An increasingly complex workplace requires an increasingly skilled recruitment sector, attendees at the World Employment Conference, sponsored by national export agency Enterprise Ireland, heard.
Radical changes in how organisations are structured and how employees work, driven by fast-changing technology, means that “where once people had a narrow career path and a defined skill set which they could trade on, they are now engaging in a kaleidoscope career,” said Colette Darcy, Dean of the School of Business at National College of Ireland, and a senior lecturer in HR.
NCI is working with Ireland’s National Recruitment Federation to find ways in which the recruitment industry can best respond to changes that are taking place in client organisations. The project has identified a need to professionalise the industry, “so that clients can have comfort in the quality of recruiters they are engaging with,” Darcy said.
Professionalising the recruitment industry
“If you are a professional recruiter, what does that mean? And how can we ensure there is a common understanding of what that means in the wider working world?”
To begin with, the industry aims to develop professional apprenticeships, similar to those recently introduced in the financial services domain. The apprenticeship model would combine academic learning with on-the-job application, which would be of value to the rapidly-changing recruitment industry.
Having suitably qualified staff could become an important differentiator for agencies in a crowded market and the intention is also to develop programmes at higher professional levels.
Education is now of strategic importance to the industry, said Karen O’Flaherty, chief operating officer at Morgan McKinley, the recruitment agency.
“The entire recruitment role has fundamentally changed over the past five or 10 years, and with pace over the past two years. Without question, it has become more sophisticated. Consultants now not only need industry expertise but marketing skills and have an understanding of AI and data, as well as understanding how to use digital technology in different ways.”
It takes a significant length of time to onboard staff in the industry and the level of attrition is high. Apprenticeships offer the potential to attract staff to individual agencies, as well as boost the profile of the recruitment sector as an employer overall, she said.
Such accreditation will be welcomed by clients, particularly multinational ones for whom an employment agency “has changed from being what used to be a transactional need to fill a role, to how they can develop a better pipeline of future talent for the organisation,” said O’Flaherty.
The impact of technology on skills
Just as book keeping evolved into accountancy, thanks to education and increased professionalisation, recruitment can evolve too, said Jonny Campbell, CEO of Social Talent, an Irish recruitment training company.
“The more transactional tasks are increasingly being automated by technology. These are not the core skills we need anymore. We require people to be advisors, experts, data poets and analysts, and not just do the transactional work. That is a very sophisticated role and it requires us to take a different approach to the education of those individuals, both upfront and on a continuous basis.”
Better recruiters mean better matches for clients. For example, social skills are increasingly required by clients, particularly in project management and IT. “Clients are looking for candidates with high-level interpersonal skills, who are able to relate to people across all levels of an organisation. The irony is, the more digital we become, the less capable people are of doing that,” said O’Flaherty.
“That’s where I see the real value-add within the specialist profession of recruitment, being highly attuned – almost a psychologist – to finding the right mix, to matching the kind of talent that can come in and make a difference to that organisation.”
This chimes with Campbell’s experience developing curricula for recruiters over the past eight years. “I’ve seen the evolution of what we deliver to customers go from very technical tools, processes and technologies to our top requests now, which are around project management, leadership, psychology, influence and storytelling,” he said.
Renewed importance of soft skills
Often disparagingly referred to as ‘soft skills’, they are “arguably the most important base skills because they are universal and transferable,” he said. “We have lessened the investment we have put into these base skills that will always be needed. We focus too much instead on the type of tech training which eventually can be replaced by machines.”
Recruitment is “one of those roles where you have to do the job to understand it,” said Campbell, which is why on-the-job training, either via apprenticeship or through bite-sized online chunks on-demand, are so valuable.
“We see formal education as one piece of the pie, and that continuing professional development has to be there as well,” said Darcy.
“The rate of change is such that it’s a nonsense to say that someone could do a programme of study three years ago and still be current. You need to maintain your currency. In a professional recruitment sector the CPD element has to be visible, attractive, monitored and valued by employers – and their clients.”