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Many months have passed since the early spring of 2020 when the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

Truth be told, 2020 was a pretty strange year for professionals from all walks of business life. Not only did we suffer the indignation of failing to expect the unexpected (i.e., our 2020 HR predictions forgot to mention COVID-19), but we were forced to rethink – on the fly – the why, where and how of all things work.

Now, two waves later, we are just starting to fully recognize the significant, permanent and profound mark that COVID-19 is sure to have on the future of Human Capital Management. From the tactics we employ to cost effectively source and onboard our post-pandemic workforce, to the sudden primacy of dispersed teams and remote work, the HR industry trends that we are currently experiencing – and the ones we expect to soon take hold – will have a lasting impact on recruiting and talent management for years to come.

In this article, we take a look at the biggest HR trends to expect in 2021 as COVID-19 continues to forge a new world for talent.

HR Trend #1 – Agility Drives HR Excellence

After a year in which the only certainty was prolonged periods of extreme uncertainty, it’s glaringly clear that agility is now – and will continue to be – the driving force behind HR excellence in these trying times.

The hard truth of 2020 is that most organizations were not prepared for a new way of working, and struggled mightily through the first and second waves of the virus. This was particularly true for organizations with traditional, administration-centric approaches to HR. With limited workforce visibility (including issues with employee segmentation and internal comms), these organizations fought an uphill battle to not only effectively address the major concerns of their employees, but to do so in real time. As a result, the strategic response programs for talent acquisition and talent management in many organizations left much to be desired.

All available information indicates that the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on both business and society will extend well into 2021. As such, we expect organizations to continue to improve their socially distant talent initiatives, relying heavily on the flexible workflows and portals of the configurable platform model. This HR technology trend is likely here to stay

As HR guru Josh Bersin recently commented, what organizations need in today’s unpredictable business environment is “truly adaptable HR software.” This emphasis on agility and flexibility in the face of uncertainty is a trend that we have experienced first-hand in 2020 with a number of our clients. As SHRM recently reported, Delta Airlines, one of America’s oldest and largest commercial airlines, was forced to make significant staff reductions to their 90,000+ workforce in the early days of the pandemic. With such radical and unexpected employee turnover, Delta suddenly found itself with a worryingly unequal workforce distribution.

Looking to close their quickly widening talent gap, Delta developed an innovative approach driven by the flexibility of the Avature platform. With a focus on employee redeployment, job shares and targeted internal communications, Delta used short-term assignments to fill positional demands and implement a more efficient “gig approach” to career mobility. Leveraging tools that were previously (and exclusively) used for external acquisition activities, Avature’s flexibility allowed Delta to easily repurpose email templates and landing pages to present furloughed employees with a diverse range of internal employment and upskilling opportunities both within and outside their typical business units. With Avature’s help, Delta achieved an unbelievable 100 percent use rate of interested employees. If the Delta story has taught us anything in these unprecedented times, it’s that while we can’t predict the future, agile solutions can certainly help us prepare for it.

HR Trend #2 – AI and Smart Automation Redefine Recruiting

2021 is shaping up to be the year of boom or bust for many organizations when it comes to hiring and sourcing activities.

Whereas the “boomers” will be focused on meeting unexpected increases in demand for essential goods and personnel (i.e., high-volume recruiting), the “busters” will be navigating the perils of budget cuts and fiscal austerity (i.e., doing more with less). At any rate, we expect organizations in both groups to increasingly turn to AI and automation in their recruiting as they look to navigate the continuing uncertainty of the global labor market.

Banner of Avature's e-book on talent acquisition automation and a link to the landing page to download it.

A consequence of this shift towards AI and other advanced technologies will be an increase in market demand for solution providers with technical experience in machine learning, particularly with respect to recruiting and employee retention. And while many HCM solution providers have long painted their websites with AI taglines and slogans, organizations in the market for a talent solution in 2021 are likely to place a premium on demonstrable AI success at the enterprise level.

As Josh Bersin highlighted in 2019, AI is not something you “buy.” Rather, it’s a degree of machine intelligence that is already embedded in many of the solutions and tools available for modern talent acquisition and talent management activities (including Avature’s solution suite). Recruiting success in these trying times will require organizations to drop the buzzword rhetoric and develop an in-depth understanding of how pre-existing AI technologies can help organizations work more efficiently and at scale.

This means effectively leveraging HR’s heavy use of natural language text (i.e., resumes and job descriptions) to produce more accurate candidate/position matches, as well as harnessing the power of data dashboards and big picture insights. With financial resources and recruiting budgets likely to remain limited in the coming year, we expect organizations to increase their use of advanced search technologies in an effort to work smarter. This will be one of the biggest HR technology trends this year. With a remarkable ability to understand intent and expand search queries via contextual meaning, semantic search is positioned to redefine the way we source, recruit and hire as we move into 2021.

HR Trend #3 –  Internal Talent Marketplaces and Career Mobility Take Center Stage

From improving employee engagement to stimulating employee development, talent mobility programs have long proven effective in addressing modern HR’s most perplexing challenges.

Now, with many organizations cash-strapped and in need of reducing sourcing and associated hiring costs, we expect organizations to double down on the development and growth of internal candidates. In fact, it is here, at the intersection of talent acquisition and talent management, that we have noticed a clear philosophical shift in recent months as organizations look to move on from their stagnant and siloed mobility programs of years’ past, to the almost limitless possibilities of a flexible and AI-driven internal talent marketplace.

Rooted in the belief that upskilling is no longer just an ad hoc luxury for high-potential talent, but fundamental to retention efforts for all employees, the internal talent marketplace is a digital platform where organizations provide employees with the vertical and horizontal up-skilling opportunities most relevant to their desired career path. As the employee experience is everything in our pandemic labor market, we have seen a significant increase in the number of organizations relying on machine learning to provide employees with a more targeted and relevant career mobility experience (see our L’Oréal customer story for a great example).

With the labor market now shifting towards agile talent pools of internal candidates, this HR trend has the potential to empower both employer and employee to close skill gaps and do more with less in 2021.

HR Trend #4 – Direct Sourcing Contingent Labor Will Help Organizations Save Big

Another important trend worth noting relates to the gig economy.

What we have observed in recent months is that the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is actually driving many organizations towards contingent and project-based hiring models. Although contingent hiring has been booming for a number of years, this contingent workforce trend is now accelerating in the aftermath of COVID-19 for two main reasons. First, the combination of budget cuts and hiring freezes on full-time positions means many organizations are now relying on the flexibility of short-term hires. Second, just as these organizations are looking to hire gig labor, large swaths of previously unavailable, top-tier contingent contractors are suddenly – and unexpectedly – seeking project-based employment opportunities as a result of first and second wave cutbacks.

Organizations looking to hire have taken note, and we expect companies to begin (and, in many cases, continue) embracing contingent labor sourcing in 2021.

While contingent workforce management and sourcing is typically a joint “transactional” effort between a managed service provider (MSP) or a recruitment process outsourcer (RPO) and an organization’s procurement department, companies are increasingly relying on alternative sourcing models designed to cut costs and better engage contingent candidates. One such model is the direct sourcing of contingent labor through a contingent talent marketplace . As an agile alternative to traditional contingent sourcing, this framework uses branded digital solutions to build talent pools, directly engage gig workers and encourage the best candidates to come back in the future and apply for new opportunities.

As agility in 2021 will ultimately be defined by projects, not positions, we expect this contingent workforce trend to continue as organizations look to realign and streamline their sourcing activities.

HR Trend #5 – Organizations Take a Social Approach to Onboarding New Employees

Social distancing is now commonplace in all aspects of our “new normal,” including business.

As such, we expect the strategies organizations implement to interact with talent to radically evolve in 2021. With very real concerns regarding engagement, time to proficiency and employee retention, effective virtual onboarding is now a top priority across industries. In fact, talent stakeholders, in their quest to effectively “manage the handoff” between recruiting and talent management, are increasingly focused on providing new hires with a virtual onboarding experience that is social, personalized and focused on maintaining the human touch.

An important part of this social formula is micro-learning, also referred to as continuous learning. As short-form, interactive and easy-to-consume video content, micro-learnings empower new hires to easily find, manage and share relevant lessons from the comforts of their onboarding hub. With our understanding of virtual work having significantly evolved in 2020, we expect more and more organizations to follow this increasingly popular onboarding trend and provide new hires with a commercial-grade and interactive web experience that leaves checklist onboarding where it belongs – in the last decade.

HR Trend #6 – Video Moves Beyond Talent Acquisition

While video interviewing has steadily increased in popularity in recent years as a facilitator of global talent acquisition activities, it exploded overnight in 2020 as organizations scrambled to implement fully virtual recruiting strategies for the very first time. And yet, in 2021, we expect video to move beyond its talent acquisition niche as organizations continue to recognize the diverse spectrum of strategic HR opportunities that the technology affords.

From performance management, to mico-learning, to health and wellness, video has the potential to drive the modern employee experience as a collaborative and highly engaging talent management communication tool. In harmony with this consumer-led development, we also expect HCM solution providers to fully leverage the power of video by providing customers with the functionality built directly into their enterprise systems. This is something, it should be noted, that Avature has already achieved.

To Conclude…

No one ever said that HR was supposed to be easy. And yet, as we move into 2021 and year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should recall that with great crisis comes great opportunity. At Avature, we are helping our clients navigate these uncertain times with our best-in-class talent ecosystem – one that can adapt, evolve and grow as the business landscape changes. Don’t hesitate to contact our talent experts today and learn how you can better navigate HR in our COVID-19 world.


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