As the world grapples with the challenges unleashed by the COVID-19 outbreak, corporate leaders are under great scrutiny to exercise critical foresight for risk assessment while simultaneously executing operational reorganization.
As of June 11, over 44 million Americans filed for initial unemployment benefits. The job losses are widespread, especially in industries where operations have come to a screeching halt.
Leading hotel operators, including Hilton and Marriott, have undertaken massive layoffs and furloughs, affecting “tens of thousands” of employees. Scandinavian Airlines temporarily laid off 90% of its workforce, while Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and other rideshare services have been hit hard. More than 150,000 retail workers have been laid off, and it is anticipated that approximately 25,000 retail stores will permanently close in the United States this year.
The International Labour Organization found that 1.6 billion workers—around 50% of the global workforce—are employed in sectors that are facing a severe decline in output. On the other hand, other industries are witnessing an upsurge in employment.
Big retail employers, like Amazon and Walmart, and healthcare providers are facing a workforce shortage and an overburdened infrastructure. This creates an interesting opportunity for cross-placement (X-placement) of talent, whereby employers with heightened job demand can be matched with employees displaced from positions in reduced-job-demand industries.
The Silver Lining
Consumer behavior has undergone a tremendous shift, with a massive increase in demand for health care and pharmaceuticals, tech and gaming, grocery and food, and delivery services. CNN reported that Kroger, the second-largest grocer in the United States, has hired more than 100,000 employees since mid-March and plans to hire an additional 6,800 employees. PayPal hopes to hire more than 800 individuals in a variety of roles.
However, few organizations have been proactively redeploying their employees. In Germany, McDonald’s and grocery chains Aldi Sud and Aldi Nord have entered into a temporary employee-sharing agreement. Hilton also created a job portal that promises expedited hiring to its affected employees across 28 companies.
Efficient Hiring, Scaling Operations, and the Role of AI
While home, employees are upgrading their skills. E-learning platform upGrad has received twice as many registrations for its courses. At Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Professor Mohanbir Sawhney reports that demand for his online executive courses in Digital Marketing Strategy, Product Strategy, and AI for Business Transformation is growing as executives invest in “sharpening the spear.”
Lisa Umenyiora, Executive Director of Careers at Imperial College Business School, states that at the graduate level, the companies that are still hiring have quickly transferred their recruitment processes, including assessment centers and final interviews, online. She adds that moving forward, employers are likely to seek recruits with four key skills: the ability to lead in a technology-driven world; communication skills; tech skills; and the capacity to work in a volatile, an uncertain, a complex, and an ambiguous (VUCA) environment.
President of Infosys Ltd Ravi Kumar, in his LinkedIn article, “Thinking Out Loud,” focuses on how skills-based hiring will become the new normal. Kumar thinks that in the future, organizations’ big focus areas will involve transforming their talent models and digitizing their talent value chains. Some organizations are already leveraging artificial intelligence (AI)-powered solutions to boost their hiring. According to a Korn Ferry survey, 63% of talent acquisition professionals say AI has changed the way recruiting is managed at their company.
The challenge for organizations is much greater than implementing a one-off training program. Organizations will have to plan for an ecosystem devoted to creating an AI-powered skills inventory to reskill and upskill employees in innovative and efficient ways. In addition, they have to further develop methods to identify and hire talent based on skills at all levels—entry, managerial, and leadership.
Redeploying Talent—A New and Innovative Approach in Progress
While organizations have focused on upskilling and reskilling employees for some time, there were very few organizations that actually thought about the real problem: effectively driving the reemployment of the displaced workforce.
Imagine a labor market where every out-of-work employee can be upskilled or reskilled and aligned to the best opportunities matching his or her skill set in minimal time, avoiding the financial and psychological costs that too often come with unemployment. I’m talking about an economy with zero workforce displacement across organizations.
It may sound lofty, even idealist, but with the power of AI, this vision is becoming a real possibility.
Facilitating X-placement across functions and industries requires the identification of synergies between the job role and skill set with the help of a skills ontology graph, the parsing of job descriptions, and harmonization capability engines. Such solutions are imperative for accelerated workforce repositioning and cross-industry hiring.
To further redeploy talent, the skills gap needs to be addressed. One solution is bridging the skills gap by identifying the potential employees who can be easily upskilled, reskilled, and cross-trained for the roles that are facing a resource crunch.
For example, if a strategy executive wants to move to a business development role, the transition could be simple, as many of the skills suggested for the new role, such as business modeling, development management, strategic alliance, and opportunity identification, align to the skills the user has already learned.
Similarly, a look at the overlapping job demands across health care and retail reveals common requirements for similar roles within the business development function with overlapping skills and marketing or business degree requirements. Where not overlapping, a skill-building road map can be designed at scale leveraging AI and machine learning (ML).
Having worked over two decades to develop comprehensive career services for global universities, Mark Presnell, Executive Director at Northwestern Career Advancement, commented, “Technology has the ability to develop a skills-based marketplace for job seekers, employers, and possibly government agencies. Previous methods required the individual seeking employment to do all of this work and identify their transferable skills. Given the scalability of the technology, skills-based recruiting can now be done en masse at every level.”
Embracing X-placement and the development of future-ready workforce strategies—including collaborative job movement across industries to support at-risk workers—will play a crucial role in the HR world. Repositioning, reskilling, and upskilling need to become the norm. This as an opportunity to show how we lead in a crisis, challenge our perceptions, and emerge from this period of disruption with smarter solutions in 2020 and beyond.
Salil Pande is the CEO of VMock, a company leveraging AI and ML to maximize every student’s and professional’s career success.