Skills shortage: why and how HR automation can help

Is it crazy to think that HR technology can help recruiters cope with the skills shortage? No, considering that it helps them compete in attracting talent.

Like in many countries, there is a lot of discussion about the skills shortage here in Finland. But is the shortage for real, ask many. Or is it just down to lacking elasticity on the candidate or employer side?

Our experience is that as a growing software provider, we see some of it. Certain professionals are fiercely competed for by employers.

I started wondering if HR technology can help somehow cope with the talent shortage. This may at first sound a bit like a crazy premise. Certainly, HR technology cannot generate more skilled applicants…

Of course, automation of the tasks in jobs that are difficult to fill certainly can help – but by no means offer any complete solution. The “skills” that automation and AI technologies possess themselves are also limited and, ironically, deployments are hindered by AI and automation skills shortage just the same.

However, it turned out that there are a few ways in which HR technology, automation in particular, can concretely help recruiters here, by:

  • providing relief to some root causes of applicant and candidate dropouts
  • making recruiters more competitive in getting the best talent hired
  • finding suitable talent in the pool of applicants that would otherwise go overlooked.

What do experts say about the problems recruiters are facing? What could they do differently?

The great power shift

The recruiting company Jobilla has encountered a skills shortage with some jobs. They say that the key for recruiters to cope with it would be to adopt more applicant-friendly recruiting practices. Simply, the tables have turned: it used to be the employers, who called the shots, but now it is more the applicants. They require more attention and care.

In the US, HR application provider TalentBoard noted recently, based on their survey:

“The survey results confirm a significant shift of power from employers to candidates – largely fueled by sustained low unemployment and widening skills gaps.” (Source: 2021 US Candidate Experience Report)

These factors are making it increasingly difficult for employers to find and keep the talent they need to compete, says the study.

Candidate dropouts – a common phenomenon for today

Recruiting Intelligence supplier ERE singles out the application process as a key factor behind the difficulty for employers to attract certain talent. Significant numbers of job candidates drop out at every stage of the recruiting cycle. For example:

  • Higher than 65% abandonment rates were seen at many organizations (source: Ere)
  • 31% of employers lose candidates during background screenings (source: CareerBuilder)
  • 30% of candidates abandon potential employers during the interview stage (source: Blind).

TalentBoard found in their report that regardless of the stage at which candidates voluntarily exit, they do so for two top reasons:

  • Their time was disrespected (especially during interviews and appointments)
  • The recruiting process took too long.

These two reasons pop up as important ones globally in TalentBoard’s survey, though they do not take the top spots everywhere. According to the company’s US report:

“When both candidates and newly hired employees have higher expectations for how they’re being treated by employers, that [candidate onboarding] experience can make or break a company’s ability to attract and keep top talent”.

HR automation has emerged over the last few years to provide recruiters with solutions to their challenges. Let us look at the ways it can help in making the applicants feel more valued and the application cycle go just faster.

(By the way, the third reason for candidate dropouts was that the salary didn’t meet their expectations. No surprise there but let us forget about that for now as irrelevant to the application process.)

It is a question of time

Interestingly, time was the key element in both the top reasons for candidate dropouts: either lack of time or how applicants’ time was used.

Now let us look at how time presents itself to recruitment agents.

Recruitment agents find a lot of the time themselves working busily in a fickle process. There are many messages to be sent, interviews to be set up and made, as well as reports to be submitted to their internal or external employers. Amid all the hurry, job applicants and candidates seem to be too often left to suffer delays, canceled or postponed appointments and weak communication from the agents.

Yet, for the applicants, communication with the recruiters is the most important facet throughout the talent acquisition cycle. According to application Tracking System (ATS) provider Bullhorn, for 2,000 candidates interviewed in a study, poor communication was the main reason to frustrate talent in the recruiting process. Indeed, we keep hearing that weak communication by recruiters is what applicants complain about.

How can the agents secure more time for communications as the work itself is not certainly getting less? And how can they at the same time accelerate the recruiting process?

From the technology perspective, the answers lie in:

  1. winning time by automating routine tasks like document creation, resume scanning and candidate shortlisting
  2. applying hr communication automation to direct communication with the applicants, especially to keep them on track with the progress of their applications and possible further tasks.

Let us look at how to pursue these two targets one by one.

1) Which routines can be automated?

There are several facets of HR technology that can accelerate the recruiting process and give recruitment agents more time with the applicants. These functionalities can reside directly in the heart of the HR process – the ATS – or be handled by integrating the ATS tightly with communication channels like the website and email.

  • Automated document creation. Often the application process involves producing many documents. They can include non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), job descriptions, employment contracts and welcome emails, procedure descriptions and employee handbooks for smooth employee onboarding. Usually, these documents can be automatically generated on standardized templates, using an app designed for the task in the ATS.
  • Workflows to take care of simple routine tasks. The recruitment agents may need to fill in forms, enter appointments in the calendar, add notes and send out alerts for tasks to colleagues, even applicants. Much of this work can be automated with rule-based workflows.
  • Resume scanning. What about speeding up the process with some more artificial intelligence (AI)? It is available to automatically read the content of resumes into the ATS.
  • Shortlisting the applicants. And AI-based apps are available for the ATS also to comb through the applicants’ records and single out the best candidates based on predictive selection.
  • Informing about rejection. Also, the “unfortunately we will not be pursuing your candidacy” messages can be automated. Yes, as we know, candidates ever so often complain of long delays in getting the rejection message – or not getting one at all. Getting it timely shortens the recruitment process from their perspective – and can improve the recruiter’s overall reputation nicely.

2) Which communications to automate towards the applicants?

Some of the communications towards and with the applicants can also be automated using workflow automation or bots.

However, care must be taken when doing so, since research says that the quality of communication matters so much to job applicants and candidates. They expect a human approach and respect as individuals.

Then, where is automation feasible in this context? It works best when the applicants need to be just notified about something: for example, where they are in the process of recruiting, sending interview invites to candidates or welcome emails to those recruited.

Most recruiters get the best results by blending human and automated interaction. When relying on the latter, personalization is paramount. It certainly is worth the trouble to ensure that the ATS’s databases can feed the automated messages with the relevant details of the applicant, so personalizing messages is possible in the first place.

Some final thoughts

Today, technology – including automation and AI – can take communication between recruiters and applicants quite far. Interviews for remote work positions are likely to take place online without a single face-to-face encounter – and technology supports this. There are even bots to take care of the interview with analyzing capabilities…

To what extent should recruiters apply automation? This depends on several things, certainly on how demanding the job is when it comes to skill, responsibility and/or security. As a general rule, the lower the requirements, the more can be automated.

Whatever the choice, it usually makes sense to introduce automation step by step. This makes it easier for the agents to learn to use the system and helps drive adoption. Crucially, it allows ensuring a good applicant and candidate experience. Each step of automation can be tweaked carefully to their needs before moving on to implement the next, for their benefit.

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