Evolving the Workforce Technology Ecosystem

Executive Director of Global Technology Ian Blake explores how an Intelligent Workforce Platform, such as Acumen®, can shape the future of work and guide how businesses get work done.
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Episode Summary:

As the shifting workforce industry moves towards a skills-based hiring model, it is imperative to deploy technology that supports the future way we will get work done. In this episode of the Subject to Talent podcast we revisit a previous recording with Executive Director of Global Technology Ian Blake in which he explains how the Intelligent Workforce Platform guides and shapes how businesses hire, manage and empower their workforces.


Bruce Morton: Allegis Global Solutions (AGS) presents the Subject to Talent podcast, a hub for global workforce leaders to unleash the power of human enterprise. Listen in as we explore the most innovative and transformational topics impacting business today.

Hi, I’m Bruce Morton, the host of Allegis Global Solutions’ (AGS) Subject to Talent podcast. Today, we are re-issuing a past episode about a topic that is proving to be incredibly relevant to how work gets done, the Intelligent Workforce Platform. As more companies shift to a skills-based hiring model, an ecosystem approach to workforce technology, such as our Acumen® Intelligent Workforce Platform, becomes essential to finding, managing and empowering your workforce. Listen in as our Executive Director of Global Technology, Ian Blake, shares insights on how the Intelligent Workforce Platform benefits organizations and shapes the future of work.  

Bruce Morton: Ian has a truly global perspective with regards to how technology supports diverse and demanding workforce requirements, having completed over 150 implementations across five continents whilst also leading the development of multiple proprietary systems, such ATS, VMS, CRM and other talent tools.

Ian, welcome.

Ian Blake: Thanks very much, Bruce. Excited to be here.

Bruce Morton: Good stuff. Well, let's dive in. We always ask our guests the same first question and that is, how did you get into the workforce industry and what has your journey been to get you where we are today?

Ian Blake: Yeah, so I think like many people, I kind of fell into recruitment. I finished my information technology degree in South Africa. And shortly after that, moved over to London in the UK just to further my career. And after a few weeks in London with a really a disappointing job should I say, I was fortunately sat next to somebody at a pub one afternoon and having a chat and mentioned what I did, and she handed me a business card. And two weeks later, I started in a staffing firm in the technology space, and it was just a fortuitous conversation at the right time for a company that was hiring in its technology department.

So, at that stage, I had really no exposure at all to recruitment or recruitment tech. And it was one of my first actual jobs. So, I really started at the ground floor as a trainer and worked in trying to help embed a global CRM. I very quickly moved into the implementation team, which took me, very fortunately, all around the world, implementing that CRM and got me really to cut my teeth in recruitment tech. I got to understand the pressures that recruiters face, the challenge it is to get candidates to match those roles and to get those roles filled and to make sure that the technology was set up correctly to support that.

So, I was exposed to recruiters and markets from all over Europe, the States, even back in South Africa, Australia and Asia-Pac [Asia-Pacific region], as well, which gave me a huge appreciation for the first of all, the challenge of recruitment itself, but also the different markets and the different cultures that were at play.

Bruce Morton: Yeah. Great story. And it's a tried and tested recruitment methodology in the UK, I know that, chatting people up in the pub. So indeed, good man. So, to state the blindingly obvious, we're in a very challenging talent market right now, and technology is obviously front and center of how organizations are trying to solve some of those challenges of identifying, attracting and hiring the right type of person for the right type of work. But we know all too well that technology doesn't always deliver on the promise. So, what are some of the biggest challenges you are seeing that companies are facing today in the workforce tech space?

Ian Blake: That's quite right, Bruce. I think, it's an age-old problem in our industry is that there's a huge gap between the promises of good technology and the actual outcomes that they deliver. And it's always been something that's been easy to be attracted to, ideas sound great, but the application of those technologies and the actual outputs that we get has always been a challenge. So therefore, a lot of decision-makers are reluctant to stick their neck out and choose something and make decisions. And also, another sort of challenge which I've seen over the years is that getting tech implemented well, not just turned on and done to a basic level of configuration but implemented well and properly integrated is really difficult because typically HR and recruitment departments struggle with getting their technologies prioritized in the wider spectrum of technology projects within their organizations. So, it's very challenging. I think the there's often a lot of frustration and disappointment around these tools, but we've got an opportunity to make things different now, I think.

Bruce Morton: Right. So, obviously in your role of the head of AGS technology strategy and knowing that businesses need a hiring process to make things easier, not harder, what are you building at Allegis Global Solutions right now to help solve some of those challenges?

Ian Blake: So, at AGS, we are working on what we’re calling the Intelligent Workforce Platform (IWP), and this is a content that was introduced as part of the Universal Workforce Model™. And it's really an evolution in talent ecosystems and a new approach we’re taking to help solve the hiring challenges of our customers. Essentially, it’s a sourcing model, which is designed to intelligently match talent to required skills.

Bruce Morton: And then, is that for all forms of workers?

Ian Blake: Yeah, absolutely. So that looks across the entire talent spectrum, permanent, contingent, gig workers, internal staff, services companies … the whole lot. So, we look at the entire spectrum.

Bruce Morton: And there's a lot of talk right now around talent intelligence platforms, which I know this isn't, but can you just explain to the audience the differences?

Ian Blake: Absolutely. So, a talent intelligence platform is getting a lot of buzz in the market today, and it's really an impressive evolution in the tools we traditionally use around recruitment. So, these are things like advances on CRMs and ATS technology to try to give you more advanced matching and using much more deeper intelligence to try and match candidates to jobs. So, it's very advanced technologies, and they are very fundamental to how businesses are looking at their talent challenge today.

Now, to me, the one issue with that really is that talent intelligence platforms are still really doing, at the core of it, the same job we've always done, which is trying to match a whole candidate to an existing job. And we are using great data and great intelligence and AI, et cetera and advances to do that. But you still have that same old problem where you're matching a candidate to a job.

Now, a difference is the Intelligent Workforce Platform is taking that to a different level. Before we even get to the matching stage, we have to break down work into tasks and break down candidates resumes into their core skills. And then we are able to match the appropriate candidates with tasks that need to get done. Because if you look at many roles across organizations, there are a lot of roles that will say certain things in the job description. But the reality is it's very different when they're on the ground. And we look at individual roles and look at how we can potentially maximize the activities within those roles and get the most value from our workforce. And so as an example, is a developer in a software development team spending the majority of their time developing, or are they being sidetracked into other avenues, business requirements, gathering, or documentation or testing or something else that's distracting them from their core job of developing.

And therefore, are you getting, I guess, the most value for the money out of that developer, or should you take a different angle and look, okay, well, across our development needs, we need so many core developers and the extra tasks, the administration the testing, the documentation, whatever it might be, can be carved out into a different role for someone more appropriate. So, we are really getting more value for the money in the workforce. So, the Intelligent Workforce Platform seeks to break that down, reorganize how we look at work and then get the right matching from there.

Bruce Morton: Great. Yeah, I get it. Different approach. So, you were talking now about looking at the task versus the roles. So, do you think we're facing a world where job descriptions become redundant?

Ian Blake: I think so. And I think certainly CVs or resumes will become redundant in time as well because there's very much a…, well take where we are today. I think we all have job descriptions but the reality of what we do day-to-day and the bullet points on our job descriptions often are out-of-date the week we start the role. So, I think whilst they have their place, and I think it's important for organizations to be able to quantify who's doing what on paper, the reality is I don't think they fit for purpose for the long term. So, I think we'll see a world one day where job descriptions become much more high level, much more indicative of what the intention of those roles are, but less prescriptive about the individual tasks within those roles.

Bruce Morton: And I guess that means also organizations need to be better in attracting people to their organization based on how they get work done, as opposed to what it says in a job description. Right now, that's the way most people find a job. They go onto a job board and read the job description. It's more than that.

Ian Blake: It is more than that. And I think it's certainly more and more candidates today are looking for what’s outside the job. What are the career development opportunities? What more can I learn? How can I make the most of my skills today and learn more for tomorrow? So, I think we've got to be aware of that.

Bruce Morton: It's on that topic then. So how does the holistic view you're talking about, thinking about the work and the task, breaking that down, getting the right candidates, making sure that they are spending the majority of the time doing what they wanted to do and what they've learned to do and have experience to do it, how does that holistic view help a hiring manager assess somebody on their potential versus their experience?

Ian Blake: I think because you're not trying to fit people into boxes and try to be, I guess, very prescriptive about it. If you are starting to look at what more value, what increased value these new employees can bring, you get the opportunity to build a workforce for the future. And I think that is to me where the difference lies. If we are using the Intelligent Workforce Platform, we can combine skill- and task-matching but also other metrics around leadership potential, problem solving, numeracy – whatever those additional skills and competencies people have. You can add them to the mix, and you don't have to be very sort of rigid and stuck to a particular resume. You can expand out the way that you're looking at these candidates and match them more effectively to what the organization really needs.

Bruce Morton: Right. So, the “must have a minimum five years …” goes away. Yay!

Ian Blake: I agree. It's such a dated and largely pointless metric because we all know that top performers sometimes complete the skills and the capabilities within six to 18 months. You don't need five years to get to where they need to get to.

Bruce Morton: Well, most of the tech we used today, wasn't around five years ago, of course.

Ian Blake: That's true as well.

Bruce Morton: Madness. So, we started off the conversation talking about how hard it can be to get technology integrated into organizations. So here we are now talking about another piece of technology. So, what do you see some of the challenges that organizations will face and that AGS will face when talking to organizations about introducing, yes, another piece of tech?

Ian Blake: Yeah, it's a good question. I think integration has been the Achilles heel of many recruitment technologies over the years, and it's vital to make these things work effectively. And I think a lot of the frustrations we talked about at the beginning of this conversation are down to the fact that these tools aren't often well integrated. So hence why we've been moving towards a platform approach and platforms are an evolution from, I guess, point solutions which are designed to solve one single problem. A platform is really designed as an enabler where you can look at multiple technology options and build a technology ecosystem that solves a range of problems for different users. And what we are trying to do here is to make this as simple as possible for our customers through the Intelligent Workforce Platform. And what we are doing is we're creating, ideally, a single integration point between the IWP or the Intelligent Workforce Platform and our client environments with the ATS or the VMS or the CRM, or even the HCM.

And then we build all the complexity of the further integrations of the point solutions into the Intelligent Workforce Platform, which means that it's a lot simpler for our customers. We only have to go through the integration process once, all the data is collected, protected and stored, and then we can enable all the other features, whether we want to engage a video interview platform, or an assessment platform or any other sort of job boasting aggregators, et cetera, all can come within the platform, which means we have flexibility and we take a big headache away from our customers.

Bruce Morton: Got it. Makes sense. So, you’ve overseen workforce tech integrations in five continents – 150. I'm surprised your hair isn't, like, grayer. Can you explain the global challenges? Let's say, when you think about an approach like the Intelligent Workforce Platform and applicability country-by-country, is that an insurmountable headache, or what would your comment be around that?

Ian Blake: It is a headache. Let's not pretend that this is an easy problem to solve. I think we've got a multidimensional problem here with global organizations and a global technology solution, but it doesn't mean that we can't solve it. So, I think the awareness of many organizations will have different ways of operating in different regions and different rules that we have to adhere to in those different regions. And I think the one thing that we are starting with first to try and resolve that is to ensure that our data and our compliance processes are as rock solid as they can be, and really getting into the detail about where they need to sit, who needs to be informed about what and which privacy statements et cetera are shown to which candidates at the right time. That really allows us to be, first and foremost, secure that the client's data is protected, and we have a solid basis on which to move on.

I think the flexibility of the integration approach that we're taking also makes that a lot easier because where clients will have oftentimes maybe a local CRM or a local VMS or something, we are trying to make, as I said, those integration points as simple as possible. And where we have those situations, we can reuse integrations we've done before. We have a cloud integration partner, which allows us to be very flexible and is integrated with core ATS' and VMS' across the market. And that makes us a lot more agile in that space.

So, it is a challenge. I can't say there's a silver bullet that comes in and just fixes that for everyone. But also, the challenge can be on the client side, as well, to try to look at how much they can standardize. Can we start to work on global systems and introduce that? And then through that, we'll have obviously better engagement with the Intelligent Workforce Platform, as well.

Bruce Morton: Right. But it sounds like what you were saying earlier, the size of the prize is certainly worth the pain that's put that way.

Ian Blake: Absolutely.

Bruce Morton: And I guess with open APIs now, some of this wouldn't have been possible a few years ago. It would've been a lot harder, of course. So hopefully, as organizations become more agile through the digital transformation that most companies have been through, it should alleviate some of those challenges. So, as we think about that and you get your crystal ball out in a few years, it sounds like this platform – obviously you're building it, and you probably never stop developing, like any good tech. But what do you think will be some of the key elements or the differences in three to five years compared to today?

Ian Blake: Yeah, it's a good question and something I've talked about a couple of times, and I think it's very inspiring for me to think about this because the market has evolved so incredibly quickly over the last two decades. And you think about the amount of investments that have gone into the product over that time and how much we've seen change. But as I said in the beginning, we're still fundamentally doing the same thing. It's trying to match candidates to jobs. And taking that to the level down, as I said, will be a key differentiator in the future, where we are doing task- to skill-matching. But I think the other element, which I think will see some clear daylight between companies and their competitors, is those that are truly adopting a future-thinking approach around hiring for potential alongside the traditional way of recruiting. And I think that is going to be a differentiator.

There is a lot of talk right now, and we all know the challenges that we're in a talent-short market. There's the Great Resignation. There's lack of talent availability everywhere. But I believe a big challenge that we have is that we're all still fishing in the same pool, and we're all fighting over the same candidates, using the same tools, looking for people with the skills and experience that are housed on their resumes. But there's a whole pool of candidates I believe that have been excluded from our talent pools in the past because of the way that the technology and the recruitment behaviors happened.

And these are candidates that have wonderful numerical reasoning, leadership and problem-solving skills, to name a few, but due to various socioeconomic factors, haven't been able to get the formal qualifications or get those really great companies on their resumes. And that really holds them back. So, if we're able to open up our recruitment to these channels and be creative with the hiring process, factor in L and D into the picture and build career paths for this group of people, we all, I believe, will have access to a greater talent pool than we currently have to today.

Bruce Morton: Great. And hopefully the talent shortage will drive that very noble cause. That's great. Thank you. Thank you for the insight, Ian.

So, that brings us to the end of our time. Thanks so much for today. We really enjoyed the conversation. 

Ian Blake: Thanks, Bruce.

Bruce Morton: If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you have questions, send them to SubjectToTalent@AllegisGlobalSolutions.com. Follow us on LinkedIn with the #SubjectToTalent and learn more about AGS at AllegisGlobalSolutions.com, where you can find additional workforce insights and past episodes. Until next time, cheers.