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by Kurt von Moos

Exploring current trends in global employment, the technology that drives it forward and how mindful productivity fuels deep work.

The workforce crisis of 2030 is already here

The idea that someone or something will come along and “steal our jobs” is nothing new. It seems to be a cyclical symptom that is deeply rooted in our fast changing society and it’s evolving technology. However the concept that change leads to lost jobs is perhaps too simplistic a view to take.

Rainer Strack gave an absolutely fascinating TED talk back in 2014. He predicted many of the world’s largest economies will have more jobs than adult citizens to do those jobs. He explains this shortage by delving into plummeting birth rates as well as discussing the rise of A.I. and automation. He argued that although some jobs will become redundant through technological progress, this will lead to the creation of new jobs in new fields that we can not yet imagine:

So does Rainer’s vision hold water? In my opinion, it most certainly does. Having worked in both recruitment and HR for over a decade, I can attest to the fast changing global employment landscape. In my line of work, it is all too common for veterans to notice the comings and goings of employment trends, largely dictated by technological progress, social and geopolitical trends. Having worked in smaller countries such as Switzerland and the UK, I am all too familiar with labor market skills not catching up to labor demand. A timely example is the current imbalance in the UK’s Cyber Security labor market. Following a recent report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Rahul Powar comments:

While he regards the increase in cyber security employment found by the governmental report as “a vital boost for the seemingly impossible task of plugging the current 4 million shortfall in cybersec professionals”, Red Sift CEO Rahul Powar says that research should delve deeper into movement between specific industries.”

Rahul Powar, 2020 

Not only would I say Rainer Strack is correct about the impending workforce crisis in 2030, I would argue that it has already started.

Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning

There is a lot of confusion around some of the technological buzzwords we hear floating around these days. For instance, people often use the words “Artificial Intelligence” and “Machine Learning” interchangeably. But do they really mean the same thing? Let’s define them:

When a machine performs tasks using a set of defined rules to solve problems (algorithms), we call this “intelligent” behaviour artificial intelligence or “AI”. Machine or “ML” is a subset of artificial intelligence. It is a technique for realizing AI or, to put it another way, training algorithms such that they can learn how to make decisions autonomously. This is achieved by giving lots of data (think “Big Data”) to the algorithm and allowing it to learn more about the processed information.

According to the latest forecasts and market estimates from Forbes:

Open jobs requiring TensorFlow experience is a useful way to quantify how prevalent machine learning is becoming in business today. There are 4,134 open positions in the U.S. on LinkedIn that require TensorFlow expertise and 12,172 open positions worldwide as of today. Open jobs on LinkedIn requesting machine learning expertise in the U.S. further reflect its growing dominance in all businesses. There are 44,864 jobs in the U.S. today according to LinkedIn that list machine learning as a required skill, and 98,371 worldwide.   

Roundup Of Machine Learning Forecasts And Market Estimates, 2020 – Forbes.com

No matter what industry you are in, chances are the use of artificial intelligence leveraged by machine learning is going to dramatically change not only your sector, but your work environment as well. This revolution will not only require technically skilled people to implement it but will necessitate leadership and management to understand why they need it, how to leverage it and finally, what deploying it entails.

So no matter what your job title, understanding what artificial intelligence and machine learning are will be critical in the coming years. A great place to start is a short online course provided free by the University of Helsinki (no affiliation):

In spring 2018, Reaktor and the University of Helsinki came together to help people to be empowered, not threatened, by artificial intelligence (AI). Together they built the Elements of AI course to teach the basics of AI to people from a wide range of backgrounds.

You can sign up for the course on the “Elements of AI” website absolutely free. You even get a certificat upon completion.

Human Resources vs Recruitment

Human Resources is a misunderstood and frequently underappreciated business line. HR is a balancing act between being an employee advocate and a strategic business partner. Most of us rarely see how many hats HR professional wear.
A common misconception is that HR and recruitment are the same function. I’ve worked as both a recruitment specialist and a HR professional. I’ve experienced several job interviews where employers not only confuse both functions but expect them to require the same skills. So what exactly is the difference between these two roles?

Where a recruiter’s skillset is sales-like (from persuading candidates and writing compelling job descriptions to building a brand that attracts talent) a traditional career in HR is quite the opposite. HR covers employment law, contracts, policies, compensation and benefits, learning and development, performance management, organisational design and, increasingly, coaching. You’ll notice very little overlap in those experiences with someone who’s built their career in recruitment, especially in an agency.

Ellen Donnelly for Sifted.eu, January 2020

Ellen Donnelly, in an article for Sifted.eu, sums it up well. In my experience, good recruiters need to be great at sales. Don’t believe me? Consider a recruiter’s main key performance indicator: Placements.

In the case of agency recruitment, the more candidates a recruiter successfully “places”, the more commission he or she earns. How does one maximise placements? Simple. First, ensure a constant stream of job openings. This is secured by prospecting potential clients willing to pay the recruiter’s fee (the demand). Second, build a good pipeline of candidates looking for jobs in the industries your clients are in (the supply). Match both together, get them to agree to terms and you have yourself a placement and by extension, a commission fee.

In the case of an internal recruiter, the process is similar to agency recruitment. The big difference is prospecting for clients. When recruiting internally, your clients are already within your grasp. An example might be line-managers needing additional or replacement resources. However just because there is no prospecting to do, does not mean selling is not involved. An internal recruiter’s KPIs are still very much Placements. Their key function is to fill internal job openings. To do this, they will need to use salesmanship to attract top tier candidates (the supply) who are usually already employed and convince the line-managers that the candidates are the right fit for their team or department (the demand). Although they don’t usually receive commission, internal recruiters are paid a higher base salary and often get to have far better sounding job titles, like “Talent Acquisition Specialist”.

So, what about sourcing, identifying and interviewing the right candidates, I hear you ask. Surely these super powers are in fact the most important skills in a recruiter’s tool-set? The honest answer is that they use to be but not anymore. I can begin by pointing out how most recruiters do their job despite very basic knowledge of the technicalities of the roles they are recruiting for or the clien’s corporate context. The recruiter gets his parameters based on just one or two rushed phone calls with the client. Secondly, most recruiters can leverage A.I. powered tools and extensive pre-populated candidate pools like LinkedIn to find the perfect (skills based) match efficiently. Software exists to sift through mountains of CVs to triage them by placement probability odds. Most of the large recruitment agencies have created cost efficient “sourcing centres” in different time zones. There, “sourcers” find matching CVs for recruiters while they sleep. The reality is, technology and economies of scale have made finding the right candidate a secondary concern for most recruiters. Furthermore, the client’s HR department is still where the buck stops in terms of determining whether a candidate is truly a good fit.

Let’s contrast what we have learned above with HR. To simplify, if Human Resources was an attraction park, recruitment would be one of the many rides. HR is setup to help design organisations and manage their human capital. Before HR tasks an internal or agency recruiter to find the right people, they must first help management define who the right people are. To do this, both the company’s commercial goals and internal capabilities must be assessed. This will help define the people, the structure and the corporate culture required to leverage the company’s key capabilities to achieve its targets.

The above exercise might lead to the conclusion that, based on the company’s key capabilities and objectives, the wrong structure, company culture or people are already in place. Or worst yet, that all the organisational design elements are already in place, but the company lacks key capabilities to leverage them. In either scenario, modern HR departments are designed and tasked to help re-align these organisational components. Any one of these components are extremely complex to put in place and even harder to change. They require careful planning and inter-departmental support.
Looking beyond organisational design, HR is tasked with keeping the momentum of success going. This might involve talent retention in an increasingly competitive job seekers market (i.e the current AI and Machine Learning candidate pool). This alone entails a cacophony of sub disciplines such as employee benefits and incentives. Here again, HR is depended on to turn companies into a desired brand name amongst the top tier talent they so desperately need. When looking at talent retention, we must also acknowledge that it’s not just about incentivising people to stay but helping them develop as well. The cornerstone of any corporate strategy that aims to avoid stagnation, is training and talent development. HR will be relied on to identify key capabilities that are already in place, that are needed, and mapping out the logistics of developing them in-house.

Of course, HR is not limited to only the strategic side of human capital management. There is also the compliance and the logistics of managing talented and divers workforces. More so than ever, labour laws around the globe are ushering us into an era of strict regulations designed to increase job security and enable us to work safely and with dignity. HR takes the lead by ensuring companies employ people lawfully and ethically. When you consider the international nature of so many markets, and factor in the need for companies to now scale globally often very quickly, one can quickly begin to understand the legal and logistical complexities of employing a multi-cultural workforce in multiple countries, each with their own complex labour laws, collective agreements, payroll particularities and cultural best practices.

I only hopped to cover a small fraction of the many facets of what HR is today. But hopefully enough to instil in you a deeper understanding of what the terms “Human Resources” and “Recruitment” really mean. More importantly, I’ve hopefully helped dispel the myth that HR is just about making the office lame.

How Netflix Reinvented HR

When learning about Organisational Design and Human Resource Management, it is almost impossible to not mention the now widely circulated Netflix Culture Deck. It is a stunning example of a company leveraging one of the principal elements of organisational structure, culture, and aligning it with their key capabilities to achieve resounding market success.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Patty McCord, the former chief talent officer at Netflix and co-author of the Netflix Culture Deck, shares two conversations she recalls having while working at Netflix. This first conversation highlights how the Netflix culture was absorbed by employees:

One day I was talking with one of our best engineers, an employee I’ll call John. Before the layoffs, he’d managed three engineers, but now he was a one-man department working very long hours. I told John I hoped to hire some help for him soon. His response surprised me. “There’s no rush—I’m happier now,” he said. It turned out that the engineers we’d laid off weren’t spectacular—they were merely adequate. John realized that he’d spent too much time riding herd on them and fixing their mistakes. “I’ve learned that I’d rather work by myself than with subpar performers,” he said. His words echo in my mind whenever I describe the most basic element of Netflix’s talent philosophy: The best thing you can do for employees—a perk better than foosball or free sushi—is hire only “A” players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else.

The second conversation provides fascinating insight into management’s perspective:

The second conversation took place in 2002, a few months after our IPO. Laura, our bookkeeper, was bright, hardworking, and creative. She’d been very important to our early growth, having devised a system for accurately tracking movie rentals so that we could pay the correct royalties. But now, as a public company, we needed CPAs and other fully credentialed, deeply experienced accounting professionals—and Laura had only an associate’s degree from a community college. Despite her work ethic, her track record, and the fact that we all really liked her, her skills were no longer adequate. Some of us talked about jury-rigging a new role for her, but we decided that wouldn’t be right.

So I sat down with Laura and explained the situation—and said that in light of her spectacular service, we would give her a spectacular severance package. I’d braced myself for tears or histrionics, but Laura reacted well: She was sad to be leaving but recognized that the generous severance would let her regroup, retrain, and find a new career path. This incident helped us create the other vital element of our talent management philosophy: If we wanted only “A” players on our team, we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been. Out of fairness to such people—and, frankly, to help us overcome our discomfort with discharging them—we learned to offer rich severance packages.

If you haven’t already read the Netflix Culture Deck, I highly recommend you do. It is as game changing now as it was when it was first published.