. Maybe one or two of them is taking a similar approach. If that. But it'll also help us increase our diversity inclusion efforts as well. Because as you know, some job descriptions can be inherently biased and that can shy people away from the application process.


      Max:  All right. And helping get a visual around that. We're talking about, you said, I guess less bullet points and more of a journey. So does it look like a slide deck where you move through a few  images of this is what your job would look like. This is what you'd be doing.  Is it like a slide deck or am I being a management consulting nerd?


      Zac: No, no, no.  You're just fast forwarding from what I want to implement in the next six months. But, it starts off with storytelling and really, if you check out Lou Adler, he's got some great... He's really been the pioneer in this space, that I've molded our approach off, both at Amplifon and now here at PaR.


      So it really is that storytelling approach to encourage people to self select out. Once they start reading and understanding that this isn't a fit for them, and to really accelerate the interest of somebody who it is a fit for. And then yeah, down the road, having those more interactive and engaging job posts, video job posts or video advertisements around virtual job descriptions is on my roadmap for next year.


      Max: Well, one thing that, sourcing teams, challenge, you know, are challenged with. Is “Oh, that sounds great”, you know, what you just described, but we don't have enough leads. So we don't have time to build more information and more screens you have to go through in order to get to the applicant stage.


      So I was thinking. You know, the salvation may come from changing the main metric from cost per lead or number of leads to a more complex metric where you would only measure a lead if it's qualified, it's interested, it's shown where the first 90 days are on the job, and after all of that, it says yes. Have you had to change a little bit the way you track and you measure effectiveness and TA, or is that part of the plan?


      Zac: That'll be a part of the plan. So we're on month two and establishing a core set of KPIs and metrics that will be happening here as well. And I think having that ability to capture the candidate where they live is an ideal place for us in the future. So that somebody, browsing Facebook, browsing, LinkedIn, or just browsing the web. And they come across an ad from us, and they're engaged in our brand either via a chat system, or via an interactive job posting that is more likely to draw their attention than just the standard boiler plate. Right? 


      Max: Well, I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of Zach Angler’s school of talent acquisition and tinkering. Congrats on the new role. And thank you for joining me on the podcast and sharing your insights with our viewers. Where can people get a hold of you?


      Zac: Absolutely Max, thanks for having me on. If people want to learn more, they can visit, for a little bit more about myself. Some of the radical ideas I have around AI, as well as the children's books that I've been working on. And people could visit to learn more about our organization. 


      Max: Children book as well? Did I hear that right? 


      Zac: Yes. Yes. there is a children's book I've been working on for the last decade. If you have little ones, check it out, it'll bring a smile to hopefully anybody from Age 9 to 92. 


      Max: You'd been working on it for a decade. Wow. 


      Zac: Yeah.  It's about a family of dung beetles. 


      Max: Dung beetles. Okay. Well we'll go check it out. Thanks again for being on the show.


      Zac:  Absolutely. Max. Thank you. 


      Max: That was Zac Engler from PaR Systems, who I've always known to be a tinkerer and an insatiable mind. Very curious. and isn't it great to see him find a company where he gets to work in robotics. And nuclear technology and other, I think there are very few areas, functional areas, like talent acquisition that allow for people to go into these fields and an opportunity to learn about the areas that they're passionate about, without having to have formal training in this domain. So, I'm sure Zac will make the most of it and be an inspiration for us to always look for the company that aligns most with our values. Hope you enjoyed this interview and that, you'll come back for more at the recruitment hackers podcast. Thank you.

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