Josh Bersin: The Unemployment Report, Economic Transformation Before Our Eyes

Todd Raphael
Todd Raphael

“It’s clear that ‘digital transformation’ is happening before our eyes … This means we are not in a financial recession, we are in an explosively fast business transformation.

That’s the word from Josh Bersin, an HR analyst and member of Eightfold’s Advisory Board, in a new blog post.

Bersin lays out the dramatic changes happening now across every industry. For example:

  • Healthcare: “Telemedicine is easier, less expensive, and far safer than going into a doctor’s office. The CHRO of one of the country’s largest healthcare providers told me he is training all their care providers to get comfortable with telecare.” (Erin Peterson, a consultant to CHROs, says patients are getting comfortable too. “I think it will endure and increase,” she says, “because people are getting used to it through experience.”)
  • Retail: Imagine the impact of ‘automated checkout’ in retail. You could walk into a store, shop, get help, and then just leave. No need to have someone handle your goods, take your credit card, or ask you for information face to face. This will be huge.”
  • Fitness: “Home fitness, cooking, gardening, and improvement is exploding. Peleton is now worth $10 Billion, but that’s not the big story. Remote fitness trainers, yoga mats, stretching balls, and all forms of dumbells are flying off the virtual shelves. Analysts believe this is a $100 billion industry. Imagine Nike virtual exercise teams, virtual walking groups, and all the online yoga and stretching classes we can buy.”
  • Food: “Home baking is clearly a big trend. My wife and I have been having a harder and harder time finding baking flour, and King Arthur’s Flour mentioned recently that demand increased seven-fold in the first two weeks of the pandemic.”
  • Home repair: “In my neighborhood, there are power saws, drills, tree cutting machines, and hammering going on all day. People are realizing that it isn’t the end of the world to stay home more often.”

All these changes have profound effects on workforce management. For one thing, companies are cutting jobs by the hundreds and even by the thousands, not knowing whether or not some of those people have the skills needed as companies shift their offerings. “Don’t lay off the people who are going to help you make that transition,” says Michael Watson, a former Gigamon global talent-acquisition director who at Eightfold helps companies undergoing talent transformations.

Similarly, Tom McGuire, a former Revlon CFO and Coca-Cola global talent acquisition leader, says, “Even while faced with immediate pressure to cut costs and conserve resources across most industries, CHROs’ top strategic priority must be to rapidly recast talent plans for the future … successful recovery depends on intelligent and rapid revision to talent plans now.”

Watson says that leading-edge companies are using artificial intelligence to break down what skills their employees have, and see how and where those skills can be put to reuse. Prior to any layoffs, that is.

He also says that AI is being used smartly in companies with an onslaught of job applicants.

“With all of these changes Bersin spells out,” Watson says, “what we are seeing in talent acquisition is a shift from a talent deficit to a talent surplus. That transition usually takes a year. It took us two weeks. If you were a company getting 70 or 80 applicants for a job, now you’re getting hundreds. It’s important to use AI to make sense of the vast volume of resumes and see which people have the skills you need for your company’s pivot.”

Watson says that the companies that are doing it right are also — in addition to using AI as a screening tool — finding out, using AI, that they have people in their Talent Network, whether they be alumni, referrals, past applicants, or current employees, who have the skills they need going forward. It’s just a matter of uncovering those skills.

For all the transformation happening, it bears repeating that not every worker can quickly transition to Zoom. “The people who work in housekeeping, pave roads, make school lunches, collect garbage, repair power lines, drive buses, and do all the other work that creates and maintains our physical world will not change,” says SparcStart CEO Maury Hanigan. “There is a huge divide between knowledge workers and all other workers.”

All told, Bersin’s advice is that the transformation happening is dramatic, but not all bad. “The world is not coming to an end,” he says. “The pandemic will pass and the business community is adapting quickly.”

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