For Dr. Stefan Schmitt, head of human resources strategy at engineering conglomerate ThyssenKrupp, volatility, uncertainty, and complexity are the “new normal” in recruiting. His presentation at the forthcoming RecPlus Conference in Barcelona will touch on how companies can counter this, as well as how his group is breaking new ground in the challenging Chinese market. 

In your opinion, what are the major challenges facing the recruitment (classified) industry in the next three years?

Volatility, uncertainty, and complexity are the “new normal”, with huge effects on recruiting: companies are experiencing fluctuating recruiting demands and increasing talent bottlenecks. Candidates are focused increasingly on the “purpose”, i.e. why should I choose this company? We believe the key factor in recruiting is collaboration – close collaboration with the business and within the expert organization. In the long term, the successful recruiting organization will be the one that manages to establish a corporate culture building on networks throughout the company, rather than thinking in silos: a 100 percent employee-centric approach.

We can counter the volatility of the labor market and the general uncertainty stemming from changing global market conditions by positioning ourselves clearly as a cosmopolitan, fair and approachable employer and continuously nurturing an internal talent pipeline. We should not overvalue the complexity resulting from digitized recruiting processes; instead, let’s reduce it by using intelligent tools and take the opportunity to actively shape change. With a view to wide-ranging collaboration that involves as many different perspectives as possible, we also seek to maximize cultural diversity in our teams.

What will most surprise conference attendees in your presentation at RecPlus?

The balance we achieve between tradition and innovation in recruiting as a global industrial group – by reference to the Chinese app WeChat. We are breaking new ground here. It’s a great example in two ways – firstly it shows how important it is to adapt to regional customer and market needs, and secondly that in HR we do not need to fear digitization if we make an effort to understand how it can make us more successful.

What unique challenges does your business face in your market?

We are facing tough competition to attract the best minds. As a classic B2B player it is of course more difficult for us than, for example, leading B2C brands, while small- and medium-sized companies and innovative start-ups aren’t making life easy here either – particularly with respect to in-demand target groups such as engineering and IT.

Just increasing conventional recruiting methods will not automatically increase the number of applications in these areas. To remain successful we need to demonstrate greater agility in the recruiting process. By integrating new tools we can expand our network, improve our visibility on platforms relevant to target groups and show that being a broad-based industrial group means we have fascinating stories to tell. It’s okay to be confident about what we do. 

Where has the major recent disruption in your sector come from?

There is not one single disruption, but rather lots of opportunities. For example, we are starting to integrate AI solutions into the candidate journey in recruiting. This can be an intelligent chatbot assisting candidates with job searches, software offering intelligent support for screening CVs, or AI instruments used as supporting features during the interview process.

HR is a people business, particularly so for a highly diversified company like ours. I think that in the area of HR in particular, there is still a great deal of potential for greenfield innovation. But this is an opportunity to improve.

However, one thing is already clear: without the support of new digital tools, recruiting in a market like China simply won’t work. Other regions around the world are obviously much further ahead of Germany and Europe in this respect. We see that as an incentive to intensify our efforts without just copying everything.

How is digitization further going to reshape your business?

We tend to distinguish between digitization, digitalization and digital transformation. The first two are rather an evolution while digital transformation, if and when it happens, is a revolution for that specific business model. Business and HR need to embrace all three changes as an opportunity to become better.

No one is denying that at HR we understand people, but especially in the digital world we need to be measurable, just like the business, and use data and facts. So digitization offers us an opportunity because we have far more data available to us than in the past, also on supposed soft factors. The HR business model must be to make the link between “understanding people” and “understanding business” in the language and currency of the business. This is, for example, the only way for us in HR to be able to understand which digital competencies and profiles the specialist departments need.

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