In the latest JOY Podcast episode, Debbie Tuel, Chief Joy Officer at Symphony Talent invites Martin Burns, Editor-in-Chief for Recruiting News Network, for a back and forth around the current labor shortage and AI’s impact (good and bad) on diversity hiring initiatives.
The long period of isolation brought about by the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on how people set priorities in their lives and their willingness to get back on the job. The “wait-and-see” attitude about working has influenced employers’ processes for hiring.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is also top of mind for a lot of talent acquisition leaders, and they are making significant investments in technology to help recruiters do their jobs more quickly and efficiently. If used correctly and with ongoing oversight, AI-enabled software can significantly boost the effectiveness of diversity hiring efforts.
Debbie: [00:00:00] Welcome to The JOY Podcast, where we get to shine a light on how global organizations are getting people back to work faster. And with an exceptional experience. I'm your host Debbie Tuel, Chief Joy Officer at Symphony Talent, a global technology company that is leading this industry wide movement in partnership with our customers, industry analysts and thought leaders and practitioners alike. And it's a project that we're calling The Joy Pipeline, and we are so excited that you are joining us on this #journeyofyes. If this is your first time tuning in, our mission in The Joy Pipeline is to help recruiting teams bring the joy back to recruiting and empower them to create exceptional experiences that both the recruiter and the candidates need now. Let's jump right into today's episode. And, speaking of practitioners and thought leaders, I am super excited to be joined here live in person, in Boston, by Martin Burns in the heat. Yes. Hopefully everybody else is not experiencing the heat wave that we are, but we have cooled down. We are not sweating anymore. You are ready to go. So Martin, you were always, of course, ready to join me on the snap of a finger, which I love. And you bring such a breadth of knowledge and experience and a history with SmashFly. So I would love for you to kind of take us back and I'm talking about back, like back to the very beginning before I was even part of the SmashFly story. So tell us about how you got involved with SmashFly and recruitment marketing.
Martin [00:01:41]: Yeah, sure. Well, but back a bit. So hi everybody. I was years ago, maybe a decade ago, I was with ZoomInfo and I was the head of recruiting for the organization. And I love to share my own agency up and come my own committee RPO. And what, when I did that, I was referred to Mike Hennessy who had just started a new software company called SmashFly and we mutual friend, uh, William Tincup actually said, come talk to Mike. He lives near you near you. He's done it before. He's a good person to connect with it. Mike and I had a sandwich. It was great conversation. Great person gave me some good advice and kind of stayed in touch over the years. And then I'm fast forwarding a bit. I was at a PWC and I was helping them with their technology kind of ecosystem and restructuring, they were there. They're looking to modernize their approach to sourcing and recruiting.
Debbie [00:02:34]: Your very own transformation.
Martin [00:02:37]: Yeah. It was transformation time. That was really big though. And it was a great project, a great project for a couple of years. Working through all that. And as part of it, we identified that we needed a CRM. We needed a new career site tech, we needed a bunch of bunch of things. And so we started doing the list of who's available, who does what, and it SmashFly made the list for good reasons. And they have the process. Debbie was a sales person. I met Debbie.
Debbie [00:03:03]: I mean, that was, I'll never forget. It was probably a year in SmashFly. Chris Brablic who we both know and love. Yes. He sends me an email. He said, Hey, I've got a good friend of mine. Martin Burns. He's at PWC. He's looking into new tech. You guys should connect. And that is how we met. We were just reminiscing. This was before I had my youngest son, which is now going on six. And your daughter is about to be a senior. We are getting old what has happened? Crazy. And now you are over at HireClix and you are running RNN, Recruiting News Network. Share with us a little bit about what fun that is bringing into your life and what you get to do.
Martin [00:03:52]: So I do HireClix. I guess, six years ago. So wow. Went fast and, and HireClix is marketing, advertising services. And part of my initial role was to kind of kickstart a consulting division, tell clients with bigger process issues and brand issues, technology selection, pieces like that, and that scaled eventually and is going great. About a year and a half ago, or much more than that, time does go fast. So almost two years ago this November, the founder HireClix who's was a good friend of mine, approached me and said, listen, I bought this URL 10 years ago, Recruiting News Network. And I've always thought of a news service. You're a writer. You know your stuff. Can we build something? And I like building things. Ultimately I like starting organizations. I'm a tinker, you know, maker, I guess. And, and that was appealing. It was a chance for me to use my writing degree, which I haven't used in a long time. And actually, you get more work to do more than read job descriptions, which I'm very good at, and I enjoy doing, they're actually a lot of fun for me. I don't know why, but it's getting actually into doing journalism, and kind of longer form writing, was exciting. And we saw a need in the industry for a more globally focused news source that we're looking at what's happening in hiring and labor. In technology, all kinds of pieces, it's really kind of a trade magazine for the industry. That was the idea. And we conceptualized it, whiteboarded it, had all the fun you do with that running around, figuring things out. And we went live on February 2nd. Cause we thought going live to 2/2/20 would be cool. We didn't expect a pandemic to hit right at the same time. So we went live and a week later, we were home and working from home, trying to figure out what we're working on my laptop like...
Debbie [00:05:37]: and you, and for those that don't know Martin, you are also a little bit of a social butterfly and you like your space and your privacy and your quiet too. But....You like people! Like now, all of a sudden you're, you're doing this news network, which is amazing. You do actually get to kind of connect with probably more organizations like ours and learn what's, you know, get that front hand knowledge, which you were already getting anyways, but now you get to share it. But now you've got to do it from home where you're not seeing it touching. We don't get to meet for beers anymore. We are today. Yay!
Martin [00:06:12]: Uh, yeah, no, it was, it was that acceleration period was strange for everyone. I think. Yeah, the benefits are that we are releasing or we have the technology to communicate via video, via social media and things like that. So there was some, there was some connectivity. It's just, we all know this. We all went through it. It's not the same. So I did miss that.
Debbie [00:06:32]: And now if for those that are listening that are not subscribed to RNN, where do they go? How do they subscribe? How do they get it?
Martin [00:06:41]: So it's recruitingnewsnetwork.com. And you can, you can subscribe right there. There's a news letter. And we update it daily with work. Uh, today we had a piece by Jeff Newman who some people might know and Jeff's very, just a heart on his sleeve kind of guy. So it's about getting back to treating people better as humans, treating candidates like people and not like commodities and not like numbers. So Jeff did an op-ed. And then there’s a piece about there's a real critical tech labor shortage happening in Ireland. So we covered that, covering more and more coming out later today. Yeah. So there's always things in there I think are really interesting. And what I hope it does is it knits us together globally as a community. But so the we’re less North American centric in our approaches and we were looking at the kind of global impact of labor, or talent. Because that's where we should be looking there at this morning.
Debbie [00:07:33]: And I mean, most organizations are recruiting across borders. So having a larger focus is absolutely key in the success of what they're doing as an organization. So highly recommended those of you that are listening. If you have not subscribed yet. Do it, and it has brought us back together to work together again, as I get to do briefings for you now, what we're doing at Symphony Talent and work with you and collaborate in that way. And it brings up kind of the next topic that I want to shift to. You get to follow this industry and you have for so long, you know so many of the founders that are in this space and have watched the technology and use the technology in practice in a lot of your roles. Over the last couple of months, I have been watching the investment happen in the talent acquisition space like we've never seen before. Maybe we have, but not in decades. And now we're watching it come into the recruitment marketing space and. You know, I think back to five years ago, when SmashFly raised our series B funding, it was 22 million with Bessemer. We were all really excited. That was a big amount of cash. And now we're watching people in our space, whether it be Eightfold or Beamery or Phenom. People raise upwards of, you know, 200 million+, with billion dollar evaluations, unicorn status. Where do you see this going?
Martin [00:09:02]: Uh, interesting. So, yeah, it's, it's very frothy, uh, I think is the best way to put it right now, with these investments. Yeah. I’m concerned there’s a bubble happening. Maybe not, but, but there are signs that it's a little bit frantic. And part of it is that some of these VCs and private equity types understand our space at this point. They've more of it, but they, most of them don't really get it yet. So there, there's a bit of a feeling...it's my gut that there's some spaghetti flying at the wall, hoping that we'll hit something, which is not abnormal. But it's accelerated in our space. And I worry about, you know, where do you go when you're like an Eightfold, when you're a double unicorn. You can't possibly...because you have to bring money in. You've got to start with that and there's massive pressure. And where are they going to go? They have to expand.
Debbie [00:10:00]: Well when you've got that kind of funding and you're looking for that kind of exit. It really narrows your buyers and everybody is looking for some type of exit. Right. So does that then mean IPO? Like where, I mean, it opens up so many questions.
Martin [00:10:13]: It's going to be interesting. It really is. I kind of see that they're gonna, they're gonna start competing with their partners. Look at like Eightfold and Phenom probably will be too actually.
Debbie [00:10:28]: And when you think about that, you're talking about the SAP's, the Workdays, the Taleos of the world?
Martin [00:10:32]: Yes. Yeah they have to. Because they have to write that they have start looking at what's the biggest ticket item and any budget for recruitment, such a technology leads for recruit department. And it's typically the ATS. If you need to expand and bring in revenue, that's a really obvious target cause they're right next to it. It's not hard to move into there. So will they, or won't they, I dunno, I think they kind of have to.
Debbie [00:10:59]: And the ATS’s are expanding the opposite direction as well. You know, each one of them has either made acquisitions in the CRM space or building their own. There's definitely a lot of overlap in those areas. So then it becomes, yeah, you're absolutely right. Are you integrated? Are you competing? Are you partners?
Martin [00:011:17]: Frenemies? What happens? They make up a lot of frenemies and that becomes less friend and more enemy.
Debbie [00:11:23]: Yeah. Which unfortunately impacts the users because then that oftentimes means that the integrations aren't open ecosystems, like we're all trying to move towards and making these datas talk. And it becomes more fragmented, like we've seen in the past.
Martin [00:11:38]: And we always kind of forget about that there are humans touching these systems constantly, and it's the recruiters who are logging in and trying to figure out where's my dashboard. How do I log in? I have five logins to five of your systems, they don't talk to each other. And as the candidates go on, we've tried to figure out why when we get back to me or what's happening, or what's my status and how do I apply for this job? It's my son. It's my 14 year old son, a couple of days ago, walking past me, getting a taxi and screaming out loud, oh, I keep getting these job alerts to be a UPS driver. I can't even drive. I want to work at an ice cream parlor. I mean, this is it. That kind of thing is happening globally. And I worry about that kind of impact on just the people, right. And businesses too, frankly.
Debbie [00:012:28]: And, you know, Martin, that brings us to another topic that you and I are both really keen on and interested in kind of unpacking today, which is AI and the impacts of AI. And I'm using AI as a broad stroke. It is a term that every single technology out there right now and talent acquisition is slamming onto their products. But, where I see it really hurting the process is in those areas like your 14 year old son who cannot drive a car, but also around diversity and inclusion, equity and inclusion. DEI is also something that is top of mind for a lot of talent acquisition leaders. They are investing in technology to help them with that area. And there is some gray area that now is being tiptoed into when we talk about applying intelligence to recruiting for diversity. And there's a couple of areas you and I have talked about this, and one of those being facial recognition. Another one being, sourcing and assuming the diversity background. Where should we start?
Martin [00:13:38]: I get very nervous about using any kind of AI tech. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there's some that can make the process of that quicker for people in general. But if you're trying to use AI tech to identify people in and say, this person's diverse, this one's a white male. This is a black woman. This person's gay, this person's handicap, etc. etc. etc. You're going to cause more problems than you than you can fix. I think actually, I was telling you earlier, they did, as an example, you think about the facial recognition part, the hiring is going to have a lot of trouble for...
Debbie [00:14:18]: As has Amazon.
Martin [00:14:19]: Yeah, sure. It's not singular. You're right. You're very right. There was an example, in a book called Weapons of Math Destruction, which I think everyone should read. Weapons of Math Destruction.
Debbie [00:14:32]: MATH. M-A-T-H.
Martin [00:14:35]: M-A-T-H exactly. And it's quick vignettes about what's happened while data and math actually can damage people. Right? And there's one section, one chapter in particular on assessment technology, on assessments. That's worth reading everyone. Every leader should read it because A) it's not that long. So you can get through it. B) It's important to understand the dangers here. Right. But in that book, there's another substance. That's where they talk about, there was a woman, she was a, I think a grad student at MIT and she was building a robot. And she bought some eye-software, eye tracking software. So the robot’s eyes should move all around the room as you walked around. And see who you were around the room, creepy as all hell. But it wasn't working. She walked past it and wave at it. It wouldn't respond. She'd do things in front of it and it wouldn't respond, and she was frustrated, and she thought she'd done a bad job with the programming, but then she got curious because she fixed everything. So she grabbed a white piece of paper and drew a face. And held it up in front of her face and it recognized her because she was a black woman and the people who created the software, they weren't bad people, but it was a bunch of white guys. And when they tested it, they tested it on white faces. So it can sort of recognize white people as human, but not black people. So right there, you've got massive bias built into the AI from the very beginning, right? At the programming level, at the code level. That happens in assessments too. That happens in a lot of areas. So I worry about getting too deep into it. Start actually targeting a diverse candidate, a minority candidate based on some assumptions wrong, their last name. Which is happening and it's weird. Cause people get married and names are names, words are words.
Debbie [00:16:17]: Well, yes, my name is Tuel. I was not born a Tuel. So what does that tell you about me? I mean, I was born a tool, but not by name.
Martin [00:16:26]: I mean, it's like my last name is Burns, but I don't have a blood drop of Irish in me. But we were Scottish, we think so. And more German than anything else. But the name is there because of the way they kind of worked out. But making assumptions that people are diverse and not diverse based on any kind of characteristics and then putting in a machine, that's good to kind of extrapolate and build upon that. If you're lucky, it goes really well, it follows the right path and expands and learns and grows and it gets smarter and smarter, but odds are it doesn’t. In which case you have a problem that has worse and worse and geometric, so you won't have heard of your D&I. So I'd be very worried if I was buying software for my firm, I'd be very worried about buying AI driven D&I technology.
Debbie [00:17:18]: Absolutely. And, you know, I think one of the things that we're seeing is that practitioners are really struggling to figure out, okay, what is the best way to tackle DEI? People are starting to look for a silver bullet and the technology is promising a silver bullet. And it's one of those things. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. We should probably be thinking about what is the technology we're investing in? What does applying it mean? And is it making and hurting our decisions on who we're interviewing? Right. And it is interesting. We've got some of our customers that are asking us, hey, when we share a candidate’s information with a hiring manager, can we actually take out name and email address? So it removes bias. Right? And then on the flip side, it's like, hey, can you use all that information to suggest if this person is diverse candidate or not, and serve out more diversity and it's like, which way are we going here? We really need to think about what the impacts are and not just ask software to do something because it's going to be easy. But is it something that should be applied or is it going to get us in trouble?
Martin [00:18:21]: And to your point, DEI is not checkbox. You don't just say we bought some technology, do some training. We're good. It's a long-term process, right? It's actually looking at your overall culture, understanding kind of your face to the world and how you communicate as an organization. It's not just a recruiting software. It's everyone who works for you. It's your executive leadership. It's your corporate brand. It's all of those pieces. That's DEI.
Debbie [00:18:49]: Awesome. Well that, I think is a great transition to kind of our final topic for today, which is something that both, you are seeing at HireClix, we are seeing at Symphony Talent. I think everybody that is listening today is probably feeling it either in their recruiting or in their job searching or their personal lives. But that is that there is a global struggle right now with hiring. And we're hearing all sorts of things being thrown out there. It's because of stimulus money. You and I were discussing that it's probably also impacted because of lack of those borders being open. People that would normally come over and use visa programs or migration or whatever it may be, aren't doing that anymore. And then we also do have the pandemic where people are getting burnt out or maybe high school, college students parents are being like, hey, you've had a rough year. I'm okay if you don't work this summer, I'll fund you, and so they're not going to work. We've got all of these things that are compounding. What are you seeing right now? And what are you telling your clients who are trying to hire?
Martin [00:20:00] Good question. It's a really interesting time to be looking at what's happening with labor, especially in what, and I hate this phrase, but it's accepted I guess, with common jobs, which are McDonald's workers, food service workers, Uber drivers, things like that. And we're seeing it's a struggle to fill those roles. I think everyone knows this. It's been all over the news. If you're hiring, you're feeling it. And then there is some finger pointing, that it's the stimulus money, but the reality is it's not, because it's global. I mean, I'm hearing this from recruiters from Russia, Australia, the UK, all the South Africa, they're all struggling to find people for these roles. I think people's perception of these roles was shifted by the pandemic and pandemics change things. They’ve changed societies. They ended colonialism, they ended the dark ages, frankly. So pandemics impact societies fundamentally globally. We're seeing that starting now with, we don't know where it was in the windup, but this is part of a larger change, I think. People are getting more control over their lives.
Debbie [00:21:14]: They took a pause. And it's made them really look back and reflect on what do I want the future to look like? And that is different than what my past looked like. And I think some people are just saying, hey, look, I'm going to opt out for a little bit and take the time to figure out what the future looks like.
Martin [00:21:34]: We're seeing a lot of that. There's a lot of that sort of take a breath to hit the pause button happening. To your point of the borders issue, significant people weren't moving around last year - they couldn’t. And I think people don't really understand how much immigrant labor that's in the U.S. globally moves across borders, there's constant motion, moving of peoples, looking for work and doing seasonal work all over the globe. It's very rare. It's not North Korea, perhaps, but most borders you'll see these shifts happening. That stopped. That has an impact. It's also for the U.S., at least, you know, the last administration was less friendly to immigration than the one before it, so we had sort of a face of the world that we're not as big a fan of immigration as we were before. And there was sort of front of the world and the world said, okay, fine. I guess we're not coming over to you anymore. And now Canada is the preferred immigration point of choice for a tech town. It used to be the U.S. It used to be Silicon Valley in the U.S., they were number one. Canada's number one now. There are U.S. companies who are looking at building centers in Canada to hire immigrants who are in Canada to work in Canada, because they've given up trying to find the work in the U.S. We did some damage, we damaged ourselves. That combined with the pandemic in general, and again, this reset. And this feeling by a lot of people at the minimum wage ranged jobs, that they really aren't getting much for their work. And they're seeing the executives of these firms getting a lot from their work. And there is some pushback on that. There's some anger out there, frankly. So there‘s a lot of that.
Debbie [00:23:25]: Yeah. And kind of to what you talked about earlier, this is an opportunity for us to kind of look at ourselves as organizations. As enterprise employers and say, how do we fix this problem? And how do we make change? Because we've got an economy that's booming right now, and we don't have the workforce to support it. And this is going to becoming a really big problem for a lot of companies and the solve isn't necessarily, oh, I'm just going to throw money at advertising this job. That's not going to work, right.
Martin [00:23:56]: It's not working. I mean, you've got McDonald's franchise in Florida who were offering Canada's 50 bucks just to show for up for your interview. Not to get hired. It's just a plea. If you at least show up what we'll give you money, they're offering six months, six months wellness to their employees. You come work at McDonald's and six months and you get a free phone. So they're trying, but they're ignoring kind of the obvious issue that people can't eat phones.
Debbie [00:24:19]:They want long-term...
Martin [00:24:20]: They want more because they want a career. They want growth. They want money. They want income too. They want a good life and they didn't have one. And when we shut down, I think a lot of folks had to realize that, and that had an impact. And also on the positive side, re-skilling got really big in last 12 months, in the last 18 months, I guess. Everyone from LinkedIn and Microsoft did their thing. Facebook did it. Google got into it. The government did. There's a lot of free training out there right now. So a lot of folks actually went to change their careers. There's a little less pressure on tech hiring in the US and then what you put into it. Because a bunch of people, they got trained in software, project management, and they've left their hourly roles and gotten better jobs or they're doing good workers in those skillsets and they're making money. So that was a positive thing for these individuals, but it is impacting the service industry.
Debbie [00:25:17]: Absolutely. Well, Martin, there are about a dozen more topics that I would love to get into and discuss and go. You're like such a wealth of information. Before we wrap it up, we're going to segway over into one of our listeners' favorite segments, Confessions of a Recruiter/Candidate, a little bit lighthearted from our last topic, where we get to share and tell funny stories or experiences or wild things that have happened to you as either a candidate or a recruiter. Now, because you are Martin, I'm going to put a caveat on this. We've got a mature audience, but we're going to keep this PG-13. We can't go quite R, but we can live on the borders here.
Martin [00:26:03]: I've got a funny one. And it connects to being a candidate and also recruiting. Uh, gosh, when was this? I can't remember the year, maybe 20...Oh, gosh, because way back 2005, I was interviewing for some staffing and I was working with staffing at that point. I was interviewing and racing all around Boston and it was a day like today it was 90 plus degrees in Boston. I was living in the city. I was taking the bus to get the interviews and the subway and I was wearing a suit. Because I'm an idiot. And it looked really good in the morning. I looked sharp. I looked great. That was fantastic. Then I get in the bus, air conditioning. I'm good. I'm good. And then bus lost power, electric bus, and the AC turned off and the windows were all shut. So immediately I just didn't look good anymore. Four years in a row running around Boston, getting interviews, but just dripping. Got three offers. Which was, I was impressed by, or they were desperate. But then on the way back, because I live in Belmont, which is next to Cambridge in Boston and there's no subway to Belmont. So you subway to Cambridge and then bus, Cambridge to Belmont. So I smoked in my youth. Okay. Confession. I used to smoke. But I quit. And I hadn't smoked for quite a while, but I needed one all of the sudden that day and I get off the bus and I'm walking along. I see a guy with a cigarette. I said, can I bum a cigarette off. He said, yeah, sure man. So I have a cigarette I'm walking. Sweating, cigarette backing off me and here, my wife yelled at me across the way and she was at a gas station. She saw me once, but weird chance know, hey, what are you doing? Cigarette in my hand, take a long puff and said, I'm just going home. I was done.
Debbie [00:27:58]: Amazing. And your wife is a yoga instructor? Yes?
Martin [00:28:04]: Well, she was, she still does it, kind of pro bono for people. It's the people who need the help.
Debbie [00:28:02]: But this gives our listeners some idea of present.
Martin [00:28:12]: She's very healthy, vegan, organic. We live in Whole Foods. Half my paycheck goes to Whole Foods.
Debbie [00:28:20]: So she’s like don't come home for a while. Yeah. Amazing. Martin, one actual takeaway as we discussed, you know, we are on this Journey of Yes, really a mission to put the joy back into the recruiter experience and the candidate experience. We all could use a little bit of joy. What would be one actionable takeaway that you could give our listeners that are on today to take away from our conversation of how they can find their own Journey of Yes?
Martin [00:28:49]: Yeah, that's a good question. Easier said than done. We're all stressed right now. We're all working our tails off. But one thing I touched up on this earlier. One thing I've been doing lately is, I've got a sports watch and it was songs in it with it, but it's not internet enabled. I'll just get some, I'll go up. I'll go to the woods. Phone stays in the car, put the watch on, put some music on. No one can call me. No one will contact me and no one can find me and just take carve that out every, every couple of days for at least half an hour has been really, really helpful. In terms of stress and anxiety and everything else too. I think we need that. We're we're all running so fast nowadays. We're losing track of the fact that this all ends.
Debbie [00:29:30]: Yeah. You need time to unplug reset. It's time for yourself. Yeah. It's important. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Martin, for joining us. It is always a pleasure to catch up. And for those of you that are listening, if you haven't already, go subscribe to The JOY Podcast on Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you want more content, like the conversation that we've had today, go to thejoypipeline.com and subscribe to learn more. I thank you all for joining us.