HR leaders know all too well the current challenges associated with identifying and recruiting the best talent; it’s hard enough to achieve in one professional discipline, but what about multiple, fast-evolving specializations?
Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific, a Fortune 500 supplier of medical, life sciences and biotechnical analytical products and solutions, has already experienced unprecedented disruption via the COVID-19 pandemic as the organization pivoted towards the production of vaccines.
Now the company is focused on its talent recruitment practices, grappling with the intrinsic challenges that come with its scale of operations and skill specializations.
“We have a really diverse portfolio of businesses and clients that we serve,” Amy Ritter, senior director of HR operations tells UNLEASH.
From a talent acquisition standpoint, that translates to a wide variety of jobs that we’re recruiting for while simultaneously navigating industry and market challenges as the world of science and technology evolve rapidly, day by day.”
An emergence of new skills in this arena has further complicated the search for the right talent, with Ritter highlighting that AI is making it possible to more accurately identify and select talent across a “wide variety of roles”.
However, even before the pandemic there was a growing demand for digital skillsets in Thermo Fisher’s core markets.
“Prior to the emergence of generative AI, there was already a focus on improving our customer’s digital experiences.”
Inward mobility has become the name of the game
In this kind of environment buying talent becomes exorbitantly expensive, particularly in a what Ritter calls a “really tight labor market” where skilled workers are well aware of the value of their specialties.
As such, focusing and growing inward mobility became an integral part of Thermo Fisher’s broader strategies, with a target set of filling 40% of open roles with internal talent by 2024 – a goal the company is now on course to achieve by the end of this year.
A key component of this has been the expanded use of the Phenom CRM platform, which Ritter says has allowed the organization to better address the challenges around the “need to accurately identify and select talent at speed.”
AI plays a significant role here – from identifying applicant resumes with skills and experience that best fit available job descriptions or recommending other potential candidates from within the company database, to scheduling capabilities that make the interviewing process “faster and more efficient.”
These tools help us optimize the way we approach our recruiting processes and help us deliver a more engaging and customer-centric experience,” Ritter explains.
Of course, the process doesn’t stop with talent acquisition. Career development and upskilling are also crucial parts of inward mobility, and Ritter shares that Thermo Fisher has been able to increase transparency via these AI-based tools into how well candidates match with roles based on their skills.
Traditionally candidates, whether internal or external, wouldn’t receive insight into this or how well they might fit into a given role or where there might be gaps in their skills.
“It gives candidates an understanding of where they may still have room for development and an opportunity to close that gap either through experiences or courses.”
Being able to take that a step further to provide learning recommendations or a potentially beneficial experience to close skill gaps means employees don’t feel like they are “stabbing in the dark, hoping that someone’s going to come back and give them some meaningful feedback,” Ritter says.
“They’re getting feedback, and clarity around what they might need to do next to achieve their goal and the career progression that they’re hoping to have, in the moment.”
It’s all about identifying the right path
While Thermo Fisher is still “early in our journey” of recognizing the results of its work in this arena and driving greater adoption, Ritter states achieving its ambitious 40% target and creating more development and new opportunities for employees is “incredible.”
She also highlights talent retention and the “ability to reduce our time to fill” as a vital pieces of the strategy, particularly in the context of current talent market conditions.
“It’s very challenging and it’s still a very tight labor market; there’s still relatively low unemployment rates. So, to be able to have efficiency in this labor market, while simultaneously building internal careers, has been critical for our organization.”
Implementing technology and strategy is one thing, but securing buy-in and engagement from internal employees that might be considering their next career move is an entirely different proposition.
Thermo Fisher was able to generate that engagement through internal marketing campaigns based on areas of interest or skills that the Phenom platform has identified, creating personalized communications on specific opportunities and encouraging staff to apply, Ritter details.
With a workforce numbering over 125,000 based in more than 600 locations worldwide, achieving that level of personalization might be considered a challenge, but Ritter explains that the platform helps to create a “common taxonomy” among job roles and skills, making it “quite easy to identify colleagues that could be a fit for a specific role and directly engage with them.”
She also details that the organization has been “intentional” about the way in which it developed its internal job posting/application policy, employee and manager messaging.
With resistance or discomfort among some people managers at the thought of losing talent, Thermo Fisher moved to reinforce “the right behaviors and the right conversations” taking place to ensure that “both managers and employees feel supported throughout the process.”
The development of internal content and blogs focused on career development and opportunity has also become a key component of best practice for Thermo Fisher as part of these internal campaigns, keeping employees “interested, engaged and aware of job opportunities available to them.”
Ritter acknowledges that “coming up with ideas, creation of the content and having that content ready to go on a consistent basis” can be a challenge.
From a best practice perspective, it’s about making sure that we have enough people throughout the organization engaged in developing that content. That has been something that we really had to be thoughtful about.”
Further improvements are on the agenda for 2024
With its objective of 40% internal hires in sight, Thermo Fisher is naturally turning to its next set of goals. Ritter explains that while the organization started with the candidate experience, then moved on to the recruiter experience and then the employee experience, next on the agenda are hiring managers themselves.
“The next logical place is to focus on our hiring managers and what we can do to optimize their experience and to help them be engaged in the process in the most impactful way,” she explains.
Thermo Fisher has begun the implementation of Phenom’s Interview Intelligence tool, which provides hiring managers with ‘just in time’ recommendations for interview question recommendations through generative AI technology.
In addition to “efficiency gains” expected for hiring managers, Ritter said the organization also expects an “improved candidate interview experience as well as an improved quality of hire”, meaning managers are asking candidates the right questions and, consequently, better hiring decisions.
Ritter also highlights a desire to “continue to thread AI across the talent acquisition landscape” going forward in a manner that doesn’t introduce bias or compliance risk, something she says Phenom has been “particularly thoughtful” about in their approach to platform development.
“So, we’re continuing to focus on adoption and looking for other areas where we can apply that emerging technology.”
Thermo Fisher’s CHRO has “always had a seat at the table” and HR is further leaning into the “value creation associated with generative AI and the endless number” of applications for it, not just for HR but across all functions and business groups.
For those of us developing talent strategies, this recognition, and the associated generative AI solutions now available, has made it easier to execute on these strategies and therefore has made it easier to gain organizational buy in.”
She added: “As with any change within a large enterprise, you will have stakeholders at different points along the change curve and we developed robust change management plans and change champion networks to support the organization as they navigate and adopt a changing landscape.”
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John Brazier is an experienced and award-winning B2B journalist and editor. Prior to joining UNLEASH, John both led and wrote for a number of global and domestic financial services publications, covering markets such as asset management, trading, insurance, fintech and personal finance.