Irish start-up is growing fast with a new app saving recruiters time and money

Sometimes the most obvious solution to a problem is the last to get adopted, but as the pressure to find suitable talent grows, referral schemes are taking centre stage and a new app is making a big difference in recruitment.

The instinct to ask around when you’re looking for someone to help has long found a place in recruitment in the form of harnessing employee networks and asking those around you if they know someone they’d put forward for a role. Now, a ground-breaking Irish tech start-up has taken that to the smartphone generation and created a 24/7 solution for hard-pressed HR departments hunting for talent.

HireUp was started by two software developers, David Maloney and Nathan Doyle, in 2016 and it quickly secured funding from Enterprise Ireland’s competitive start-up fund followed by mentoring from the Dell Global Entrepreneur Programme. Now the company is growing fast with clients in Ireland, the UK, Poland and Norway, and it’s been so successful for professional services organisation KPMG, with the company receiving more referrals in just over six weeks since using the app than during the whole of the previous year. HireUp also plans to expand into the US.

Gary Berney, Sales and Marketing Manager at HireUp, says: “Everyone has a network of contacts, what we do is help employees to receive bonuses from their companies for accessing their network to find the next talented hire. By focusing on mobile, we allow them to refer a contact at a time and a place that suits them. Around 60% of the sharing of jobs through our software takes place out of work hours. That wouldn’t have been the case in a traditional referral programme.”

Referral schemes are not new, but HireUp is made for a workforce that is always online. According to research in 2018, the average adult spends 3 hours 35min per day on mobile devices, with 90% of that use via apps. This is the social and mobile generation of millennials and others who connect with the world around them through apps on smartphones and tablets throughout their day, whether they’re working or not.

“When employees commute, they’re flicking through available jobs in their company on their mobile phones, and when they realise there’s a role perfect for someone in their network, they share the job and they’re done,” says Berney. “It’s a really slick, easy way to engage your employees and get them to do the recruitment work for you and that’s where the recruitment savings come in.”

In addition to the success with KPMG, the app is also having a big impact with other companies such as Permanent TSB, which is seeing its speed to hire increasing rapidly, due to the quality of referred candidates.

And in a fiercely competitive field, HireUp is constantly innovating to stay on top of the game and will soon be offering customers a special internal recruitment feature.

“Internal recruitment is a problem for a lot of companies,” adds Berney. “How do you inform employees of every opportunity to progress in a company when the particular business unit you’re working in doesn’t display jobs for other parts of the company for fear of losing their talent. The reality is, though, that if the company doesn’t inform employees of opportunities elsewhere in the organisation, employees will leave the company, taking their knowledge and talent with them.”

HireUp’s four pillar areas are finance, legal, tech and pharma, with a growing interest from public sector, engineering and retail. The software can lend itself to any business, but it performs optimally for firms with 500 employees or more. With strong growth in the UK and Ireland, the company secured €500,000 in February 2019 from, among others, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year, Patrick Joy, of Suretank Group.

HireUp has been working with Enterprise Ireland since 2016. The Irish government trade and innovation agency has supported HireUp with its strategy for growth. David Corcoran, Global Talent Management Lead at Enterprise Ireland, says: “The prevalence of apps used by the smartphone generation makes it ideal that companies use this technology in their recruitment processes. HireUp has tapped into the culture that enables people to share job opportunities with friends and colleagues, which, in turn, makes it simpler for companies to recruit new staff.”

AI set to take the strain in the search for new talent.

The volume of candidates for jobs is increasing dramatically as employees often only stay with companies for short periods. They now seek new opportunities to develop their skills and careers, with the aim of moving onwards and upwards quickly. The result is that the revolving door of vacancies and recruitment is speeding up. Recruiters’ time is increasingly taken up with a process that can seem never ending.

According to a 2018 report from recruitment specialists Hays Ireland, 46% of new employees have left a job within the first 12 months.

“Twenty years ago, people looked at their career and wanted to stay in the same place. They needed to build their foundations, that’s how you got promoted, that’s how you got the big money, doing your time with one company, but now it’s the opposite,” says Caroline Gleeson at tech start up BidRecruit.

“People don’t tend to stay at companies very long, especially graduates who are entering the job market. The best way to gain experience is to do stints – two years here and a year there. The job market is extremely volatile.”

BidRecruit offers smaller businesses all the benefits of AI machine learning

Gleeson saw an opportunity where others saw an escalating workload. Working with two colleagues, she founded BidRecruit, an AI-led company offering smaller businesses all the benefits of machine learning, but at an affordable cost.

“Our lead proposition was offering smart, fast and cost-effective recruiting software. There’s lots of software working in the multinational space but no one is looking at the SME space, where most of the growth is at the moment. And where it is forecast to grow more.”

BidRecruit works on a three phase process, offering HR managers a model of ‘Engage, Manage, Report’. Crucially, highly accurate real-time metrics ensure rapid feedback of how the platform is performing.

On ‘engage’, a client can instantly share the available job across multiple recruiting channels, with free posts to premium jobs boards in a single process. Targeted job advertising to Facebook and Instagram and an integrated careers page is enhanced by access to a recruiter marketplace where clients can engage and evaluate more than 150 specialist recruitment agencies.

The ‘manage’ phase allows a client to track and manage candidates easily, with personalised steps in the recruitment workflow. Added to that are customised email templates and mass mailing features, with the option to prioritise preferred recruiters and notify them first of new opportunities. It is here also that the AI function screens CVs and shortlists the best candidates according to highly configurable criteria. It’s here that BidRecruit offers recruiters a massive reduction in workload with an algorithm that is increasingly sophisticated in its selection.

Finally, the ‘report’ phase ensures clients can accurately measure performance and ROI, know where CVs originate and monitor activity with real-time analytics so clients know which channels are yielding the best return.

But the road to AI freedom has not been without its problems. In 2018, Amazon had to ditch its AI-powered CV sifting system when flaws appeared to give it a bias against female candidates applying for engineering positions. The algorithm driving the software had used a ten-year historical record of successful CVs and in a male-dominated industry, this worked against women applicants from all-female US universities. It dealt a blow to those hoping that AI is the silver bullet for overloaded recruiters, but Gleeson is convinced that machine learning is here to stay, despite the hiccups.

“What we say to our clients is that what the AI does is administrative, the pre-screening. The automation is there to do the mass emailing, it’s all about reducing the administration time so that you have the time to really focus and prioritise your time on finding the right person.”

And AI could just be the beginning in recruitment, as more and more personal data is available to be read. Machine learning can be applied not just to CVs but to body language in automated video interviewing, voice patterns in phone interviews, social media content and more besides. It may be taking the weight of tedious repetitive tasks in the short term, but as it becomes more sophisticated it will get closer to the more intuitive and creative functions that humans excel in.

BidRecruit has been assisted in its growth by Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Government’s trade and innovation agency.

“Internationalisation is a key element of BidRecruit’s growth strategy, and they are supported in their expansion into the UK and Poland by Enterprise Ireland,” says David Corcoran, Global Talent Management Lead at Enterprise Ireland. “Identified by Enterprise Ireland as a high potential start-up, BidRecruit initially received support from the agency’s Competitive Start Fund in 2017, and undertook a seed round of funding supported by Enterprise Ireland in 2018.

“In-market, Enterprise Ireland is supporting BidRecruit’s scaling agenda through active engagement and participation in events such as the Founders Forum, NexTech19 talent management conference, and the upcoming UK City Insights mentoring programme.”

Image caption: left to right, Enterprise Ireland’s HPSU Department Manager Joe Healy; BidRecruit CEO Caroline Gleeson; and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and Heather Humphreys TD.

When leading on-demand food delivery company Deliveroo wanted to add value to its relationships with employees, contractors and partner restaurants, it found an innovative, agile partner in Irish company Wrkit.

Dublin-based Wrkit specialises in employee engagement software and has developed an innovative modular system that runs on one platform, making engagement easy for users and effective for companies.

“We started out offering lifestyle savings – cinema tickets, shopping discounts, that kind of thing,” explains co-founder of Wrkit, Peter Jenkinson. “But we recognised as we grew that this market is very competitive. That was a challenge but also an opportunity for us to evolve. In order to differentiate us from competitors in the lifestyle space we developed a number of additional modules to supplement the benefits to employees and employers, and launched these new innovations under a new brand: Wrkit.”

Wrkit’s modular system

The five modules currently on the platform cover an extensive range of engagement areas and have created substantial growth opportunities for Wrkit. As well as the original Lifestyle Savings module, the company now offers a powerful Wellbeing module, which helps users to manage their mental and physical health, a Recognition module to celebrate staff accomplishments and drive performance, and a Learning module, linked to proactive and innovative educational and skills partners that encourages continuous personal and professional development. Another module, Surveys, is an invaluable management tool that captures the mood of a business.

“Clients can choose which modules best fit their aspirations and we can tailor these to specific geographical markets,” says Jenkinson. “The beauty of our technology is that it’s scalable. We can serve huge bases, like the NHS, and tiny bases, like a micro company, with pretty much an identical product. We’re aggregating the total opportunity to serve everybody.”

A unique partnership

Wrkit’s engagement with Deliveroo began when it won a bid to provide its lifestyle and learning benefits to the company’s staff.

Like most companies, Deliveroo must recruit, retain and engage staff, but also has to consider contractors (its riders) and an expanding partner restaurant network.

“From day one, Deliveroo was a tremendously interactive community for us. They value the product, and were very engaged across the organisation,” says Jenkinson. “We then won a contract to provide a benefit suite to their riders. That represented a leap for us in terms of our engagement with the client and a demonstration of their trust in us that we could provide an appropriately differentiated product to their employees and their contractors. It was a very valuable opportunity for us, as it was the first time our tool was rolled out for the benefit of a contract audience.”

It was not surprising, then, that Deliveroo contacted Wrkit again when it began to look at how it could add value to its restaurant partnerships.

“We partner with 17,000 restaurants in the UK and Ireland and have developed strong relationships with so many of them,” explains Tom Rae of Deliveroo. “The hospitality industry is facing a number of challenges such as workforce issues and rising costs, especially business rates and rents. So we set out at Deliveroo to use our scale and understanding of these pain points to try and leverage our size and network through partnerships with providers such as Wrkit. That has allowed us to offer more to our Restaurant Partners helping them meet the challenges of operating in a diverse but highly competitive market.

“Because we’re looking at the challenges of recruitment and skills shortages, as well as providing lifestyle benefits, Wrkit stood out from other providers as it has a focus on learning and upskilling modules.

“We also found that Wrkit saw the opportunity to work with us and be flexible. Having only launched Restaurant Partnerships in May 2018, when negotiating with Wrkit we had no real results of how such a scheme would perform. Peter and the team had to take a leap of faith with us, and they were willing to do so. That’s what we needed in a partner.

“This partnership is the first of its kind and sends a clear message to our restaurants that we want to be more than just a delivery partner to them. It helps distinguish our value proposition and is delivering a really valuable programme for our restaurants to enable them to give tangible benefits to their staff. We’re also delighted at the uptake of Wrkit’s learning modules across our partner restaurants, showing a demand for upskilling existing workforces.” adds Rae.

Support for growth

For a company with 24 staff, Wrkit has succeeded in getting in front of some of the world’s biggest names. It counts many multinationals and public sector organisations among its clients including SAP, Microsoft, KPMG, FedEx, Vodafone and the NHS.

And while its largest market is currently the UK, where it forecasts rapid growth, it is also looking to the US.

“The big challenge for a company like us is where to start in the US. We’re lucky in that, due to the popularity of Ireland as a location for US companies, we can often begin the connection with a branch in Cork before moving to the headquarters in California. We’ve also been supported by existing clients that have staff in the US, for example Bank of Ireland and The Doyle Collection. They allowed us to build out our product and, as a result, we connected with a large recruitment company based in Boston. We entered into a joint venture with them and they are now introducing our product to their extensive list of customers. We’ve had some tremendous success already and now have two staff based in Boston,” says Jenkinson.

Another source of support is Enterprise Ireland. The trade agency facilitates connections between Irish and overseas companies through a range of activities including events in key cities.

“One of our largest clients came to us through an event that Enterprise Ireland hosted in London. They were impressed by Enterprise Ireland’s, and the Irish government’s, deep support for Irish companies. Being supported by a government body is an enormous comfort to potential clients,” says Jenkinson. “And on a practical level, the fact that we can host a meeting in Enterprise Ireland’s offices in the centre of London has been a huge boost to us. It’s cost effective and it makes a statement to clients.”

Driving development through partnerships

Just six months into the new modular format of Wrkit’s product, sales are buoyant. But while a doubling of turnover is on the cards just from selling the new modules to existing customers, Wrkit is not resting on its laurels.

“We have  a team dedicated to solutions and development and we’re already looking at the next module. The other thing that drives our development is the kind of clients we have. Like Deliveroo, they are invariably innovative, demanding, proactive companies. We don’t just hand stuff to them and walk away. They come back to us, to help us help them, and that’s a key part of our client engagement.”

Companies are being reshaped as the nature of work changes. For many, the 9-5 workday and the workplace itself are no longer relevant. Amid a rising global trend towards a ‘flatter organisation’, Irish company Abodoo champions the success of small scale, decentralised business units, or self-contained work groups, that operate from co-working hubs, smart villages, and the home.

Abodoo developed a business strategy to support its goals of becoming synonymous with the smart working community and a force for change within the business world. Collaborations include Vodafone, with the promotion and support of remote working for Irish businesses. The two companies are working together to educate employers on the benefits of smart working, including attracting and retaining talent, promoting diversity, inclusion and a healthy work-life balance.

The partnership is intended to provide direct support to the Gigabit Hubs initiative from Vodafone and SIRO (a broadband joint venture between Vodafone and ESB (The Electricity Supply Board), a state-owned electricity company operating in Ireland). The hubs provide one gigabit broadband connections – considered the gold standard of internet access internationally – free for two years to businesses and remote workers.

Abodoo is leading smart working

Abodoo is ahead of the game – aware that economic and social changes mean that people have complex lives within and beyond work. The company’s far-sighted co-founders Vanessa Tierney and Ben Wainwright saw the benefits for businesses to evolve their employer model and embrace smart working. 

Companies that are lean, agile and quick to respond to change now have an edge. Sourcing the very best talent, not restricted by location, and providing a smart working environment, in which employees can choose to work from a remote location is becoming a norm. These changes can also create a culture in which employees are truly empowered. People are not measured on the time they spend in the office but on the quality of their output.

Abodoo knew that it needed to offer the right digital platform and a unique service, which differentiated it from traditional recruitment practices, supported by education, to help companies achieve the benefits of a correct balance between business and individual needs, professional requirements and working patterns. Its solution is enabled by advances in technology, including broadband connections, Wi-Fi, web conferencing, secure data transfer, and cloud-based software, which allows access to information and customer data from any location at any time.

Solving complex recruitment challenges

Helping businesses to solve complex recruitment challenges every day, Abodoo stands apart in many ways, not least in its unique matching algorithms. Candidates complete a profile rather than a CV, which supports matches with exact parameters. Profiles are anonymous until the interview process, eliminating any unconscious bias based on identifiers.

One of Abodoo’s strengths is its entrepreneurial approach to business. It is an organisation that is quick to respond to new ideas and new ways of working. Its structure focuses on servicing diverse customer needs in a fast-changing global marketplace.

Mark Herbert of Ecovis says, “We cannot recommend Abodoo highly enough to anyone looking to hire top quality talent. It significantly reduced our time to hire, saved us a fortune on commission fees and made the whole process so simple. Their customer service and results were unparalleled. We could hire 60 people with Abodoo for the same cost as 1 agency commission fee – it’s incredible.”

Sue Marshall, CEO, Abodoo

Sue Marshall, CEO, Abodoo

Sue Marshall, CEO of Abodoo, credits the support received from Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Government’s trade and innovation agency, as crucial to its success and ambitious growth in the United Kingdom in 2018, and its planned expansion into the US in 2019.

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.”

Composing short term, freelance, on demand, and contingent workers, the gig economy is currently valued at US $3.5 (€3) trillion globally, according to Barry Asin, president of San Francisco-based Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA).

“That puts it on a scale with just about any major industry in the world, including oil, gas and retail,” said Asin, speaking at the World Employment Conference in Dublin, sponsored by national export agency Enterprise Ireland.

A recent SIA survey asked Fortune 500 companies what they are doing to manage gig work. More than 70% said they are using a vendor management system (VMS), an electronic platform to track all suppliers. Over 60% have a network service provider in place to help with IT systems.

“That change has disrupted the recruitment industry over the last decade. There are also other changes, including more analytics, outsourcing, and consolidating suppliers.”

Total talent acquisition

Looking to the future, most respondents reported that contingent work is now part of strategic planning – something they are thinking about long term, as opposed to tactically, Asin noted.

It is one reason why the concept of total talent acquisition (TTA) is gaining currency within organisations.

“The question is – what is the right resource in the organisation? Is it a permanent worker, a gig worker, temporary agency worker, or an outsourced service? Those questions are top of mind among large companies and are driving the way they organise themselves.”

The human cloud

Some companies are choosing to self-source, using their own career site to attract contingent workers.

While the tech story of the past decade has been the growth of VMSs and jobs boards, as ways of connecting talent and companies, the new story is the growth of online platforms, forming what SIA calls the ‘human cloud’.

“Labour markets are tight right now, and recruiters are competing for talent with online platforms that have made it easy for people to get jobs and to work when they want,” Asin said, citing the rise of Uber and Deliveroo as examples.

Such companies allow people to choose when they want to work, without the need for a human intermediary.

These activities are less common in the B2B space, valued at US $5 (£4.3) billion globally, and much smaller than agency or temp work, “but growing faster than anything else in the industry,” Asin noted, “and growing faster than any other category we track.”

While large companies often lead staffing trends, the gig economy is being driven by SMEs, using platforms such as Upwork. “Most of this work can be done remotely. Companies can connect to people who can do a piece of work for them anywhere in the world, mostly in roles that are easily digital – IT, marketing, creative.”

Improving access to talent

Contrary to popular perception, the trend is not about sourcing cheaper labour but access to talent, “because talent is in great shortage,” Asin said.

While only 13% of large companies surveyed by SIA currently use online staffing, their interest in doing so has grown significantly.

It remains to be seen to what extent it will disrupt the traditional recruitment industry. “The answer is about human behaviour, and what it takes to get people to adopt [new solutions],” he said, noting that only 24% of large companies had a VMS in place before the 2008 recession.

As the global economy moved out of recession in 2011, 64% of large companies had a VMS. “Companies change when they have to. They needed to get more creative and find ways to reduce cost, hence the big growth in VMS adoption. I suspect that might be the way things will play out for online platforms.”

Disrupt or be disrupted

For those in the traditional recruitment industry, it is time to adopt a “disrupt or be disrupted” mindset, Asin said.

“What is your business?” he asked recruitment agencies. “Is it branches and recruiters, or is it connecting people and work? I would argue it is the latter. Therefore, find the best way for you to connect people and work, which may be new ways of doing your work.”

A raft of hybrid tech-rich recruiters have emerged that are doing just that, combining both human and platform elements, including ShiftGig in the US.

There has been convergence in the industry too, such as Randstad’s purchase of freelance platform Twago, and the purchase by global HR services firm Adecco of digital recruiter Vettery.

True Blue is the US’s largest industrial staffer, with JobStack its internal take on an online platform. Within two years of JobStack’s launch, 25% of its placements are filled with no human intervention.

“And the tech is not stopping, which is, mostly, a good news story for the industry,” Asin said, improving efficiencies and automating tedious manual work, such as scheduling interviews. Chat bots are already moving into the area and could well move into matching, he said.

“Do we need a recruiter to pick the top three candidates for a particular job, if AI can do it quicker and more efficiently? In many cases, it can but the good news is that it is the human intuition of the recruiter – plus the AI – that will make it an even better match.”

Human resources professionals are familiar with the idea of a “war for talent”. What they may be less familiar with is how that, by now well worn, phrase can be a barrier to good HR practices.

Speaking at the World Employment Conference in Dublin, sponsored by the national export agency Enterprise Ireland, Social Talent founder Jonny Campbell spoke about the phrase’s origins, in a highly influential McKinsey report published in 1998.

Campbell established e-learning company Social Talent in 2010 and it is backed by Enterprise Ireland. Today, the company has 60 staff and is the largest provider of training to the recruitment industry in the world. Selling into 90 countries, it has trained and qualified up to 30,000 people via its online platform.

This success, plus Campbell’s previous career as a recruitment executive, gives him a bird’s eye view of how the industry is changing, and how it needs to develop to cope with future change.

The McKinsey report of 1998 asked if a company made ‘improving its talent pool’ one of its top three organisational priorities. “The thesis was that the organisations most likely to succeed were those most successful at attracting, developing and retaining talent. But as an industry we latched on to just one word – attracting,” said Campbell.

Birth of talent acquisition

The concept of talent acquisition was born, and huge amounts invested in talent acquisition strategies.

“Talent acquisition is still very much the hot topic of organisations, attracting the best talent into their business. But 20 years after this report, if you look at all the investment that has gone into it, new tools, things like LinkedIn, and the development of artificial intelligence, yet we still complain about these skills gaps,” he said.

This is true across health care, life sciences and technology, in particular. “We don’t have enough people with the right skills but ironically, we have loads of people. This is an interesting dilemma. We’ve lots of people, but no skills? No talented people? That just doesn’t feel right to me,” he said.

“The old approach to finding more people, with more skills, isn’t working, with the result that organisations of scale are revisiting their approach.”

The solution is not to continually seek people with the requisite skills but to redeploy the people you already have and train them up. “The war for talent is incorrectly framed. It suggests that it’s about finding someone else’s talent, which is what we have tried to do for the past 20 years.”

War for skills

Instead, it’s a war for skills. “Skills are required to get things done. Skills are something we can bring in. We already have the people.”

The solution is working together to develop talent from within. Doing so requires a breaking down of the silos separating talent acquisition, talent development, and HR administration.

It also means hiring not just for IQ, or its successor, EQ, but for LQ – a person’s learning quotient.

“What organisations like Accenture do now is hire for your ability to learn new stuff again and again. This is because they know the skills they hire for today are not the skills their clients will need in two, or four years. And if they keep hiring for the skills they need today, there will be a constant cycle.” What they want are people who are willing to change, who can take on new skills, and who can adapt, “because that is going to be their core strength in terms of evolving their organisation,” said Campbell.

He referenced a pilot study being undertaken by Electrolux, the kitchen appliance maker. It is looking at taking staff out of areas in which they have worked for a long time, such as logistics, and putting them into areas such as R&D, with training support.

The workers chosen for the pilot were happy because of the opportunity to change, develop and learn new things. The new product development team, in this particular case, got fresh insights, while the company “was delighted because they couldn’t get enough product developers,” said Campbell.

One of Social Talent’s clients, Cognizant, has taken a similarly innovative approach to the global shortage of data scientists, training and certifying its own in 90 days.

“It involves team-worked solutions – no silos where people have just one trick to solve a company’s problems.”

Learning is now a top three issue on CEO agendas in every market, he said. “If all (recruiters) can do is find external talent, we will soon run out of options. We won’t be the partner we always dreamed of being with our client organisations.”

From an employee perspective, while pay still tops the poll in relation to why people take a job, numbers two, three and four are challenging work, opportunities to advance in their careers and to learn new skills. “That is what is driving candidates.”

For the recruitment industry, “joining up the dots” to deliver on that will be the key to success in the 20 years ahead.

Human resources departments are being challenged, not only by the pace of change in business, but by changes in the expectations of employees too, delegates at the World Employment Conference in Dublin heard.

Delegates at the event, of which Enterprise Ireland was a sponsor partner, heard that effective talent management in a digital era requires the HR function to “move and think differently, and to do it with pace and agility,” according to Joe ffrench, HR Director at Microsoft.

Doing so in an organisation with 120,000 direct employees and 80,000 indirect ones “can be hard”, ffrench admitted, but it also puts him in a good position to identify new HR trends, likely to be of interest to a range of recruitment solutions providers.

Rapidly changing skills requirements

Chief among these is a rapid change in skills requirements, said ffrench, citing the World Economic Forum, which cautioned that by 2020, 50% of what a person doing a four-year technical degree learns in first year will be obsolete by the time they graduate.

In business, it’s already happening. “Three years ago, we wouldn’t have talked about the need for skills in machine learning, augmented reality, and quantum computing. So what is incurred in theory in academia is also being experienced in our organisation, and at a much quicker pace,” said ffrench.

Some 40% of senior leadership roles in Microsoft didn’t exist two years ago. One in three of its executive leadership roles didn’t exist just a year ago.

“So how do you do succession planning for those roles? These are some of the challenges we are dealing with.”

Coping with the pace of change

To cope with the pace of change, a “premium capability” is required, composed of an ability to learn and resilience. “That’s what we look for every time we hire now. It is the growth mindset that sparks innovation.”

Employees’ needs are changing too, including in relation to flexibility.

“As a tech provider, we have talked of flexibility in terms of where and when people work, but we’re finding people are looking for a deeper flexibility in terms of the different stages of life they go through, whether having just gotten married, or having elderly parents. Flexibility means very different things depending on where people are in the life cycle.”

People also want personal growth, not just functional skills. “We invest a huge amount in helping people, once we’ve got them, to build that growth mindset. Our learning strategy is very much built on the idea of consumerisation of learning – self-directed, self-served, and personal for you in your role, supporting your career and your professional growth.”

The changing role of talent planning

The role of talent planning has changed significantly in recent months. “Succession plans – that traditional HR process – are not agile enough for the environment. We now think in terms of clusters of jobs, and clusters of people, and how we can match them together.”

Microsoft is bringing concepts from the gig economy into its internal workforce, “to help employees be agile enough to see opportunities that will benefit them from a career and a personal growth point of view.”

Hiring people for capability and building a sustained engagement with them in order to harness them at the right time is now key for Microsoft, he said.  Thinking this way has opened up new pools of talent for it, including school leavers joining as apprentices.

The company is reassessing how it engages short term freelancers too. The aim is for ‘gig’ workers to see Microsoft as a destination of choice in the way permanent recruits do, he said.  This means ensuring it has a culture that is willing to listen to and learn from outsiders.

From a HR perspective, the biggest shift of all this change has been in how work is organised. “Traditionally HR has been about jobs and roles and hierarchies. Now it’s about breaking it down into tasks.”

Microsoft has changed its performance management system, scrapping traditional “1 – 5” ratings, he said, citing former GE boss Jack Welch’s dictum that if the rate of change outdoors is quicker than the rate of change indoors, there’s trouble ahead.

“Are we moving fast enough as a profession?” he said. “The HR community has an incredible chance to influence how the digital era, this fourth revolution, works for all stakeholders, so that all can benefit from what’s going to happen.”

TTM Healthcare’s journey of transformation

Brian Crowley, founder and CEO of EI client TTM Healthcare, said his own organisation has been on a “journey of transformation” over the past 18 months.

“We went deep inside our organisation to try and find our ‘why?’ To try to figure out what makes us special, or doesn’t,” he told the audience.

It came up with a vision: to enhance the quality of people’s lives. “That includes our own 400 staff, the people we care for in our healthcare business and homes, and the 2000 temporary staff that work on our behalf on our customer’s sites. Then we went to find values that can stand in service of that vision,” said Crowley.

What emerged from the whole process was an understanding that what underpinned both its vision and its values, are the behaviours of its staff.

“So where a lot of organisations, particularly in our sector, look at tactical learning and development, we really look at developing behaviours, including resilience.”

TTM now recruits for these behaviours, but is also committed to building them within its workforce. It rewards and promotes on the basis of them too. Said Crowley: “A big part of our performance is about how we build and foster those behaviours within the organisation.”

Globally renowned Rolls-Royce, which today designs, manufactures and distributes power systems for aviation and other industries, was an early adopter of solutions developed by Sonru, an Irish technology company that has pioneered the use of automated, asynchronous video interviewing to help businesses find, select and recruit talent.

“Sonru has been really helpful to us, in terms of efficiencies,” explains Sue Anne Lee, Rolls-Royce’s head of talent and leadership development Asia Pacific, based in Singapore.

“For example, when we were building up headcount for our research centre in Bangalore by around 500 people, Sonru was very helpful because first round interviews took place all over India and our hiring managers were in different locations. Sonru helps increase the efficiency and speed at which we manage volume recruitment.”

How Sonru works

Using Sonru’s solution allows candidates to record video interviews at a time and place that suits them, while also allowing employers to watch them back at their own convenience.

The solution works by enabling recruiters to replicate a live interview, replacing early-stage phone, Skype or face-to-face interviews. Because neither party has to be online at the same time, recruiters don’t need to worry about scheduling, time zone restrictions, or no-shows.

Employers have full control of the questions, allowing them screen out unsuitable candidates – and meet the best ones – much earlier in the recruitment process than traditional methods allow.

Based in Wexford and Dublin in Ireland, Sonru has offices in the UK, Singapore, and Australia. The company has more than 500 enterprise clients, including Fortune Global 500 companies, and is translated into 19 languages, capturing thousands of interviews every day in every corner of the globe.

“We’re very focused on providing a premium candidate experience,” explains founder and CEO, Ed Hendrick. “It’s very important that the candidate gets a great impression of the prospective employer right from the start, including through the choice of tools they use. Sonru enables employers to present the tool as entirely their own branded experience.”

How Sonru works - Irish talent management company

Accessibility allows Sonru to widen the talent pool

Another reason behind Sonru’s global success as a candidate selection tool is that it has been designed to provide a very high-end experience even at very low broadband speeds.

“For candidates, it requires just 0.14mbs, a very slow speed,” says Hendrick. “It is all about making automated, asynchronous video interviewing as accessible as possible to any candidate, wherever they are.”

Doing so widens the talent pool, enabling employers to source candidates from places around the world that may not yet have high speed broadband, such as parts of Asia and Africa, he says.

“Up until Sonru was established, people used video to create YouTube content for entertainment, while businesses used video conferencing when they couldn’t hold face to face meetings. But video conferencing was expensive and only available to those with deep pockets. We’ve changed all that and we did it on the basis that, to work, Sonru has to be available to candidates all over the world, regardless of broadband. We designed it be accessible to all.”

The product is supported by the company’s strong customer service ethic. “One of the key things our clients tell us we deliver very well is the support we offer both to candidates and customers. I think that is a function of our Irishness. As a nation, we are a friendly people who are nice to deal with and want to help.”

It is one reason why Sonru was designed to provide a positive user experience. “Our focus on delivering great customer service feeds in to the very strong completion rates we achieve through our interviews, averaging around 75% across our entire client base.”

Efficient recruitment saves time and money

“The product is quick and easy to use and 85% of candidates are sitting at home as they make their video, with 60% of them doing so in the evenings and at weekends. It’s all about convenience,” he says.

Candidates are given preliminary questions to help them get comfortable talking to the camera. Then, once they start the interview proper, it’s recorded in one go. “That’s what customers want, to capture the entire interview process, not a rehearsed and polished version of it,” Hendrick adds.

“We’re not replacing the final face-to-face or telephone interview but we are capturing a lot more information in advance of that meeting so that, when it takes place, it can be much more of a ‘deep dive’, and both parties can be a lot more confident about each other.”

Delivering a more efficient and accessible experience to clients and candidates across the world, Sonru is a trusted asset to global businesses in the worldwide war for talent.

Healthcare providers across the world face a range of challenges in today’s climate. The impact of some of those challenges, such as government cutbacks and legislation changes, are felt mostly within the confines of a particular market, while others are shared across regions.

One challenge is almost universal – how to keep busy hospitals appropriately staffed.

The challenge of providing acute or enhanced care at different times across the week, month or year is experienced by almost all healthcare providers worldwide.

Irish company TTM Healthcare is responding to that challenge. Founded as a one-man operation by Brian Crowley in 2002, the company now employs 375 staff and 2,000 locum healthcare professionals.

Solving problems for clients

The capabilities that enable TTM Healthcare to solve staffing challenges for clients in a number of ways have helped fuel the organisation’s substantial growth.

“One of the most significant challenges faced by healthcare providers globally is their ability to first find qualified staff and then flex resources up and down during periods of increased and suppressed demand for their services and labour force.

“To solve these issues, we work with public and private healthcare employers to find, recruit and up-skill healthcare professionals from around the world,” Crowley explains.

“In addition, we provide English-language training and mentoring through skilled professionals. Through a combination of our learning platform and our English-language mentors we support thousands of healthcare professionals for whom English or German is not a first language.

“All aspects of the recruitment process, including the language support portal, are managed on a single platform. Our customers, partners and candidates all interact on the system – uploading information, communicating and engaging throughout the journey to on-boarding and induction.”

This system has proved incredibly popular. One in five nurses recruited to the NHS from overseas arrives via TTM. Crowley describes the company’s planning and contingency supports as “a second line of defence with their internal staff-banks”.

“Our teams are strategically based in locations that are geographically close to the employers, and are ready for deployment, having gone through the highest level of training and background vetting. The combination of these services allows our customers to solve both long-term and emergency staffing challenges using the same organisation.”

Peter Savage, Staff Bank Manager of The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals, has been working with TTM for a number of years, and says the company’s system helps fulfil his complex set of needs.

“Ours is a very busy market and there is a temping staff shortfall.

“We don’t know what our demand will be day-to-day or shift-to-shift. But TTM’s strategy for how to best use the available staff works well for us.

Savage adds that the “co-existent” relationship with TTM is an example of how NHS Trusts and vendors should work together – to the extent that he himself recently used it as a training example on the subject.

“We know TTM’s aims and they know what we want to do. TTM have always had the same philosophy as us – some agencies can be very mercenary, but TTM have always stuck with us and worked with us.”

Nimble, progressive and innovative

Crowley also attributes some of the company’s successes to its Irish Advantage. Businesses from Ireland are flexible, resilient and innovative, with the Irish personality also playing a role.

“Similar to the Irish economy, we are a nimble, progressive and innovative company. The value of Irish ‘stock’ globally is significant, and people and organisations from around the globe are consistently keen to engage with us as an Irish company. Values that are truly Irish such as positivity, resilience and innovation are lived by our people in all of the interactions with our customers overseas.

“As an Irish company, it’s in our nature to be inquisitive and keen to build relationships. We have used these strengths to understand our customers’ needs better and work hard to build long term and sustainable relationships with customers.”

Peter Savage notes the Irish way of doing business made a big difference to him at the start of, and throughout, the relationship.

“TTM put themselves out there and approached us,” he says. “The way that we talk to each other here in the north of England is very like in Ireland; we’re straightforward. We speak our mind and are open to being open on both sides.

“With TTM, we don’t kid each other about the realities of the market. What we look for is a company that does what it says it will. That is TTM.”

With an investment from Broadlake Capital two years ago, TTM has seen significant growth. Crowley doesn’t see why year-on-year double digit growth should stop.

“100% of our growth has up to now been driven organically but acquisitions, mainly in international markets, will support growth into the future,” he says, adding that the uncertainty of Britain’s relationship with Ireland and the EU won’t put a dampener on progress either.

“As a multi-framework provider to the NHS in the United Kingdom we are planning to grow our services significantly over the next three to five years, regardless of the indefinite status of Brexit,” he says.

The big picture

When the founders of many businesses are asked about their company, many will talk at length about the internal successes they’ve enjoyed, or wax lyrical about a key product. Crowley, on the other hand, says that his company’s vision is something greater altogether.

“Our vision is to enhance the quality of people’s lives – our customers, the people we care for and, more importantly, our own people. As an organisation that’s grown significantly over the last number of years, we have focused very closely on working alongside our customers, and building our services and structures ‘from the outside in’.

“We build services that meet customers’ needs rather than requiring our customers to conform to what exists. With both a recruitment and a healthcare business in our group we can scale services up and down to meet demand which allows flexibility whilst controlling costs.”

Market leader’s software puts internal communication at the centre of employee engagement and financial performance.

When many of the world’s biggest companies want to solve complex challenges in their communications with global workforces, they look to a small and highly innovative Irish software company, Poppulo.

With employee communications widely recognised as crucial for engaging workers and business success, Poppulo has developed unique software used by global giants Unilever, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Nestlé, Nike, Rolls Royce, Barclays Bank, and nine of the world’s  twenty biggest pharma companies.

Cork-based Poppulo developed the world’s first all-in-one internal communication (IC) platform which gives organisations the power to manage their communications, and measure their impact, across multiple digital channels, email, intranet, video, enterprise social networks etc.

Leading the world in internal communications

Not only does Poppulo make it easy to disseminate highly-targeted internal communications, it gives IC teams visibility on how different audiences interact with those messages. For example, are emails read or ignored? Is there a difference in how messages are received depending on business function, employee grade or geographic locations, and how should the organization respond to these differences?

Poppulo founder and owner Andrew O’Shaughnessy says successful companies are acutely aware of the crucial role internal communications plays in employee engagement and talent acquisition.

“This has never been as important as it is today for two reasons: a global employee engagement crisis plus a worldwide talent and skills shortage,” said O’Shaughnessy. “Gallup research shows an alarming 87% of employees are not engaged, and last year the Manpower Group’s global survey reported the worst talent shortage in over a decade, with 40% of over 42,000 employers finding it difficult to fill jobs,” he said.

“And to underline further how valuable engaged workers are, not only are they more committed and productive than their non-engaged colleagues, PwC research shows they are also 87% less likely to resign,” says O’Shaughnessy.

“So it’s difficult to overstate how important it is for organizations to do everything they can to foster engagement, and one of the key ways to do this is to ensure they have excellent employee communication systems, processes and technology – which is where we come in,” says the Poppulo CEO.

Employee engagement is vital to the talent management sector

Employee engagement is vital to a company’s bottom line, explains O’Shaughnessy. “It has been repeatedly proven that there is a direct correlation between highly-effective employee communication and superior financial performance.”

He cited Willis Towers Watson research that companies with excellent internal communication strategies are likely to outperform their industry peers by a factor of 3.5. Likewise, Gallup found that companies with highly-engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. A PwC report found that companies that engage and empower their workforces are more nimble because they are better positioned to anticipate and adapt to changing market conditions.

“There are companies that give their employees ping pong tables, bean bags and free fruit,” says O’Shaughnessy. “But those initiatives will have no impact if your employees aren’t engaged. They will just play ping pong, sit in bean bags and eat fruit, without being engaged in the company’s mission and its business goals.

“To be engaged, employees need to understand a company’s goals and where it is going, how their role and performance fits in with that and that their contribution is valued – and internal communication is key to achieving this.”

By improving employee engagement, you improve employees’ experience of working for your company. That advantage in turn helps companies to win in today’s war for talent, by improving their employee recruitment capability and employee retention rate.

“In the software industry, people are comfortable with the term ‘Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is a measure of how likely a customer is to recommend you,” says O’Shaughnessy. “And regarding the metric of choice for engagement, companies are increasingly focusing on the Employee Net Promoter Score (ENPS).

“Our software helps organizations measure engagement with their employee communications, which is a critical component of overall engagement.” he says.

Building strong client relationships

Poppulo has trebled in size in recent years, now employing 180, mainly at its HQ in Cork and also in Boston. It recently appointed a representative in Australia and is planning further expansion, having enjoyed revenue growth of over 40% for the the past two years. It currently has over 900 customers in over 100 countries.

The company initially focused on the UK market before setting its sights on the USA, where it has lengthy client list of large multinational corporations, and is growing further in Europe, particularly in the Nordic and Benelux countries, and France and Germany, as well as expanding into Australia, the Middle East and India.

Key to Poppulo’s success is its focus on building and maintaining strong client relationships. “Building long-term relationships is key for us,” says O’Shaughnessy. “We are extremely close to our customers. Understanding their internal communications challenges is crucial to ensuring that we provide the IC solutions that they need, which is why we make sure to involve them in all aspects of our product development, for example.

“We place a huge emphasis on every aspect of customer and technical support,” he says. “One customer said to me last year, ‘whatever you do, don’t ever outsource your customer support’ – which we’ve no intention of ever doing anyway – and another customer recently described us on LinkedIn as ‘ridiculously helpful’, which was a lovely  compliment.”

“We are totally aware that people can find tech difficult and sometimes overwhelming, especially when you’re talking about installing new systems. So we always have that at the forefront of our minds and go out of our way to  ensure that we’re not a tech company acting and talking like lots of tech companies do.

“We’re a company that happens to produce great software but we’re all about engaging people in everything we do and in a very human way, to help our customers become even more successful than they already are” says O’Shaughnessy.

A great place to work

Earlier this year, Poppulo increased its Top 10 placing in Ireland’s Great Places to Work awards, moving up to #6 from last year. when the company was particularly thrilled to win the award for being the best company in Ireland for communicating with its employees.

O’Shaughnessy was delighted: “There is a parallel between what we bring to our customers and my own personal view on how to run an organisation and how to treat people. It is a huge responsibility to have people coming into this company five days a week, year after year.

“They give a huge amount of their time and of their lives to working here and they have to be getting something out of it that is more than just a salary. They have to have a sense of fulfilment and an opportunity for personal growth and development. That is hugely important to me.”


Elizabeth McHenry, Senior Development Advisor at Enterprise Ireland, describes how Irish companies are leading the global talent management sector.

Hiring exceptional talent has become an international business. With Polish programmers recruited by Spanish software companies and Italian IP lawyers hired by German manufacturing companies, the war for talent is more heated than ever. Those seeking work no longer scour weekly job vacancy adverts in local newspapers. With the rise of online recruitment, job hunters have 24-hour access to information about all kinds of career opportunities and get instant “job fairy” updates on social media, online platforms, and email newsletters.

Companies across the world are winning their talent management battles thanks to the support of Irish partners. Providers of outsourced recruitment and retention services in Ireland have established a reputation for being very helpful and very resourceful, as they assist global employers with HR needs.

Three reasons Irish companies win at talent management

One reason Irish companies succeed in international recruitment is because they have established a reputation for being innovative and flexible. With English as a native tongue, many of the world’s biggest employers find Ireland an attractive market to position themselves in.

Irish companies that service multinational firms with Irish operations must also deliver international standards of service. Once a company successfully assists a large multinational in one location, for example sourcing staff for an operation in Galway or Cork, they are likely to request support in other locations, for example locating employees in Paris or Amsterdam.

As Ireland is a small country with a relatively small population, Irish companies with ambitions to grow focus on targeting international markets early in their development. For companies in the talent management sector, advances in technology, social media and electronic communication have enabled Irish firms to develop disruptive services and technologies that provide clients with flexible and innovative talent management solutions.

Six talent management companies to watch

TTM Healthcare is an Ennis-based global healthcare recruitment company that handles the hiring of one in five nurses working in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). TTM Healthcare works in partnership with various NHS Trusts to fulfil staffing needs by identifying and matching potential candidates to vacancies and ensuring compliance by confirming candidates’ professional backgrounds, including qualifications, work permits and required health immunisation certificates.

A second Irish recruitment agency worth noting is Morgan McKinley, which specialises in sourcing and placing professional services personnel across the globe.  Headquartered in Cork, and with 19 offices situated all over the world, Morgan McKinley has won Best Banking and Financial Services Recruitment Agency awards in the UK, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Global organisations use Irish company Sure Skills to train and upskill technical sales people. A large software client wanted to understand why its Irish sales team was outperforming sales teams in other countries. After conducting research, they attributed the difference in performance to the calibre of training provided by Sure Skills. The company was then contracted to deliver staff training at locations across the world.

Sonru has pioneered the use of automated online video interviewing to screen candidates before they are called to face-to-face meetings or one-to-one video conferences. The automated interviewing system, used by Rolls Royce, Qatar Airways, Pepsico UK, CERN, Primark and Nestlé, allows candidates to conduct preliminary interviews at their chosen time. No scheduling is required by recruiters and ‘no shows’ are not a problem. The system gives clients an early and enriched understanding of a job applicant’s fit, personality, drive and motivation, saving time and money.

Social Talent is a SaaS company that helps recruiters and recruitment companies to better use social media to engage with prospective candidates. Social Talent have situated their HQ in Dublin’s booming Docklands where many multinational firms are now relocating to. The business has developed a complete learning solution for recruitment and a sales team that focuses on moulding, and sustaining, productive behaviour. Client companies include Oracle, Intel, Microsoft, AXA, GSK, Manpower and the Dutch multinational HR consultancy Randstad.

Globoforce is a specialist in social recognition systems that help talent management teams connect employees with corporate values and cultures. They reward behaviour that aligns with that culture or further the company’s strategic goals. Intuit, the financial software company, credit Globoforce which helped them to achieve a sustained ‘double-digit’ increase in employee engagement among 8,200 employees in six countries. The software company Symantec have reported a 14% increase in employee engagement, with Globoforce contributing towards a 50% reduction in staff turnover and churn.