Talent isn’t just something that Simon Cowell’s looking for on The X Factor. It’s serious business, with companies vying for the best people to gain a competitive edge, but the current squeeze on talent means the search is about to get a lot fiercer.

Businesses have been put on notice that a squeeze on talent is on the cards, according to UK employment statistics. January’s Labour Force Survey reveals that job openings have climbed to the highest level recorded, while unemployment has shrunk to its lowest level since the 70s. This mismatch means that businesses need to look harder and smarter to find the right people.

AI-driven tools are easing the time- consuming process of vetting candidates, while “social search” – using social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter – improves the human side of recruitment. However, finding talent is only part of the process. In today’s competitive market, businesses need to focus their own efforts on retaining and nurturing the best talent to meet these new challenges. It begins with understanding the importance of human capital in any organisation.

The value of great people

The concept of talent as integral to business success is relatively recent. It was born some 20 years ago through ground-breaking workplace research by McKinsey that defined talent as the human capital of an organisation – the innovative ideas, skills and experience of its people. In the late 90s, the renowned management consultant firm surveyed 13,000 managers from 112 US companies on talent-management practices and beliefs.

This was the first comprehensive workplace survey that delved into the people side of an organisation and set out to measure the value of having the right people. The research showed that the importance of the right talent can’t be underestimated – it separates winning companies from the rest. Its conclusion is based on striking differences in companies’ bottom lines related to their talent management. It found that companies that placed strategic importance on talent management had returns 22 percentage points higher than the average in their industry.

The research spawned the book The War for Talent in 2001, which demonstrated how better talent is worth fighting for in business. Ultimately it gave rise to a new human-resource industry, helping organisations create, inspire and motivate their people to win the war for talent. This begins with the search for the best people.

Signify Technology Founder, Ryan Adams

Finding your tribe

In 2019, finding the right talent is no longer a case of posting an ad on a generic job site. Increasingly, finding the best people, particularly those who are highly skilled and experienced, is about meeting them in their environments. Signify Technology, based at Workspace’s The Frames in Shoreditch, is a niche recruitment company that finds software engineers who can write in Scala, a complex back-end website programming language. Signify relies on an individual approach to get to know candidates and help them with their careers, not just into their next job. The emphasis on personal engagement means the team is focused on customer service, rather than sales, to find potential candidates for the web businesses that use Signify’s recruitment service.

Founder Ryan Adams knows that finding software engineers is a constant challenge because they tend to keep to themselves in certain online platforms. His recruiters have to engage through social media with the Scala community to build rapport and trust. Adams says, “Software engineers hang out on Twitter. We share links and content, join in on discussions, use relevant hashtags and connect individually through the platform. GitHub and YouTube are also great ways to share expert tips and reach our coders.” Signify also hosts meet-ups in city locations through meetup.com, so coders can get to know the business and how it works.

Crypto Quantique, based at Metal Box Factory in Southwark, adopts a variety of methods in order to target its search for a very specific type of hire. Crypto Quantique produces cutting-edge Internet of Things (IoT) security technology that embeds a chip in an IoT device, using a cryptography algorithm connected through a cloud service to secure it.

Naturally, the business needs specialised people with an aptitude for deep technological work. “We require highly skilled, highly educated people such as those with PhDs,” say CEO Shahram Mossayebi and CTO Patrick Camilleri.

Crypto Quantique taps into the traditional routes of universities and academic agencies, as well as start-up job sites like AngelList and social media sites like LinkedIn to find STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) candidates, typically post-doctorate students and researchers.

Crypto Quantique CEO, Shahram Mossayebi

The new smart search

Artificial intelligence (AI) has gained a strong foothold in organisations of all types and sizes in just a few years, according to the 2019 Gartner CIO Survey. It found that around four in 10 organisations have used AI in some form, a staggering 270% increase in just four years. Nowhere is this more observable than in recruitment, where AI is being deployed in everything from crafting job advertisements and analysing CVs, to predicting the suitability and performance of potential candidates and improving the onboarding of new hires.

Google Hire, the search giant’s recruitment platform that helps small to medium-size businesses track candidates and schedule interviews, recently launched a new feature powered by AI. It creates a shortlist of potential candidates for job openings based on previous applications, and integrates with Gmail and Calendar for communicating with candidates and scheduling interviews.

Unlike with search engines, Google does not dominate the recruitment sector. Ideal, based in Ontario, boasts customers including Netflix and Lush; it uses AI to analyse thousands of CVs in seconds, while its online chatbots automatically score potential candidates on suitability. It claims that the platform can slash the number of interviews by up to 40%.

Start-up HireVue has taken it a step further. Its AI-powered recruitment platform analyses speech and facial expressions from video interviews, instead of relying on conventional CVs. It predicts candidate suitability and claims to improve diversity by weeding out unconscious bias and widening the potential talent pool. Hilton, Vodafone and Unilever have signed up.

However, AI has its limits in the recruitment space – the upper echelons remain out of reach. Gordon Montgomery is Head of Executive Search at Ciesco, an advisory firm that connects entrepreneurs and investors. He says that AI becomes less useful as a recruitment tool as you move up the food chain.

“Look at CEOs. They are recruited less frequently and there is less choice and available information in the market, compared to, say, mid-level salespeople that are being recruited pretty much all the time. I also think that people at board level do not want to think that something completely vital to the organisation is handled by a machine rather than a human.”

Whether the implementation of AI in the search process is beneficial or not is still under contention. But one thing remains certain: the way we find talent is shifting significantly.

Read more about how to build and nurture an A-star team, along with practical advice from our expert panel at our Business Insight Breakfast at Fleet Street business centre. Find out what employees want and what employers can do to win staff loyalty. 

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