We sat down with Terry Terhark, President of Terry Terhark, ADPTalent Acquisition Solutions, ADP, at the ADP Rethink conference on Wednesday January 28, to get his view on the war for talent, employer branding, skills gaps and onboarding.

If there’s a shortage of talent outside of an organisation, can said organisation cultivate it from within?

It’s a question that would require many hours of conversation. The fact of the matter is that yes, there is a talent shortage that spans across many industries and many different skillsets. In some parts of the world, finding hourly workers or manufacturing workers, there’s a shortage of talent. In others it’s skilled trades and in others it’s knowledge workers, and we’ve heard about a shortage of IT professionals and engineers and scientific people for many years, but we’ve found over the last ten years in particular, increasingly as the economy has continued to improve since 2008, that companies are struggling more and more – whether it’s due to regional pressure or due to a skills gap within that particular function, and it’s increasingly more difficult to find the type of person they’re looking for.

Can they develop that kind of person within their organisation, is a very complex question, and it largely depends on the kind of person that you’re trying to train up or skill. So my short answer would be yes; in fact, through investment and many years of training and development you can cultivate that talent from within, however that requires partnership with educational institutions with training and development in your own organisation. It doesn’t happen overnight. There has to be thoughtful planning in terms of how you approach the shortage and how you start to build the skill gaps within your organisation, whether that’s through partnerships with education, with joint workforce coalitions, or with internal training, so you can address it, and in some areas it’s very challenging.

So, for example in the United States, there’s a shortage of truck drivers. You require a certain license and the demand far outpaces the supply. So, you can obviously train someone to be truck driver, but there’s not so many people who are interested in going into that field any more. So in some regards there are limits to what you can do internally, and that’s very much an entry level position, so it’d be hard to cultivate that talent from within. What organisations are doing is starting to get to individuals who might be in high school to start to educate them about the financial rewards and the freedom. So you can certainly attack it. It really depends on exactly what skill you’re looking to develop.

What strategies can organisations use to look more attractive to candidates?

Again, that’s a very complex answer to what is a relatively simple question. We are seeing considerable pressure. One of the things we measure across all of our clients is what we call ‘offer turndown rate’, so companies will extend an offer and we track month-over-month how many offers are being turned down, and what that tells us is the vitality of the employment marketplace: Are they receiving multiple offers? Is this company competitive? It gives us a lot of intelligence and we’ve certainly seen the offer rejection rate go up over the past couple of years across our client base.

There’s a multitude of things that companies can do to make themselves more attractive. We’ve seen, especially over the last 24-36 months, considerable investment from organisations to define their recruitment or employment brand. Many companies will have a consumer brand, but they’re now trying to invest in “What is it like to work here?” Whether that’s putting videos on their website, getting access to current employees through chat or some kind of social mechanism where you can understand the experience that you have as an employee there. We’re seeing companies do what I’ll call ‘employment brand advertising’, not just consumer advertising. So saying “We’re a great place to work” and submitting themselves for awards.

But on the converse of that there are many vehicles for candidates to research a prospective employer to advance their understanding of what it’s like to work there. There’s Glassdoor, which is a very large social network where people can go and find out what it’s actually like. They rate the CEO, they rate the work environment, and anonymous employees put comments about the work/life balance, or the benefits or whatever it may be. That’s very powerful. In fact you can improve your Glassdoor image by doing a number of things. LinkedIn is also a vehicle for employers to promote their employment brand, and I would say that in every conversation we have with our clients, we are always discussing their recruitment or employment brand. Today it’s much easier than how it used to be because of social, so you can do things on Facebook, you can do things on Twitter that are strictly brand oriented. It may not be just posting a position, but you really can start to communicate the message about what is positive about your organisation. So we’ve seen many companies who invest heavily in terms of their social footprint to be able to extend what it’s like to work in that client organisation.

Can corporations learn anything from startups in their recruitment approach? How about their organisational culture?

Well, if they don’t I think they’re doomed!

The short answer is yes. I think what you find in startups is very flexible work arrangements, entrepreneurial attitudes, great teamwork. I happen to have been an entrepreneur so I understand that you find great responsiveness to candidates. I think that young startups, as they’re small, they value the talent they bring in. They individualise the recruitment experience and they make it very critical of that person that they’re recruiting of the impact they’re going to have on the organisation.

In today’s world, everything has become individualised, if you think about our experiences as consumers. Today we’ll see what a person looks at on the internet and we can push jobs to them based on what they’ve looked at.

The recruiting experience has become more individualised and I think that organisations have to be able to recruit individually versus trying to recruit broadly. Big organisations, while they have many benefits to offer and they need to communicate their value proposition, they really have to make sure, especially with the millennial generation, that they’re making it a unique experience for them, not just pushing them through a machine.

What do think of Marcus Buckingham’s point this morning that when you bring in new talent, don’t tell them about what the organisation is, tell them about why you hired them?

I was actually nodding my head I saw that.

I think the onboarding experience most new hires go through is largely very painful for them. It’s filling out forms and being provisioned with certain things that you’ll need in the company, which is something you do not want to do. As well as that, it’s pushing a lot of information on them. “Here’s our executive line-up, here’s the products that we make, blah blah blah.” Marcus’s point was spot on. “How are you going to contribute into our environment? How are we going to value you as an individual?” I’m beginning to see some really interesting social applications around recruiting where you can get to know your team before you start to work, and that’s part of the onboarding experience – introduce yourself, share about yourself.

So it’s exactly what Marcus was talking about. How do you take Facebook and LinkedIn and how do you link that to a work group that you’re going to be part of. For most of us when we join a new company, we want to quickly assimilate into our team and we want to feel like we’re contributing right away. So I think it was spot on, relatively.

And I firmly believe that recruiting has been primarily based on the recruiter in the past, but in the future, because of the war for talent and because of shortages, you’re going to have to elevate it up one level and make it about the person you’re going after, whether it’s a recruiting process or a work environment, etc. to be able to attract a talented individual.

So if you could give three tips to organisations that are struggling to recruit the right talent, what would you say?

  1. Be comprehensive in your recruitment strategy – Oftentimes what I find is companies who will use one vehicle to try to recruit, when we should post a job or use a recruiter, and they rely on that singular methodology to try to generate, and they really should be. There are so many ways to recruit these days. LinkedIn is by far the most productive source for us. Companies should use a broad strategy to cast a very wide net to attract the right people.
  2. Analyse how you are perceived by candidates – They should look at their employment brand, their recruitment brand, and do some short term things to address any shortcomings that they might have in their recruitment brand today, so analyse and come up with the right solutions to be attractive.
  3. Know your audience – I think many of the recruiting methods that are being deployed have been built for baby boomers, whereas the vast majority of entrants to the workforce are millennials, and I’ll use a good example: mobile. I believe that there’s only about 15 percent of companies that use mobile in their recruiting process. However candidates, when they’re searching for a job, expect to be able to engage in a mobile process. We use our mobile devices for everything, but the recruiting process is lagging. So be invested in the mobile process so you can be convenient for the types of people that you’re going after.

Is there a soft skills gap? If so, which skills are lacking and why might that be?

Philosophically I don’t think so. I think that people are people. I hear people say that the millennial generation are lazy, they have entitlement – I don’t believe it for a minute. I fundamentally believe that we evolve as a human being with subsequent generations and companies need soft skills, and you have to adapt to be able to embrace whatever those soft skills are. But I think fundamentally they line up, or they’re forced to line up, because either you evolve or die as a company.

Intellectually; as I talk to companies, relating to where they see gaps and in terms of what they’re looking for, I do hear from them that they see gaps in soft skills that they’re recruiting for. I think accountability tends to be one of those. We hear a lot about loyalty, that the millennial generation tends to shift jobs every one to six years. But I think it’s an obligation of the company to be able to prove to an individual why they should stay. I’ve always believed that if I lose an employee, then I deserve to lose that employee. Either I didn’t pay them enough, I didn’t give them the right training, I didn’t give them the right opportunities. I think the soft skills gap is really an excuse for companies not providing the things that they need in order keep people. Soft skills are soft skills – I think companies need to evolve to adjust to what society provides to us in terms of these.

When it comes to talent acquisition, should recruiters apply marketing methodologies to create an attractive employer brand?

Without a doubt. I think that even more so today. When I started in recruiting my database was my file drawer. Today my file drawer is the world. I have access to anything at any time. Because we have access to so much information, malleable information, you have to be able to market effectively to the groups that you’re pursuing and I think that as I look at what we deploy, across our many clients, whether it’s financial institutions or automotive, they’re targeting certain types of people and you cannot expect to put generic positions out there and get world-class talent as a result of that, so you have to market very directly and very uniquely. Not only to the group, but to the individual. We’ve seen very rapidly that with social you can target not only groups, but individuals and you can custom-market to the individual. So I think that as a recruiter, whether internal or working for a recruiting firm, you have to be able to deploy marketing techniques to attract the right people.

It’s moving very quickly. Recruiting has changed and what I see with a lot of large organisations is that they may be changing and innovating their products, but their recruiting systems remain the same and in order for them to be competitive, they really have to change. In the US, a site a website we use a lot is Pinterest, which is more a place where you can share food you like, and places you like to dine, etc., but it’s a great recruiting vehicle. You can link if someone like’s this, then they might be inclined to think of this type of job, and so you can start to market to that group. It’s about thinking creatively about the resources that are available to you.

ADP is a global RPO solutions provider.