Take It from the Top: Ed Broadhead on AI Now and Later – The Future of Recruitment [Episode 19]

Ed Broadhead

Head of Adecco Analytics, The Adecco Group

Ed Broadhead was the 2017 Global CEO for One Month at the Adecco Group. After an extensive selection process in his home country of the UK and a global boot camp, he was selected out of 117,000 applicants worldwide. As Global CEO for One Month, he worked alongside Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group. The Adecco Group is the leading HR solutions provider active in over 60 markets worldwide with its ecosystem of brands. As a Fortune 500 company, the Adecco Group is striving to make the future work for everyone and provide not only state of the art solutions to its clients but all of its customers, including more than 700,000 associates all around the globe. During the program, Ed got to shadow Mr. Dehaze during all his meetings and was asked to give feedback, debriefs and foster a culture of reverse mentoring.

Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.

This week we have another special “millennial madness” episode as Ben Weiner, Content Specialist at Bullhorn, interviews Ed Broadhead, Head of Adecco Analytics and Global CEO for One Month at The Adecco GroupEd discusses how this global recruitment firm is leading the charge to ensure AI becomes a gold standard within its business and the industry.

RIX: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Take It from the Top, episode number 19, brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange. I’m your host Ben Weiner, content marketing specialist at Bullhorn, and today we have another special “millennial madness” episode for you as we welcome on another Adecco Global CEO for One Month from 2017, Ed Broadhead.

Hi Ed. How are you?

Ed Broadhead: Hi Ben. A pleasure to be here, I’m very well. How are you?

RIX: I’m great. I’m very excited to learn more about your role as head of Adecco analytics, as well as your time as the Global CEO for One Month at The Adecco Group. But first, I’d like to know a little bit about yourself. Where’d you grow up?

EB: Sure. Well I was born in the UK, born near London. My family actually moved to New Zealand for a time, so I’m a New Zealand citizen as well. But then when I was age nine or 10, I move back to the UK to finish all my schooling there.

RIX: So where did you study at school?

EB: I started in a little town called Sevenoaks, just south of London. Then after school I went to university in Cambridge, but spent a year of that in Paris studying abroad.

RIX: What did you study in school?

EB: I studied Engineering. Very general engineering, all things mechanical, civil, fluid, or electrical engineering, but with a particular focus actually around energy, climate change, sustainability, and how we can tackle that massive global challenge.

RIX: What are some of your hobbies?

EB: I love sports. I played tennis and rugby. I live in Zurich in Switzerland and it’s pretty good ski season right now as well. But if I can’t get out to the slopes or the court, I’ll be hanging out with friends, watching Netflix or other streaming services available.

RIX: Nice. Is there a particular show on Netflix right now that has piqued your interest?

EB: Well I guess it’s not on Netflix, but in preparation for the final season I’m rewatching Game of Thrones. I can’t work out whether terribly sad or not, but I’m primed for the last season coming out.

RIX: I’m also very excited for that last season!

EB: It’s going to be exciting!

RIX: Let’s talk a little bit about your time as The Adecco Global CEO for One Month. What about this program piqued your initial interest?

EB: Well, I have always been interested in senior leadership, what the job is like, what is the life of these senior executives? And the CEO for One Month program came along and it is utterly unique in the experience that it offers where one lucky person eventually gets to spend this month really shadowing the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And I think there’s no other program like it in the world where you get to spend time with someone in that position in such an involved way. And so I thought, my goodness, that looks interesting. I’ll seize the opportunity to apply.

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RIX: So you talked about how you’re very interested in learning from senior leadership, but what kind of insights were you able to provide to them?

EB: [Laughing] I think I probably had more to learn, but Alain, the global CEO, always conventionality stresses how important it is for his reverse mentoring. I guess as a young person with them it gives a new perspective. Someone who’s younger and with less experience, doesn’t have an idea of what day-to-day is like in the company and has the right to ask silly questions and to really ask, Okay, why do we do things the way that we do today? And challenge that, challenge him, challenge his team to potentially see things from a different side. And I think they appreciate that I’m someone that’s enormously curious and wants to ask questions in the environment and just makes them take a moment to think about whether there’s another way to consider a situation.

RIX: And how do you think this program prepared you for your current role as head of Adecco analytics?

EB: Well, certainly it was probably the best onboarding experience one could ever have [laughing]. To see across the company and the exposure to the type of people that I did, to understand what the strategy is, what the activities are of the company right now, how we’re really understanding the needs of our clients and our candidates, and how we build relationships with key people that I can now use in my role today. And to also really come into the company with a feeling of, okay. In my role, what can I do that is really right for the company? What is in the company’s interest? Your first exposure in One Month is seeing things from the CEO’s perspective of, how do I grow this company as a whole? And I think that’s been really valuable to keep in my role now and thinking, Okay, how can I really act on behalf of the greater good of the company? Which I think is a good value to have.

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RIX: So transitioning to your current role, what is a standard day like for you?

EB: I try to get up early and get in before the rush. I also travel a lot and I’ve got a wonderful team, but they are not all based in Zurich, where I live. So I’m moving about country to country quite a lot, I’m often on a train or a plane. I’m also in a lot of meetings and have to balance strategic meetings and strategic thinking with more operational work, like attending a client meeting, the sales meetings, reviewing the business and how we’re doing against the targets with more senior executives and being generally at the disposal of my team to make sure that they can be as successful as they can. That means engaging with them and helping bridge a network gap by connecting them to other people so that we can achieve our goals.

RIX: What do you think led you from studying engineering to now being the head of Adecco analytics at a global staffing firm?

EB: Well, I think the difference between engineering and analytics is not a big jump, but I certainly didn’t study analytics at university, but always had an immense interest in the role of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) in the world now and in the years to come. A global staffing firm though, I must admit the CEO for One Month program really captured me. And that program is enormously genuine. Once you get into the company and you see that this feeling that young people can add value to what we do and how seriously that’s taken from our branches in the fields to the highest levels of executive management, that type of culture and values is what I really loved. And so this really is a company I wanted to start my career in.

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RIX: I really love that answer. So transitioning a bit here, Bullhorn’s recent Global Recruitment Insights & Data (GRID) research found that 84 percent of respondents think global recruitment firms must embrace digital transformation to remain competitive. How will AI change the workforce?

EB: Great question. How will AI change the workforce? Well, I think AI is helping to automate and aid in more and more sophisticated cognitive processes. We see the rise of machines being able to do that, but it will amplify the value adding human centric tasks – the relationships, career counseling in our particular industry, but things that require multidisciplinary thinking and creative thoughts.

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So AI will enormously help increase productivity as we see repetitive tasks being automated and will put a stress on the need for people to think creatively, to think with independent thoughts, to work in teams, and to really make sure that they can differentiate themselves from machines with the soft skills that humans can bring and that machines struggle to do. To do all that though there’s certainly barriers of culture and adoption for that integration to really happen. And then of course, finding all the tech talent to understand artificial intelligence and machine learning is key to making that happen and that real crux will be that boundary, that relationship to where the machine can help and where the value added to the human is.

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RIX: So what is The Adecco Group doing to embrace digital transformation?

EB: Well, obviously digital transformation is a core part of our Perform, Transform, Innovate strategy. It plays a role in making us more productive, having the tools that we need in order to be more productive, but also means making sure that we can have a diverse business and we’re able to provide flexible, efficient solutions to every aspect of the global labor market throughout the economic cycle, which means that we are invested in entirely new digital capabilities such as Veterry, a startup we acquired last year which is for digital permanent placements for professionals. So facilitating the link between the candidates and the clients using a conversational agent, Vicky, has had an enormous success rate. So we’re certainly seeing it as really increasing our productivity by providing a whole new digital solution to our offering.

RIX: That’s really fantastic. How does The Adecco Group use so much data from across the world in all sorts of different formats and regulations as a competitive advantage?

EB: Really good question. I think when it comes to that use of data and how to bring it together and where the competitive advantage is, we’re constantly thinking, What is the right question to be asking? What are the most personal questions that mean the most to our clients and our candidates and how are we going to make sure that we inspire action at the end of that? So getting good communication between the business, our clients, our candidates, and the analytics team is absolutely critical. And then embedding their insights as part of that broader change management digital transformation journey that we were just talking about is absolutely key. And then you’ve got the clever data engineers in the middle to bring that data together. But for us, we really think about, Okay, what’s the question we want to ask and what’s the action we want to inspire? And that’s where the real competitive advantage would be.

RIX: So we’re about 10 months removed from GDPR going into effect. How much of an effect has GDPR had on data regulations?

EB: Well, obviously GDPR is a significant landmark piece of legislation and I think it really just cements values that we’ve always had about the protection of personal data. We are a company that deals with people, we’re an enormously human-centric company in the way that we treat the personal data of our candidates, our clients, and our colleagues as well. It’s always been a massive priority for us, always. So GDPR has just cemented this responsibility that companies need to have when they’re considering personal data, which we really welcome and it’s reflective of what we’ve been doing already.

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RIX: Our GRID research found that 55 percent of respondents believed that artificial intelligence would have a positive impact on candidate and customer engagement. Why is having huge volumes of data to drive decision-making and AI-powered predictive intelligence capabilities important to the recruitment industry?

EB: Yes, it’s certainly important because that traditional model of finding jobs through a physical branch model is increasingly being replaced by technology. You know, we remember the days where you look in the back of the newspaper for a job, you go to a branch, and ask to meet with a consultant. We’re now seeing more connections facilitated by artificial intelligence, conversational agents, chatbots, who can recommend and match candidates to jobs and vice versa. This is certainly a trend we’re seeing and is really important for the recruitment industry and one that we’re really embracing. Also, I think beyond that on the operational side, it’s important from a strategic point of view as well that we are using artificial intelligence to understand the impact of megatrends such as the skills gap, what is going to be the impact of automation, what skills are they going to be using in the future so that we can have a much deeper understanding about how we guide our clients and candidates through the fourth industrial revolution.

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RIX: What is The Adecco Group doing and make sure that AI is ubiquitous throughout the industry?

EB:  We’re experimenting and we tried a number of things and a number of models in order to adopt artificial intelligence within our own business. So we piloted a number of artificially intelligent offerings to source candidates, enrich candidate data, pre-qualify candidates for light industrial work, and engage candidates throughout their journey. We’ve partnered with large tech providers to build an ecosystem around artificial intelligence and machine learning and set up our own digital factory, our own way of producing artificial intelligence and tech solutions in house. And that’s all part of AI being a piece of a wider digital offering. For example, with General Assembly offering digital reskilling, upskilling programs to take people and provide them new skills in those areas. So we’re trying a lot of things and it’s really part of our broader digital offerings.

RIX: Transitioning to the skills shortage and reskilling workers… Our GRID research found that 55 percent of firms thought skills shortages are worse now than compared to five years ago. While 74 percent of firms believed that reskilling workers represented an effective strategy to combat the perennial skills shortage as it would help to create new talent pools, fill key roles, and transform lives.

How is The Adecco Group using data to bridge skills gaps with education programs?

EB: The numbers that you quote there are absolutely compelling. We have estimated that 350 million people will need to be reskilled before 2030, globally. And that is exactly why we acquired General Assembly last year to build this upskilling and reskilling offering into our portfolio as The Adecco Group and they’re absolutely key in executing that. Now the analytics team, who are much closer to the work that I’m influencing,  are working to understand across the market what a job is, how the skills are associated to that job, what skills are increasing in that demand, and how they are decreasing in order to inform General Assembly how they might want to position that in the digital programs. So we’re using multiple parts of the group in order to make sure that we are equipped as a company to serve what will be an enormous need for the world as technology drives a need for reskilling.

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RIX: And lastly, I wanted to talk a little bit about social media with you because that’s grown immensely in the recruitment industry. Our recent Global Recruitment Insights & Data (GRID) research found that the second most common industry trend recruitment experts are interested in behind automation and artificial intelligence is social media and how to leverage it for opportunities within recruitment. I read that social media “wasn’t your jam” as you put it when you began your journey as Global CEO for One Month. Has that changed since being in your current role?

EB: Well I can’t believe I used that phrase. [both laughing]. Certainly, social media is super important for me to stay up to date and share my opinion. So although I wasn’t using it so much in the past it’s now a fairly regular part of my life.

RIX: And why do you think leveraging social media is so important for recruitment firms?

EB: So I think there’s the tactical piece of enabling communication, being able to target it to clients and what opportunities we have for them. Of course, from an analytics perspective as well, we can use social media to understand the latest trends and sentiment so that we can tailor our offering. But I think really importantly it helps us drive a conversation. When we’re debating about the future of work we want to flag a particular issue. We make it clear that it’s not just one group of people that can make a difference here. So it’s really an approach that requires governments, individuals, and businesses and social media gives us a wonderful platform to drive that conversation to get that message out, to get feedback from our audiences as well about the future of work and what we can do collectively between businesses, governments, and individuals to make the future work for everyone, which is our company mission.

RIX: I love that. Well, it was wonderful being able to connect with you from all the way around the world.

EB: Brilliant. Really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for having me.

RIX: Absolutely. Thanks for coming on.

What do 2,000+ recruitment professionals say are the top priorities, challenges, and trends that matter to them in 2019? Find out at the brand new site for global recruitment insights and data.