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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

      Upscaling and Rescaling: Optimizing TA with Kelly Van Nelson from Adecco

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      Episode 60 full cover

      In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Managing Director at Adecco Australia, Kelly Van Nelson, talks about the huge surges and dips in a variety of industries — and how Adecco adapted their recruitment process to fit the demands and keep their talent employed. She also explains a new method of hiring, which focuses more on culture fit rather than large numbers (even in high volume environments) resulting in a more efficient workforce.


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


      Max: Hello and welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I’m your host Max Armbruster and today on the show, somebody south of where I am, all the way down in Perthestow in Sydney, Miss Mrs. Kelly Van Nelson, Managing Director at Adecco Australia. Welcome to the show, Kelly.

      Kelly: Thank you, Max. It’s great to be here today.

      Max: Pleasure to have you, and Kelly how do you end up as a Managing Director? I’m not gonna ask you to introduce Adecco because if you don’t know Adecco, you’re on the wrong podcast. because you should as number one brand in the world and well I’m sure it’s got a different strength in different markets. It’s pretty well-known worldwide. I couldn’t think of a geography where it isn’t. So, I assume that the business in Australia is also quite wide-ranging from tech to you know more office temporary staff and everything in between?

      Kelly: Yes, it is. We have the Adecco group and all of the brands represented in Australia which Adecco is workforce solutions, but we do have all-tech solutions and we do have talent solutions which is our placements and upscaling and rescaling too. So yeah, the full complements of the Adecco group is here on the ground, in and around Australia.

      Max: And Australia is in the news right now for all kinds of reasons, mainly because it’s impossible to come in and out of it. Has that been we’ll talk later about how that’s affected your team, but from the business standpoint, is it been good or bad for business?

      Kelly: I would say it’s been good for business, challenging absolutely, and we have to very rapidly pivot our operations and elements of the business to leverage the opportunities, but nevertheless, it’s actually been good for our business for a number of reasons. We can dive into them if you like but I would say definitely positive impacts.

      Max: That’s great to hear. I’ve recently had on the show someone who’s taught me about having to repurpose. Half of her team to do something other than recruitment in 2020 and I hope I wasn’t too traumatic for the team down under. And sounds like things are good so we’ll find out what well what you can share with us there. But before we go there if you could share with me and the audience were how you ended up where you are today because you don’t sound Australian so I think it must have been a long road.

      Kelly: It’s been a long road. Twenty-seven years in the recruitment and workforce solutions based on the technology in the street. Started out in Northern England as you can probably guess from the accent. But yeah, I moved around the world in the industry, lived in South Africa, Edinburgh, London, and many years in Perth and Western Australia in my early years of my career with the Adecco Group in the technology brand which is Modis. And two and a half years I go I moved to Sydney with the family and moved into the Managing Director role of Adecco. So yeah, been around a little while and seen a hugely changing industry that we work in which is actually exciting, no two days are ever the same.

      Max: Yeah, it attracts a good bunch of people who end up in recruitment. People who are empathetic and hardworking generally, but empathetic and hardworking may not be enough anymore. There’s there are new skills required to survive in this dog fight. Can you elaborate on how you know those new changes have affected the composition of your team and you know what are people that have done well and those who have lagged behind?

      Kelly: Yeah, we definitely see it man, not just in our own business but with our own customer base for different sets of core skill sets. Resilience is the one we’re always seeking and with that comes the ability to adapt and change and embrace change. And the resilience is not just from COVID but from the changing sort of industry that we work in and the rapid scaling of technology and the different demands of you know the global economy. So for me, resilience is the number one thing I look for when I when we are interviewing for new personnel to build a high-performing team. And when we have people in the business, the most successful recruiters and broader team members that I see who really have a good long career and good long tenure and great success would be the ones who have this aptitude for lifelong learning. Always looking to gain new skills, always looking at what’s next not what’s happening today, and being very very open to self-investment in their own skillset and you know personal capability in achieving personal best. So yeah, I would say having a huge aptitude for upscaling, rescaling, and lifelong learning is really critical right now.

      Max: And now to be able to assess resiliency in the course of a couple of interviews is sounds like mission impossible. I can’t even think of a psychometric or competent assessment task that would get you there either. Intuition, career history, what are some of the good data points you can base those decisions on?

      Kelly: Yeah, definitely I probe a lot and run scenarios even with people that we’re interviewing who don’t come from the industry or don’t bring a huge amount of experience, or they might be a graduate friend or for instance in early career. I tend to put some scenarios on the table around what has been a challenging circumstance that you’ve faced and how have you overcome an obstacle. And you know just different types of people like to self-manage and yeah just really probe around those examples and you can tend to you know to find what you’re looking for in individuals who have risen above obstacles and removed roadblocks. So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve spent a lot of time on during an interview process probing on that one.

      Max: Yeah.

      Kelly: Yeah. I think I think the recruitment industry as a whole now is asking for this whole broad range of soft skills. You know if you look before what would be the core skills of recruiters, it would be probing on ability to meet targets and ability to sell, and you know customer skills on the telephone and all of the things that go with sort of a sale skill set or you know maybe a call center skill set. Whereas now it’s really about these inner skills that you know can really set you apart when the going gets tough.

      Max: Yeah, it’s about this lifelong learning, reinventing yourself a few times, and I think I wouldn’t do very well in an interview. I’ve had my first of of of you know conflicts and difficulties, but you know the human brain I just kind of erased it all. I don’t even, once it’s once the when the challenge has been overcome I kinda tend to forget about it and pretend it never happened. That’s maybe why I wouldn’t do such a..I wouldn’t be such a good recruiter. Maybe that’s unique skill set for an entrepreneur.

      Kelly: You’d be surprised. We could make a recruiter of you yet I think. We could make good recruiters of most people. Yeah

      Max: Thank you. That is a fine compliment. Great so so one change that recruiters and white-collar workers all over the world have had to take in is this hybrid work environment.

      Kelly: Yeah.

      Max: And and so I don’t know how many people you managed in Australia and how big the team is but I’m sure you’ve had to some turnover with people who are either fed up with working from home or fed up with going to the office, one way or the other. It’s very hard to please everybody. How is how do you know work around these challenges?

      Kelly: I think for us it’s just again about being adaptable. We were very lucky in that when the first wave of the pandemic really took foothold in Australia, we were very well-positioned to rapidly move to work from home. We ran an overnight test done pretty much within 24 hours. We had moved our entire operations to virtual working and that was right across the country, which was quite extraordinary and that really enabled us to push on and do what was needed to be done with redeploying workers and helping the workforce to cope with the pandemic. It has been many workers coming out of employment or being stood down or having their hours cut back and needing to be handheld into new industries or new positions. And many candidates also needed assistance to use virtual tools, virtual interview tools, virtual application tools, onboarding tools. But our own recruiters inside Adecco were very very able to adapt literally within 24 hours. We had already been pretty good at allowing and supporting flexible working policies and embracing work from anywhere and mobility and things took quite a long time, which really bode us well in you know in what happened with the first wave of COVID. And as we progressed through some of the last you know more than a year now of the pandemic, what we’ve found is we’ve got this interesting trend where about half the workforce wants to be in the office half of the time. So, you’ve got this hybrid scenario emerging and the next normal continues to be this hybrid environment. Workers want to have a balance of time in the office where they can interact, they can upscale, they can learn from one another, they can you know find this team camaraderie face-to-face and have human interaction and social interaction in the workplace. Versus being highly productive if not more productive from home and you know being able to balance their home lives and you know to being able to balance the safety and the environment which we have to work in if we’re going through different lockdowns. So, we see this globally, on average, globally 53 percent of workers want to spend at least you know some of their time working remotely. So, it’s not really a trend anymore, it’s actually a new norm this hybrid working. So, so organizations are having to adapt to this in different ways depending on the industry and the type of industry you run. But for Adecco, we’re very much in a comfortable place now with being able to operate work from office work from home in varying levels of that and giving people flexibility.

      Max: That’s that’s to be expected progressive employers such as Adecco would be who’d have already spent a lot of time doing hybrid workplace. Maybe you have some customers who are less more traditional let’s say, more resistant. The customer is king to a certain degree so have you kind of helped customers attract you know to change their recruitment marketing to attract workers that are more inclined towards the office? And then of course we know a lot there’s plenty of offers for jobs that are fully remote. I think that the labor market is plentiful. But are you working with some employers that are you know that are still committed to having a purely office environment?

      Kelly: We definitely see that. We see some businesses still struggling to find their feet a little bit with what their business landscape looks like. And we also have a very large proportion of our workforce, especially in the contingent labor space that are essential work and doesn’t necessarily always allow work from home for various reasons. If there is you know customer at face-to-face engagement or services needed, what we tend to do is typically treat each business with you know good listening and good understanding of what their business objectives are. And also have a good conversation around the skills shortages that we do face, and you know with no migration you know more than 70000 people only migrate into the country and unfilled a lot of the positions that we you know that we look for. And that workforce is not readily available anymore. Unemployment’s at an all-time low and the talent pool list to a certain extent shrinking. So, accessibility to talent and the best talent in the market is key for any business, whether it’s about small business right up to you know a large global Fortune 500. Giving your organization the chance to hire the best talent wherever they’re located and bring them into your business, it really allows for diversity of your workforce into you know to really attract routine right now at a time that that’s critical. If you don’t, you would be, to a certain extent, left behind. So so sometimes it’s a conversation around you know talent shortages and getting the best talent. You know there’s a financial link to that and financial benefit to that. There are productivity gains that are proven to be really good if you can get this. And yeah, workers and our employees are commanding it right now.

      Max: Yeah, and in this market, I’m surprised anybody can hit their targets. What are some of their creative workarounds for you know industries where you have low unemployment, rising wages, more constraints about who can come in and who cannot. Can you illustrate some creative thinking that’s going on or maybe you’ve reconverted people from one industry to the next in order to keep the wheels spinning?

      Kelly: Yeah, we definitely had exactly this scenario. So, if I can go back a year, we had whole industries that were downsizing and substantially so, for example, aviation and hospitality and retail to a certain extent, and you know sports and recreation. But entire industry is pretty much you know grounded and in parallel with that, you had many other industries experiencing extraordinary surges. So, for example, online trading of services, whether it be online buying and retail, consumer services at on the phone, or online. You know for example call centers, contact centers. You know the demand for skills second to none during the COVID coupled with healthcare changes in certain industries, you have this two-stream scenario of industries downsizing their workforce substantially and industries commanding extraordinary numbers of new jobs in different industries. So, we did a lot of work very very quickly. I’m talking in a matter of you know one to two weeks. Putting workers through very rapid upscaling and rescaling practical courses that were going to give them the tips and the techniques and the basic skills to be able to transition from one industry into another with some level of seamless you know ease. And that was enormously successful. We transitioned and redeployed a couple of thousand workers in a fortnight in the early stages of COVID by upscaling and rescaling any short-job programs and ways of working. So that was highly successful and a lot of them has remained. So, we are, still today is an organization in Adecco investing in upscaling and rescaling through our different brands, really working with candidates to best identify how we can use candidate pools smartly and sensibly to fill with skills gap even if their skills are not the perfect fit because, in the large part, they’re not a perfect fit. The skills of the future and the jobs of the future are different and they’re changing every day quite rapidly so. So, with that means skills of jobseekers also have to change and evolve. And our job as a recruitment firm needs to embrace that and help bridge those gaps and provide the transition from you know from one job into another or from one industry into another. That will remain and we have a big part to play as a recruitment industry to enable job seekers to find comfort and not be afraid of the future.

      Max: Yeah. Your inspiring story about how Adecco responded quickly to these changes makes me think. You know. You’re a little bit like a financial trading company where some hedge funds really benefit from market instability. You know they’re like when things are moving quickly, that’s when they make money. You can think that I mean of course you it be very I don’t wanna lay this in nick of Adecco as a profiteer of change you know traumatic situation but rather as an agent of change where the market will continue to change, most people will continue to look for jobs. Good year or bad year you know traumatic year. These changes needs you know need guidance. And so, you could imagine that Adecco would have I don’t know I haven’t looked at your I don’t know if your results are publicly posted but it sounds like Adecco may have had a great year when you you put it that way.

      Kelly: We definitely did have a good year I think and ultimately, we have shareholders and we’re publicly listed, and you have a business to run. But the reality of it is if we have last year have faced the wave of the first lockdown and sort of sat back to certain extent and accepted where we are you know good proportion of our workforce was being stood down or have you know we’re having their hours reduced to absolutely no fault of our clients. You know we supply a huge number of small and medium enterprises, not just large organizations and many sectors that were impacted, we would have been in serious trouble, we would have in serious financial trouble, we would have had our own workforce impacted with not enough work to do, and it’s not in our nature to sort of accept that. So, we were very very quick to look up the strategy and to pivot and to understand where the market was going short term and where the market was gonna go long term and that was incredibly difficult during COVID. But our workforce inside Adecco absolutely adapted and we moved people around internally from you know one team to another team internally. And people responded very well to that and got on with the necessary task of trying to help as many people as possible remain in work or come out of work in one job and get into the job work in another and that helped us to remain sustainable as a business, helped our workforce and our candidates, and ultimately helped our clients, even the ones that were downsizing. That helped them because they knew their workers were going to another home. And it was easier on everyone to do that, so it was actually really quite rewarding despite the pressure and the challenges of the economy and the market and you know the health crisis that everybody was facing. So yeah, we’re a pretty resilient bunch in the large part in Adecco, but yeah there’s business travis for sure that go without. We didn’t our own workforce to have to be impacted but we didn’t want our candidates and casual workforce to be impacted either and I think we did a really good job of leading the charge there.

      Max: Well, well done. Well done to the team and I hope of course that not every year has full of changes as last one and that we could have some more quiet time for people can settle into their industry and I’m getting some sense of stability. I have two more questions for you. One of them is about productivity and tech tools that are used by the team or that you use personally, that you would recommend. What are some productivity tips you can offer to our listeners?

      Kelly: I love this question and I am a big I mean I come from a technology background so I’m always keen to try and look at what tools are out in the market and technology in the market that would give us efficiency and give us advantage as well, differentiate us for our clients. If I look at some of the tools we’ve embraced and scaled, we are right now today we’re you know embracing AI, we’re embracing analytics and the data that we have is you know the power that’s within that data. We’re also embracing chatbots and finding ways to automate elements of the recruitment process that for many years have been manual load, very labor-intense, very cumbersome, and is often at lower on investment tasks. So, finding good ways to automate the recruitment process has been a real journey for Adecco and we are yes still advancing every day with what we’re doing with our technology and tools. And that’s exciting it’s exciting because it doesn’t displace our recruiters if we automate an element of their task and their business process. It actually enables them to focus on new work on you know where the market’s going, what their customers really need, and their relationship-building, and focusing on different maturity of our solutions and what we’re actually offering. So, what we find is as we brought in more tools to automate the process, the capability levels of our recruiters have improved, and we’ve got you know much higher-grade recruiters. I always say we have a high-performing team and that’s absolutely true and we are enabling them to be that by taking away the low-hanging fruit from them through use of tools and technology. So, they embrace it. Our recruiters are not afraid of the tech. They actually will off my hands off of my bringing something new to the table which is a product that’s going to help them in their day to be faster you know quicker speed to market, offering better service to their clients, helping their candidate supply and remain on our workforce you know on our workforce you know for a longer period of time. So, it’s exciting. We’re using many many tools in a really great way and they’re here to stay. Technology has been enabling us the workplace, isn’t it? It’s here to stay.

      Max: They’re lucky to have a leader that can embrace it so vividly because you know I started my company after doing a lot of recruitment myself, interviewing thousands of people over the phone, and feeling the dehumanization. You know I’m feeling my soul slipping away to know that that you know these days are for the most part gone that than now. It’s much more value-added work. It’s a redefinition of the role of recruiters that’s happened over the last you know fifteen years which is yeah absolutely wonderful. Now my last question is about one of my favorite questions which is we all make hiring mistakes, and we try as I said we try to bury those memories. But sometimes it’s good to wait a minute and remember and remember so we can draw the lessons from them. Can you walk us back through a specific hiring mistake you’ve made and what you know why you made that mistake and what we can learn from it?

      Kelly: This is a good question. I’ve never had this question before in my many interviews, so it’s a nice first one. Maybe what I would say on this one is that if I go back, you know I’ve been around nearly three decades now twenty-seven years in recruitment, and one of the things we often used to do as leaders is hire multiple recruiters into the business and potentially at an average level. You know in the hope that a good proportion would step up and a good proportion would remain average, and you might have one or two strugglers that would not necessarily be the right fit and you would make that call and you would mass hire, especially in the large recruitment firms. And that works to a certain extent but it’s not really great for the individuals and it’s not the most rewarding way to you know build a high-performing culture in workforce. So, we definitely don’t do that now. What we do now is just hold the line and very carefully wait for the right fit, the right cultural fit, never compromising cultural values or ethics. Waiting for the right fit even if it means we have an open vacancy for quite a long time and well losing productivity as a result of that because it pays off more. We’ve been hiring that way for the last two-three years and our everything has improved as a result. I would say our culture is better, our productivity per recruiter is better, the camaraderie has improved, and you know the level of business that we’re selling is far far better. And it’s because we make much more cautious hires, we just yeah, I’d rather sit with an open role than to fail you know to fail with more people and one of them might not make it. I’m not a lover of that model. I don’t think it’s good leadership practice and it doesn’t really yeah it just doesn’t serve you well in the long term. So yeah, I hold the line now while I draw the higher well and take time and be cautious about it and know that we are really getting that good fit than you know mass hire and hope.

      Max: Very good advice. Hold the line. Don’t lower your standards.

      Kelly: Yeah.

      Max: You can always look back and say oh well I did this because of that mistake. But in your heart of hearts, you know when you’re making a hiring mistake. When you’re dropping the bar. So it’s important to just accept the fact that your business is gonna be stretched and, like you said Kelly, sometimes at the risk of hurting productivity, but it’s a small price to pay for a long-term gain. So thanks a lot Kelly for that advice and for your time and well I hope we’ll get some of your followers to listen to our podcast.

      Kelly: Thank you, it’s good to talk to you today.

      Max: That was Kelly Van Nelson, Managing Director at Adecco Australia, which tells us resilience whether at the company level or the individual level is one of the most valuable skills you can have in recruitment because things change fast and recruiters are change agents.

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