opinion piece

BLOG – Orchestrating Digitalisation: Six Areas of Professional Growth for Future-Proof HR Services Professionals

How is digitalisation impacting the skills needs of recruiters and employment experts? Based on insights he gathered from the recent World Employment Conference, Tom Hadley identifies six areas of professional growth for HR services professionals to become future-proof.

Published on 25th April 2023

As he sashayed down the runway of the World Employment Conference 2023 last month, Denis Pennel, Managing Director of the World Employment Confederation, laid down a marker on skills and a fast-changing employment landscape: “The global HR services industry reskills more than 13 million workers every year; no sector is better placed to a take a lead on the skills agenda!”. This message applies across all segments of national labour markets and, crucially, to the HR services sector itself too!

So how are the capabilities and skills needs of recruiters and employment experts evolving? And what did the recent World Employment Conference tell us about the practical implications for industry leaders, national federations, and the overall reputation of the global HR services sector? Based on insight gathered from the panel debates, break-out sessions, and networking moments, here are six areas of professional growth for  HR services professionals to become future-proof.

  1. An increasingly strategic focus – One tub-thumping takeaway from the Brussels data binge was that 87% of recruitment professionals say their work has become more strategic over the past year (according to LinkedIn data). This trend is likely to accelerate. In the words of Adam Hawkins, Head of Search & Staffing for EMEA and Latin America at LinkedIn: “Over the coming years, the recruiter role will increasingly become one of talent strategist.” Working with their members to deliver this ‘talent-strategist’ step-change will be a priority for national recruitment federations in the future.
  2. Labour market expertise – What does this increasingly strategic focus mean in practice? It means providing unique labour market insight, data, and thought leadership. According to Geraldine King, CEO of the Employment & Recruitment Federation (ERF) in Ireland, it means “fully embracing the industry’s role as a knowledge hub.”  The speed of change across many vital sectors opens the door for recruitment and HR services professionals to play an increasingly valuable role in helping clients and candidates navigate a shape-shifting world of work.
  3. Customer service excellence – Bullhorn’s research shows that over 50% of candidates surveyed said they would leave a role they liked because the experience and overall hiring process were terrible. And 70% want more human interaction during their job search. This is an opportunity to unleash fresh waves of customer service excellence with client companies and candidates. An essential first step is understanding current perceptions and problem areas. From a candidate’s perceptive, these include recruiters not being proactive enough about finding new opportunities and poor job matching.
  4. Relationship-building skills – “Great salespeople establish and develop trust as a key part of their productivity.” This was a great point made at the conference by author and future of work expert Laetitia Vitaud. Trust comes from honing communication and relationship-building skills; it also comes from consistently delivering excellent service. This goes back to the description of the staffing and recruitment sector espoused by Richard Wahlquist, CEO of the American Staffing Association (ASA): “We are an industry that helps people find better jobs than they would have found on their own and helps employers find better people than they would have found on their own.”
  5. Digital-savvyness – Yes, the ‘human touch’ remains paramount, but understanding the technology landscape and how digitalisation is reshaping the world of work is part of the toolkit for future-proof HR services professionals. Technology can sometimes be seen as the enemy, a source of disruption for the HR services sector. But the opportunity lies in pre-empting change and harnessing new technology to enhance services to clients and candidates. This was encapsulated by John Healy, Vice President of the World Employment Confederation: “We need to take a step back and remind ourselves of our core aim: connecting people to work.” No doubt harnessing new technology can enhance and accelerate this process so that people secure work opportunities quicker.
  6. Leadership skills – Working in a digital age also has profound implications for leadership and management skills. These include the ability to innovate and manage constant change (‘being comfortable with being uncomfortable’), good listening skills (‘empathetic leadership’), and the foresight to pre-empt new approaches to performance management. On this last point, Charles Cameron, CEO of the Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association (RCSA) in Australia and New Zealand, underlined that “employers are moving beyond old-fashioned KPIs and finding new ways of measuring performance, with more focus on values.” This applies to the HR services industry as well as to client organisations. As the song goes: “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”

According to the latest Economic Report by the World Employment Confederation, the worldwide recruitment and HR services sector is a considerable employer in its own right, with 3.8 million people working in the industry globally. A proactive approach to reskilling and reframing competencies and values will be central to retaining and developing those already working within the industry and attracting a new generation to the profession. This will not only drive ongoing commercial success and performance; it will also radically accelerate progress on how the industry is perceived and cement its position as an intrinsic component of the broader professional services ecosystem.

Tom Hadley is an independent workforce and campaigns consultant. He is a long-time follower of World Employment Conferences, having covered the 2022 edition and sharing insights from the various sessions in his blog series “Bridging the Gap”.

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