CHROs Plan for an Abundant Talent Market Post-COVID

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer April 22, 2020
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​The employment situation has shifted dramatically in the last few weeks since the coronavirus outbreak shut down large portions of the economy. HR leaders have had to quickly pivot from recruiting amid the lowest unemployment on record to managing a sea change in the way people work while planning for a very different post-COVID future.

Two of those leaders shared what they've learned so far and what they're anticipating for the remainder of 2020, at the SHRM Talent virtual conference April 21.

David Scott, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at DISH Network, a telecommunications company based in Englewood, Colo., said that his company has spent the last few weeks in reactionary mode dealing with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and that it has only recently started to think about what comes next.

DISH was understandably preoccupied with transitioning its workforce, including over 4,000 call-center agents, from site-based locations to remote work and taking measures to protect its thousands of technicians who work in customers' homes.

Lina Graves, the chief people officer at Hirschfeld Properties, a real estate development and property management company in New York City, said her team was confronted with similar challenges—shifting to remote work and figuring out how to keep employees and residents safe. "Our main focus has been to keep people safe," she said. "We've staggered schedules, provided the proper protective equipment and communicated extensively to our workforce that their health is our top priority." 

Planning for a return to normal will bring a new set of challenges. The biggest change from a talent acquisition point of view could be the glut of job-seeking talent on the market.

"The circumstances brought on by COVID-19 will allow companies to be more selective in who they go after," Scott said. "I can't wait to grow based on the quality talent that will be available."

DISH has slowed down hiring for the time being, but "we're being opportunistic and looking for high-potential candidates going forward," he said.

Like other employers, DISH lost technical talent to entrepreneurial startups in the past, but Scott now believes that those organizations will not be able to maintain headcount due to the economic shock and that prized candidates will flood back into the market for the picking. "I think we'll see our funnel increase by 4 or 5 times," he said. 

But both leaders agreed that the newly flush pool of candidates won't make recruiting easier.

"The truth is that even though we will potentially get a ton of responses to a job post, it will be that much more difficult to find the right people with the right skillset," Graves said. "A lot of people will apply for a lot of positions, whether they have the right skills or not. Organizations need to start looking for critical talent now because it will take longer than it did before to sort through all the applicants."

She added that while technology is often used to help weed out resumes, having a group of talent acquisition specialists dedicated to finding qualified candidates will be important.

"We'll have to work on being more selective and more thoughtful and analyze what the right culture needs are," Scott said. He intends to invest more in machine learning technology and artificial-intelligence-based assessments to identify those who best fit the role and the culture.

Assessing your current workforce and focusing on engagement, succession planning and internal movement will be important too, Scott said. "It would be easy to sidestep performance appraisals during this time, but it's critical to use the people you've invested in most effectively. I worry that in times of crisis, HR focuses on what's immediately in front of them but doesn't keep constant talent management going."

Graves said that it's important to look at the positive takeaways from any crisis. "Right now, every employer has a major opportunity to create employment branding in the way that you handle this tough situation," she said. "How you communicate with your employees, how you train them, how you promote your culture, that will get out there and they are talking about the things you are doing as a company to keep them safe, to keep them informed and to make sure they're employment is taken care of."

She added that adopting flexibility will be important as employers recover from the disruptions brought by COVID-19. "I know that employers have been hesitant about remote work, but it has been demonstrated that we can continue to operate in a virtual way," she said. "We need to keep that in mind," she said, because in the short term some people may be apprehensive about returning to work, and longer term, because job seekers want it.  

Scott said that post-COVID, workers will also be looking for more "consistency, stability, safety and longevity."


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