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Global organisations looking for new talent can be forgiven for relying on technology to connect with people. In a digital world, it’s easy to call potential candidates, email them or interview them over Skype.
But face-to-face human interaction will always be essential, according to Jacques van den Broek, CEO of global HR services and consulting firm Randstad. “In our business of working with job candidates and clients (companies looking for talent), you still need a human moment where people sit down together to discuss their requirements or reasons for wanting another job,” he says.
“On average, people change jobs four times in their lives and it’s a big decision to leave one company for another. Someone thinking of joining another business is able to reach out to peers or contacts already working there to find out what it’s like.”
While emphasising the importance of face-to-face interaction, van den Broek says technology actually helps create more “human moments”. This idea supports Randstad’s ‘Tech & Touch’ strategy, with the company using the latest devices and software to interact with clients and candidates on a human level. For example, all temporary staff represented by Randstad can download its ‘new work’ app to manage when and where they work. The app allows users to update their job preferences, indicate when they are available to work or request extra short-term roles.
Randstad consultants access that information to find suitable roles for their candidates: “The contact our consultants have with workers isn’t a superficial one where they call them to say, ‘Can you work next Monday?’ The human interaction comes from them meeting with the candidate and using the information that person has fed into the app to find the right role for them,” van den Broek says.
The ‘Human Forward’ initiative was introduced in 2017 to “offer job seekers a rich experience that combines the best of technology and humanity”. Van den Broek adds: “Research from the US shows that people find HR firms overly impersonal and too tech-driven. With us, there will always be that human contact when working with clients and candidates.”
As part of the Tech & Touch strategy, Randstad launched the Transformational Leadership Programme in 2017, partnering with London Business School to guide senior leaders through the organisation’s cultural change. The programme shows executives how the company can better serve clients and candidates using the latest technology.
Reaching out to candidates in the digital age has never been easier. Chief Human Resources Officer Jos Schut says Randstad can ascertain whether someone is in the market for another job by viewing their public social media accounts. (He is quick to add that they never check someone’s Facebook page or Twitter feed without their consent.)
‘Employers are more focused on looking after their people, making workers less inclined to leave’
While the amount of data may be growing, however, finding employed people who are actively looking for another job is becoming more difficult, according to Schut. Randstad has 4,752 offices in 39 countries across five continents, giving it access to millions of job-seeker profiles around the globe. With that information, the company can identify talent for their clients, but that doesn’t mean a potential candidate is keen to leave.
“We work on the assumption that no one’s seeking a job anymore, so Randstad has to reach out to them,” Schut says. “Employers are more focused on looking after their people, making workers less inclined to want to leave. That’s why we have a ‘data lake’ of candidates – so we can see how long they have been in their current role and talk to them about their peers from similar backgrounds to see where those people are today. We then talk about career opportunities and see if they’d like to speak to one of our consultants, which is where the touch element of our Tech & Touch strategy comes into play.”
Technology may have sparked many opportunities for HR firms, but it has also created threats; namely innovative start-ups with the potential to challenge the industry’s established players. Spotting this issue four years ago, van den Broek and Randstad’s senior management team took decisive action. They launched the Innovation Fund, which invests in fledgling enterprises looking to make their mark in the HR sector.
“It’s the duty of any leadership team not to take its current situation for granted,” van den Broek says. “We set about looking for threats and opportunities and transforming the business when we were doing well. We had the ambition as a company and global leader to review our business model to maintain our position as a recruitment sector leader.”
The team tasked with managing the fund explored the market to see what new companies were developing. After researching 2,500 businesses (two-thirds US-based and one-third in Europe), Randstad financially backed 15, taking a five to 10 per cent share in each and a seat on their boards.
The investments benefit Randstad in two ways: they alleviate the threat posed by start-ups, while giving the HR organisation access to the latest industry technology.
Through its investments, Randstad uses software that checks references for people with job offers quicker and more efficiently than a recruiter can.
Another tool allows Randstad to analyse industry data on everything from skills gaps and how artificial intelligence is reshaping the business landscape to the roles at most risk from automation.
Data showing how the digital transformation has created new roles and changed the way industries operate is helping inform Randstad’s clients’ strategies for hiring new talent and retraining their current employees, according to Schut: “We work with clients to create a mid- to long-term vision for talent by looking at their workforce today. Questions come up such as, who will still be in the same roles in five years’ time and which group of people need retraining over that period? What kind of talent and skills will the company require in future that it doesn’t need today? For all organisations in any sector, these are the questions they’ll need to ask themselves.”
The digital revolution is just one challenge facing organisations around the globe. Another is managing different generations of people with varying expectations of how workplaces should operate. Some employees are happy to do nine-to-five in the office, while others want more flexible hours and the option to work from home because of family commitments.
“That’s one of the big challenges related to the future workforce,” van den Broek says. “It’s up to organisations like Randstad to be a trusted partner to our clients, helping them find the right talent and the right training for people from different generations in order to form an inclusive and sustainable workforce.”
For Randstad, managing the vast amounts of data on different industries, clients and candidates is a huge job that’s set to get even bigger in the coming years. The company’s ambition is to touch the work lives of 500 million people by 2030. To that end, it will continue investing in the latest technology to analyse industry developments, trends and opportunities, and in learning and development for its consultants and senior leaders.
Such ambitions are undeniably bold, but Randstad’s progress in recent years suggests that it’s more than capable of achieving those goals and staying ahead of the technology curve.
Jacques Van Den Broek