Jess ElmquistAugust 08, 2022
Topics: Talent Experience

Here’s How Talent-Hungry Organizations Can Thrive in A Mixed-Signal Economy

One of my favorite photos depicts the meeting point of two bodies of water, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean — one side darker than the other. The image shows a clear dividing line where the two sides collide. You don’t often see something so remarkable.

Having large, persistent hiring deficits while facing an economic downturn — and possible recession — remind me of those conjoined waters. It is a liminal moment that industries such as healthcare, retail, hospitality, and transportation can take advantage of.

I was curious how organizations with hiring deficits can win when inflation is running hot and GDP is running two straight quarters in negative territory. So I posed the question to someone whom I consider a friend and a best-in-class talent leader — Eric Van Duren, Chief Talent Acquisition Officer at one of the country’s largest hospital operators, Bon Secours Mercy Health. It has 50 hospitals and 60,000 employees across several U.S. states and Ireland, and handles about 20,000 external hires a year.

Two steps that talent leaders can take to ensure success going forward, he said, citing a Wall Street Journal article, are: operational excellence —finding ways to boost productivity in an industry that is under pressure; and building an infrastructure that centers on resilience. “So when difficulties do come, you can recover and you can be nimble and shift,” Eric said in a recent webinar we did together on the topic. “Play a little bit of offense.”

“Doing More with Less”

Between burned-out doctors and nurses, rising costs, flat revenues and an influx of retiring Baby Boomers, “it has been incredibly complex from a talent landscape specifically within the healthcare setting,” Eric explained.

His challenge: “How do you meet the needs of your patients and keep your talent pipelines filled knowing you're probably going to have to do more with less?”

Ironically enough, a souring economy is providing a silver lining to healthcare and other talent-drained industries. Bon Secours Mercy Health sees opportunity to attract and retain talent by offering two things: one, stability. Two, a worthwhile career saving lives, be it clinical professionals, administrative professionals, or frontline workers.

“It’s on talent executives, especially in healthcare, to tell that story, paint that picture to show what does it mean to be a healthcare worker?” Eric said. “We have to open ourselves up and provide experiences when individuals want to engage.”

Is That Strategy Working?

Healthcare added a robust 70,000 jobs in July, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report. That’s nearly double the number of newly added jobs in retail, construction, manufacturing and transportation in the month. There were solid job gains in ambulatory health care services (+47,000), hospitals (+13,000), and nursing and residential care facilities (+9,000). So that’s the good news.

The challenge in healthcare is that employment overall is down by 78,000 positions, or 0.5 percent, from two years ago, so there’s still work to be done there.

Then vs. Now

When we think about everyone involved in hiring, they're leaning into the world of talent like never before. Recruiters used to be thought of as headhunters; today, they’re talent advisers. Hiring managers used to view recruiting as “it's not really my day job, it’s the recruiter’s responsibility.” But now they are realizing that they too have to roll up their sleeves to evolve their talent because it's hard to find someone new in this environment.

We’re seeing big changes in the talent ecosystem. Let’s hear from Eric about what this means for Bon Secours Mercy Health.

Yes! That comment is spot on. It is a breath of fresh air to see HR’s evolution from a back-office cost center to a full-fledged part of an organization. That’s an important inflection point for organizations such as tech, crypto, and logistics that are struggling to bring on new talent right now.

“When you think about the financial pressures, what this really brings is also opportunity for additional mergers and acquisitions,” Eric explained. That explains why scalability is so important as he and his team develop their talent plans to deliver impeccable health services to patients.

“It's easier to accelerate or decelerate, if you're leveraging technology and automation, in having your talent experts working at the level they should be working at. So I see opportunity [and] I see risk if not approached the right way.”

The Impact of AI and Automation

The proof of AI’s potential is in the numbers. Total external hires at Bon Secours Mercy Health are up 28% through July compared to the same time last year. External nurse hires — up 31%.

“This team is producing outcomes,” Eric said of his colleagues. “They're filling aged job postings they haven't been able to fill before.” As is often the case with agency recruitment, it’s person-focused, he adds. “This is team-focused. We win together.”

Hard to argue with results like that. So to gain a competitive advantage in the labor market, HR teams in any industry can leverage AI to create memorable and more efficient experiences for both employees and candidates — “so candidates don't feel like one of many but instead one of one,” Eric said.

Intelligent automation can also improve business processes, he added. “You map on solid technology and all of a sudden you're getting this workflow that's not only helpful in the trying times, but really is an accelerator.”

What Can We Learn When Two Worlds Collide?

Moments of crisis bring moments of action. In other words, “it's time to stop admiring the problem and start with solutions,” as Eric put it so eloquently.

Fellow talent leaders — don't get in your turtle shell. Let's get on the offensive. We're in this liminal moment where inflation is on the rise and the talent market is changing. Even who we're hiring and what they're looking for in an employer is changing in a significant way. So how are you thinking about these shifts?

If you are a CHRO in any of the sectors I’ve mentioned — retail, transportation, healthcare, and so on — you need to be thinking about how pressure on the economy is starting to show valuable opportunities in the talent marketplace.

I think about John F. Kennedy when America was sending the first man to the moon. JFK is walking through NASA and he goes over to a custodian and asks him “What do you do here?” And he said, “Mr. President, I'm helping put a man on the moon.”

And that's kind of the same idea behind talent-hungry organizations in a recession: we’re all in this together.

My blog captures just some of the highlights of my fascinating conversation with Eric.

Please click here to view the webinar in its entirety.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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