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Recruiters Talk Shop at SHRM Talent 2024

From left: Shannon Taylor, director of talent acquisition at JCPenney; Nicole Belyna, director of talent acquisition and inclusion for SHRM;  Justin Fronberg, executive director of talent acquisition for MGM Resorts International; and Carol McDaniel, vice president of talent acquisition at Providence health care system, spoke April 15 at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2024
From left: Shannon Taylor, director of talent acquisition at JCPenney; Nicole Belyna, director of talent acquisition and inclusion for SHRM; Justin Fronberg, executive director of talent acquisition for MGM Resorts International; and Carol McDaniel, vice president of talent acquisition at Providence health care system, spoke April 15 at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2024.

LAS VEGAS — The world of work is changing, and talent acquisition professionals tasked with finding and hiring talent will have to think differently. That means being innovative and cultivating an employer brand that stands out from the crowd; adopting new technologies to create efficiencies; and shifting to a skills-based hiring approach, which will open up available talent pools considerably. That’s the message from the recruiting trends panel at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2024 (Talent 2024).

The popular annual presentation on the most relevant trends, challenges and solutions in talent acquisition was moderated April 15 in front of a standing-room-only audience by Nicole Belyna, SHRM’s director of talent acquisition and inclusion.

Panelists included Shannon Taylor, director of talent acquisition at JCPenney; Carol McDaniel, vice president of talent acquisition at Providence health care system; and Justin Fronberg, executive director of talent acquisition for MGM Resorts International.

Think Different

Recruiters are currently struggling with many challenges in attracting and hiring talent, including talent scarcity, fierce competition, changing candidate behavior, and volatility in the macro-economy. It’s been topsy-turvy for recruiters since the pandemic, with many reporting high levels of burnout and layoffs in the last few years.

Navigating all that change requires agility in thinking, the panelists agreed. “Coming out of the pandemic, we found ourselves trying to figure out what to do in order to open back up,” Fronberg said. “Many workers were questioning what they wanted to do. We had to be creative and shift our mindset when thinking about who we are looking for—teaching people the skills we need instead of them already having the exact industry work experience, for example.”

Recruiters need to continue thinking about things in a different way, Taylor said. “We’ve had to focus on relationships and try to evoke feelings in people to get them to want to join the organization,” he said. “It isn’t necessarily about the job itself. Organizations have different things they provide, and from the talent acquisition perspective, it’s up to us to highlight those things that set us apart and create the consideration of the employer as a place to work.” 

McDaniel agreed, saying that when competing employers offer similar compensation and benefits, recruiters need to find what makes their organization the preference of job seekers.

McDaniel is responsible for hiring health care staff, including nurses, arguably the most in-demand role in the country. “We lead with our mission—to provide health care to the underserved,” she said.

The panelists advised talent acquisition leaders to identify, cultivate and highlight the attraction points that each employer already owns. “It’s about personalization,” Fronberg said. “People are looking for a company that shares their values. They are looking for leadership and motivation that appeals to them. They are looking for work/life balance. So recruiters can articulate those values and benefits to stand out.”

Taylor leans on his knowledge of the job seeker. “You must understand the audience you’re trying to attract,” he said. “Sometimes I’m asked, ‘How can we make retail a career?’ And I say, the front line of our business is typically not looking for a career. They are looking for a job. It’s up to us to sell them on a career.”

One way to do that is to present career pathways. McDaniel said Providence offers tuition to housekeepers to become certified nursing assistants, for example. “You’ve got to show what makes health care a better career than some other industry, and what people working in marketing or data analysis can find in health care that makes it an attractive place to work.”

Using AI and Automation to Augment Recruiting

The widespread rollout of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) tools has led to unprecedented interest in the use of AI technology in the workplace.

About 1 in 4 organizations are currently using AI to support HR-related activities, according to research from SHRM. Typical of emerging technologies, AI adoption began in talent acquisition.

“We’re all on the AI journey,” Taylor said. “Trying to figure out where does it work, where does it not work. We are experimenting.”

Fronberg said AI has been “a massive conversation topic,” at MGM. But the benefit of being able to supercharge your workday must be balanced with compliance and bias concerns, he noted.  

“AI is allowing talent acquisition professionals to move from administration to more of a consultant role, making sure we’re guiding our business through this difficult labor market,” he said. “But you’ve got to be careful.”

Taylor’s team has been using a GenAI tool in Microsoft Edge to enhance recruiter communication. “We’re using the tool to see how many minutes it saves. And those minutes add up,” he said. “Think about each time you have to respond to a candidate with a difficult answer. How long do you typically think about it, struggling to get the right words out? You can put the ideas into a GenAI tool and it spits out a message in seconds.” 

JCPenney’s recruiters also use the new GenAI features in LinkedIn Recruiter. “We’ve seen an increase in candidate responses to InMail because of it,” he said.

Great progress has been made integrating AI and automation in health care settings as well. McDaniel’s team has been using robotic process automation tools to accomplish administrative tasks and streamline the recruiting and hiring process.

Looking at Skills to Grow Internal Talent

The momentum for skills-based hiring—moving beyond education and experience requirements to focus on the skills match between candidates and roles—continues to grow.

Experts believe that more employers will start to take tangible steps toward implementing skills-based hiring, both for external hires and internal mobility.

“Skills-based hiring has been in the conversation,” Fronberg said. “It tends to happen more when the market tightens, and companies have to be more agile in their approach to hiring.”

MGM is still working on it, Fronberg said. “But we have found that there are candidates who come our way without the exact industry experience that may still be a fit for our organization. And that they provide a level of diversity of experience that comes from working in another industry.”

Skills-based hiring will necessitate a cultural change, and as much as there are tools to identify transferable skills, there must first be a mindset shift, Taylor said. “And it starts with talent acquisition. We’ve removed the college degree requirements from 99 percent of our roles. I tell hiring managers all the time that there is no perfect candidate. They will have some things you want, and you’ll have to develop the rest. That’s where a skills-based conversation comes in.”

McDaniel added that skills-based hiring will also require strong partnerships with the talent management and learning and development teams to identify and assess skills in the organization.

“After identifying and assessing skills, and reskilling and upskilling talent, the outcome is the hire,” she said. “Take a pause the next time you receive 10 new requisitions. Have a conversation to see who you have internally who can fill the role after some upskilling or reskilling. Your employees want an opportunity.”

Fronberg said hiring and people managers also need to be involved to make skills-based hiring work. “So many times we identify high-potential talent, but without their manager having a conversation with them and finding out what they want, there will be a missed opportunity,” he said. “Managers must be intentional about helping their employees get to where they want to go.”

Employer Takeaways

The panelists left attendees with a few takeaways. Fronberg said that having the curiosity about using new technology in talent acquisition will drive innovation. “You will start questioning your processes, practices and systems,” he said. “Not being satisfied with the current but looking forward to how you can get better.”

McDaniel is especially proud of the role recruiters can play in candidate experience. “Candidate experience is my passion,” she said. “Candidate experience has been a conversation for the 25 years I’ve been in talent acquisition. We can’t seem to get it right.”

She mentioned a book called Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect (Optimism Press, 2022) by Will Guidara, which imparts lessons on how to create experiences that go above and beyond. “Think about how you can create experiences for candidates that no one else thinks about,” she said.

Taylor advised talent acquisition professionals to raise the level at which they represent themselves at their organization. “We talk a lot about the transactional work our teams do, how many roles we’ve filled, and that’s excellent,” he said. “But if you think of yourselves in talent acquisition the way mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is thought of, how different would that be? When you get it right, the new hire earns the business money, and that person moves along in their career. When you get it wrong, there’s a cost. If you think about your function as an M&A leader and use that language, I guarantee that you’ll get a better response from the business and have a bigger seat at the table.”    


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.