Talent Leaders Share Their Outlook for 2021

by Lamees Abourahma

Talent leaders discussing the future

The year 2020 saw considerable changes in the way talent is acquired. Will it be more of the same for 2021 and will there be new strategies in place? How will enterprises bring diversity, speed, and agility to the hiring process? Are recruiters going to be expected to do more or less, and what will that look like?

While no one can be certain what the coming year holds for talent acquisition, my latest panel of experts has a pretty remarkable record of seeing where we’re likely headed. Their collective, well-rounded perspectives on HR, talent acquisition, and the academics of hiring resulted in a lively, insightful conversation into what these seasoned leaders see as opportunities and challenges for talent in 2021. Let’s dive in.

Stay ahead of the competition with insights from these Global RPO experts on the current state and outlook of RPO in global regions


Anticipated Talent Changes for 2021

I got right to the point with my first question: In light of current realities like shifting talent demands, an increased unemployment rate, and health concerns, what did each of my guests think would be the most significant talent acquisition changes this year?

Kim Pope, COO at WilsonHCG, says this is a topic that’s top-of-mind for her every day. Her take is that what won’t change in 2021 is the “continuous need for agility, speed, and flexibility.” As she sees it, no one knows how things are going to play out in 2021.

Jennifer (“Jack”) Kihm, PhD and Managing Director and human capital consultant at Operant Consulting, a service provider that helps organizations become independently effective in talent acquisition, agrees organizations will need “to have flexibility and an understanding of how to scale up or down at a very fast rate.” She also believes there will be a greater need for organizational accountability and transparency and accommodation of more permanent remote workers.

Zack Chertok, product marketing manager at Virgin Pulse and an associate at Columbia University SPS HCM, built on Pope’s agility narrative and says strategic workforce planning “is going to become so much more acute.” His company recently put out a big survey to learn what employee key stressors were and found they’re not that much different from employers: work location, routine disruption, and financial unpredictability. He says there are also many people who are unsure whether their skills will be relevant in a new economy. On the flip side, employers are trying to manage how they’re going to “strategize and pull adjacent skills” into newly defined roles and worrying about whether RPO-related costs are a worthy risk.

2020 was a stressful year for many employees, and turnover rates are increasing. The panelists all agreed organizations will need to put programs in place that support their employees’ well-being, especially concerning their mental health.

Talent Shortage as a Business Challenge

The Everest Group’s 2021 Key Issues Study focuses on global sourcing and what companies plan to do to put a turbulent 2020 behind them. Interestingly, talent shortage went from a top-five challenge in 2020 to number eight for 2021, with enterprises shifting their focus to quality, not quantity. Did my panelists see that in their own clients?

Chertok quickly jumped in with the view that companies are “finally admitting it wasn’t a talent shortage we had, but a skills shortage.” He’s keen to see how organizations will “take the 70 percent candidate and fit them into a 100 percent role.” Pope agrees 100 percent and says, “we’ve had so many conversations around internal mobility,” more than she’s ever seen in her RPO career. She puts the shift down to two major pivots:

  • Organizations finally having the time to take a long look at internal processes.
  • The acceleration of digital transformations where companies now have the technology they need to identify internal mobility and skills gaps.

Kihm sees positive results from these tech-inspired changes, with organizations realizing “relying on resumes and past work experience isn’t really the way to get this done.” She points out skills are developed in a variety of roles, and companies must be able to assess developed skills and “open up the labor pool,” and allow people to move nimbly through the organization.


Looking Forward: Talent Innovations and Strategies

If there’s one strategy all my panelists agree is here to stay, it’s the reliance on technology to improve the hiring process. For Kihm it’s how technology is speeding up the process. Things like engaging candidates via their smartphones and other devices and platforms, self-scheduling, and the like let enterprises get to the point of hiring much more quickly and prevent losing the candidate to a competitor.

In her experience, Pope sees much more effort going into designing future strategies. Meeting candidates where they want to be, adopting tech at a faster pace, virtual interviewing and sourcing—they’re all happening a lot faster than she’s ever seen. Chertok agrees, saying tech is indeed acceleration engagement and communications, but adds that “inside interactions are getting longer.”

What do my guests see happening on a global scale? Pope says it has “opened up a lot more opportunities” for people to not have to relocate. She believes this is an exciting turn of events as it will lead to much more diversity in the workforce. Chertok says what he calls “competitive fatigue” has resulted in a movement towards a little more unity at the human level, something he sees as a positive with greater opportunity for organizations to “build more solid workforces inside.”

The Role of RPO in Hiring Transformations

Everyone seems to agree flexibility, speed, engagement, communication, and technology are the big-ticket change items for 2021. What role do my panelists see RPO playing in combating all these challenges?

For Chertok it’s simple: organizations need a strategic partner. Tech isn’t everything he says, and RPO “can be a unifying agent right now.” Pope agrees and says organizations aren’t going to be able to move fast enough on their own. “RPO,” in her view, “equals speed.” Kihm says now that organizations are doing really good data analytics, they can use the skills RPO brings to the process to help them make good decisions based on that data.

Unpredictability and change are a constant in the world of talent acquisition. RPO offers a unique and robust talent solution, and our job as RPO providers is to communicate this message to the world. In his book, Great By Choice, author and business consultant Jim Collins talks about “black swan” or unpredictable events that are beyond what is normally expected and which have potentially severe consequences.

In my view, the pandemic certainly qualifies as a black swan event that has had severe consequences but also opened up the door to numerous hiring practice opportunities. As we move into 2021, it will be interesting to see how things play out and how enterprises continue to evolve their talent acquisition processes.

We packed a lot more topics into this hour-long conversation, including learning a little bit about our personal stories and the things we most look forward to doing again in the coming year.

2021 Talent Outlook [webinar]

Hear from top talent and HCM experts as they reflect on their outlook for talent challenges and talent strategy changes over the next couple of years.

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