Eightfold – 2021 Foresight – HR Tech Trends that Will Shape the Industry in the Year Ahead with Kamal Ahluwalia

Kamal Ahluwalia, President at eightfold.ai

On today’s show, we have Kamal here from eightfold.ai – a wonderful company that I’ve been tracking for quite some time. He’s here to discuss the HR Tech trends for 2021 and how they will shape the industry in the coming year.

I can’t wait to see what we unpack with this show.

Tune in to learn about Eightfold, predictions for the coming year, as well as the difference between skill and capability.

Listening time: 34 minutes



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William 0:02
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we actually have on Kamal from Eightfold. And Eightfold is a wonderful company that I’ve been tracking for way more – more time than I care to admit publicly. But he’s, he’s actually – we’re gonna be talking – and the conversation is going to be about HR tech trends – 2021’s HR tech trends, and I can’t wait to kind of see what we unpack with the show. So, Kamal, would you do us a favor? And both introduce yourself and introduce Eightfold for those that aren’t aware of y’all’s company?

Kamal 1:11
Absolutely. And thanks for having me. Sure. So I’m the president here. And at Eightfold, the goal, and the mission is to solve employment for everyone in the world: “right career for everyone.” And today, we have essentially have a single AI-powered platform for all talent. For employees, for candidates, for contractors, and for citizens. And I think less than three years since we came out of stealth mode. We have customers in four continents using our platform in 15 languages and users in 110 countries. So I think the interest in adoption has been very dramatic and global. And so, delighted to actually get into the details.

William 2:01
Absolutely. Well, one of the things is, as we’ve chatted in the past is AI and talent acquisition, actually government, AI, and talent acquisition. So why don’t we start off with that – what’s – what do you? What do you see that being a trend?

Kamal 2:18
Absolutely, I think the fingers crossed. First order of business is getting COVID under control, right? The vaccines, the distribution, so that the health aspect is under control. And soon as we get there, hopefully, it’s in the next couple of months. The next big problem will be to address unemployment and underemployment. It’s a massive issue. And it’s clearly secondary, secondary issue to health. But as soon as that happens, because all of us sitting at home is one thing because we can at least get on with our daily lives without having to go out. But so many businesses, so many individuals are impacted, because of this shutdown, that we have to get everyone back to work. So that brings in the role of government at the state level and federal level, that how do we get the economy going again. And our ability to do that at scale is going to be very helpful.

And that essentially, number one is last year, actually we focused our attention on using all our capabilities on matching people to jobs, to actually help people who are impacted by COVID, both companies and individuals. That led to us actually understanding what a self-service platform should be doing. How to actually give a consumer-grade experience. And one example I’ll share with you is this gentleman Joshua in Philadelphia, he used to be a barista at Starbucks, right? And in March, April, May timeframe, they were all shut down. So he was given this opportunity by Starbucks, hey, go build your profile on the Eightfold talent exchange and see if you can find other opportunities. So he did that to give a few minutes and he played around, saw what was available, made a few updates to his profile that “Oh, I didn’t add this. Let me add this other thing also I did.” And then he found a couple of opportunities. One as a manager at Walgreens, which was the next thing for him. And there was another one at a different company. I won’t give you the name. The company that’s not to be named never got back to him. Walgreens did. He interviewed. Following week he started as a manager at Walgreens. Right, so that speed is what we want to offer. Plus it was the next step in his career progression.

William 4:59
I love that. I love the example but also love the idea of going from one kind of retail outlet to another he might not have ever even thought about a career as a pharmacy or a small box or big box retailer, he might not have even thought about that. But I actually love that story. And I’m sure you deal with this day in and day out when you deal with talking to folks, especially practitioners about AI. What should they be, you know, what, what should they be looking for? When they think about AI? Like, what, how do you guide them? Because you’re, you know, obviously you’re, you know probably more about this than then you’d care to admit publicly. But the average practitioner in both HR and talent acquisition doesn’t. They’re not, they’re not down in the weeds with AI. How do you guide them conversationally to like what the outcomes of AI can do?

Kamal 5:56
Yep. So good question. And there are a couple of things. Three years ago, when we started to talk about this a lot. They were a lot of meetings where we would walk in, and people who are essentially very of us, right? Where are they coming in to take away our jobs? And I’m very candid with everyone. No, nobody’s taking away your job. But your job is going to change. And not just your job and my job, everybody’s job is going to change in the next few years because of AI. The way to look at it is this. And I talk to everyone that we meet, right that are you enjoying hunting down all the potential candidates one by one, right chasing them and the evenings and all the weekends to schedule a call. And then your own people can say they need to reschedule. And then you have to start all over again. I mean, and some of our friends have said this is the soul-wrenching part of the job, right? Nobody enjoys it. And now with COVID remote work is now acceptable. So earlier, you were thinking of people within 30 miles of where the office is now is anywhere, anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world. So think about this, that just like with whether it’s UberEats, Doordash, all this stuff, even Domino’s Pizza earlier, the simple thing was how to give you that visibility into where your pizza is. Or if you’re ordering a car from Uber or Lyft. simply saying this is where I need to go. This is how much they’ll tell you this how much it will cost, the car will be there in eight minutes. visibility, and just taking care of all the other simple things. And when you get to your destination, you get out and walk away.

Now imagine this on the candidate experience, because that’s what the goal is right? Everybody talks about it all companies, oh, this employer brand and all this. So let me paint a picture for you.

You send out sit down with the hiring manager there. Okay, what are we trying to do? Right? In 10-15 minutes, you have created the job description. And both of you are looking at what’s available in your talent network. And of those people who fit that profile? How many are of diversity candidate bucket whether it’s women, whether it’s people of different ethnicity, whatever you’re looking for? Does this make sense? No, not enough? What can we tweak? Are we asking for too much will the Lexus be right? So everything that you want can be done in 10-15 minutes because all the data is available to you. Then you say, Okay, let me see who I want to actually contact for this. And you send out the email. And based on your job description, the platform is telling you to send it out to these few dozen or a couple of 100 folks because they do look like they will respond to you.

So you send that out. Now, the small tidbit is today, our open rates are 70% plus response rates are 30, 40, 50%. Right? So very high response rate.

Now, look at the candidate that somebody gets your email, they open it, okay, that looks interesting, because it is relevant to what they’re interested in doing. They click on it, they see the job description. And on the right, the system is telling them that, hey, if you let me know your profile, or I already have your profile, here’s why we think you’re a great fit for this. That goes a long ways and building confidence versus letting the person figure out what job and why.

Right, so the system is selling. And not only are you great fit for these seven reasons. But in the past when we hired for these roles, those folks came from these companies with these titles and these capabilities. And oh, by the way, we noticed that you went to this school or you worked in this company here some other people or you’re a veteran here, some other veterans in our companies and look how they’re doing. So everything that your best recruiter would do. And what comes naturally to them is now being done for every single candidate that you’re looking at. And when they apply, it only takes another few minutes. A

nd if it’s a high-priority job, the first interview that needs to happen probably with the recruiter, the options are already available to the candidate, right there. They take this 30-minute slot, and we’ll schedule the time. So in five to 10 minutes, that person on the outside has the first interview scheduled, when in the past, this may happen may never happen, especially with big brands, people keep applying. And they never hear back, right? This candidate experience is what defines what that employer brand is.

And what we have seen outcomes, right? Our customers are getting, let’s just talk about D&I – 30% improvement in black Americans and Hispanics applying, 90% improvement in women applying. More broadly, 80% of the applicants are applying to the right job. Because all the guesswork is taken out of the mix. The volume of applicants has doubled. The number of hires from your career site has gone up by 20-30%. And that’s the cheapest and the fastest way to hire. Right? And then improvement in diversity across the board is 30 to 40% improvement in diversity hires.

If this is now available to you, why wouldn’t you take it?

William 11:38
It is kind of an IQ test on some level. You know, if you don’t, if you want to do, and you mentioned, you mentioned it really nicely, it’s like if you want to do the really super tactical scheduling and soul-sucking parts of the job, that’s probably an indicator that maybe you’re not long for that job. Because that’s – there’s just an easier way. And plus, the way that you kind of came at it with a candidate experience is, Hey, this is a better experience for the people that are interacting with your brand. So why would you? You know, again, why would you do something that would, you know, take away from a better experience, a much more refined experience.

So first of all, thanks for breaking that down, because you eloquently kind of take took me through and took the audience are kind of examples of, you know, what AI can do, you know, is doing and can do for folks, let’s, let’s pivot to the what your take on the future of work and the future of hiring is?

Kamal 12:41
Absolutely, I think that one is a lot more clear. Now, the future of work is going to be hybrid. Remote will absolutely be a big part of the equation. And future of work is going to be diverse, and the companies will be more open to having a mix of full-time employees and contract contractors working together.

So that blend of Where can I find talent? Because the other thing that I keep hearing across a lot of our large customers is it’s almost same, right? Everybody’s talking about I need more digital talent. Okay, what does that mean? On one side, it may actually be data scientists or all that stuff. But what does this mean? Because guess what, what you’re looking for is not growing on trees outside. There aren’t that many people with that kind of talent. The number one imperative is now let’s first look at our employees and see if they are close enough to fitting that bill and give them the opportunity to grow first. And then we go outside when needed. And the aperture is now much wider. Especially for big brands, a lot of them get half a million plus resumes a year, and most of them are ignored. And but now if you’re able to actually look at everyone, within seconds, give them the feedback, and then invite them to add on to the talent network so that everybody is considered by your company all the time. And that’s the volume and scale is going to be very different going forward.

So I think the future of work is going to be hybrid, remote, diverse, and more and more hires will be made for potential and capabilities. What are people capable of doing? Because the fundamental issue and I see, look, the one thing I’m excited about last year was the need to become more diverse is not going away. Right? The CEOs are genuine in the intent and commitment that, Okay, let’s do something. Now the thing that’s coming out is okay, how, because if we keep looking for people of diversity background who have done it before, there aren’t that many who can do it. That number is much much bigger.

So we actually built a capability matrix to actually figure that out that learn from a global data set to understand what people are capable of doing, it should be data-driven, not somebody sitting in a corner determining what is this and what is that. Right, but focus on learnability. And understand the context. All of us are not get good fit for all the roles in small company, big company, all of us already, we all have our sweet spot. But then none of us should be determining what somebody else is capable of doing. If anybody put their mind to it. And they have the intent. They’ll do it.

William 15:34
Right. How do you – real quick Sorry. The learnability. How do you assess for that? How does one have that you? How does one assess for that?

Kamal 15:45
Great question. So thing is, underneath the hood, right, we have looked at almost 60 – 70% of all knowledge workers in the world, that has led to a lot of our AI models being trained on a global data set. Plus, underneath the cover, it’s 1.4 million unique skills and growing, as well as half a million titles across all industries already normalized. So when you talk about a specific skill, that who can learn this, what we are seeing from our data set is what are some of the adjacent skills that others know? And how close it is? And how long that skill has been in the market? For example, blockchain? Right, right. If you’re looking for someone with 10 years of experience, and is an expert in blockchain, well, guess what, you’re not gonna find anyone?

William 16:34
So 20 years of – 20 years of Bitcoin?

Kamal 16:36
Exactly, exactly. None of that is happening. So all of that, if it’s available to you, it makes the learnability very easy. And learnability is within three to six months, right? So with our data set, we are able to actually give you that insight that yeah, this person is very close to being able to pick up this other thing also. And that is the essence that now moving forward, we will be doing more and more capability-based architecture, right? There are job descriptions, people’s profiles, all of it. And that unlocks more for everyone.

William 17:09
In your mind, as you as you think about the capability and competency. Because HR is kind of come from a world of competency models. Do you see those being very similar or kind of merged together?

Kamal 17:25
They’re slightly two different dimensions. Yeah. The competency is fine. But what I see is there’s a lot of rigidity to the competency models that are in all of them are in that same stovepipe, right, that if I’m starting as an entry-level person, what do I need to do to further manager level, then director level? All that is fine. There’s the usefulness to that, that doesn’t help you move across functions. So the biggest thing that you need is the transferability of skills.

That if I am good in the customer-facing side, what else? Where else can I take it? If I have a good understanding of the product and the technology? Where else can I take it. And that’s what a lot of our customers have done very well. The ability to move people between functions cross-function. And when that thing gets to 15, 20, 25%, that’s a big deal. Because that, again, the best thing you can do for diversity candidates, give them more opportunities to learn and grow. Because a lot of us will happily take that first thing that’s made available to us when we’re coming out of college. However, that may not be we have what’s best for us over a period of time.

William 18:39
Right. So one of the things I want to backtrack on because we’re going to go deeper into capabilities in a sec is the hybrid model. Yeah. You know, there it’s been, it’s been discussed, like, ad nauseum for the last couple of months. But you know, is that remote forever? Is it remote partially? Or is there an office in hotelling space? How do you think, I’m not really thinking about Eightfold, but how do you think your customers are going to make the decisions on what hybrid model to adopt?

Kamal 19:14
I’ll give you my opinion…

William 19:16
Yeah yeah – We’re comfortable there.

Kamal 19:19
Yeah, exactly. Firstly, our playbook is all about building trust with our customers. That is built better in person, than over a zoom call. And when you know someone that it’s okay to continue that dialogue in this digital format, but when you’re getting to know people, there’s a lot more that’s happening with each other. So to me, that hybrid is that none of us actually sort of as we’ve been on the road a fair bit. We are struggling with this imprisonment. And most of it is because there’s a better way to work with each other, build trust and collaboration because the other thing that I’m seeing is a lot of our conversations over the last year have degraded to become very transactional.

You just talking to the other person to get something done. And that little bit of the niceties that all of us want, and not to waste time, but to actually build that trust with that personal touch goes a long way because in hard times, that’s what helps you get through the tough times. Right. And that’s the part that the hybrid part is key, that to some extent, we have to, first of all, get past the health scenario. Now the good part is all of us are forced to understand that work can still happen when you’re remote. So think in terms of flexibility, more than the hard and fast rule on who needs to be in office and who doesn’t need to be in office, right? If you give people flexibility, because the thing that I’m seeing on these endless zoom calls is families where both mother and father are working, right? That’s hard. Yeah. Everybody doesn’t have separate rooms for everyone and the kids, right. And then you have kids who are in school, working at home, they’re having the zoom issues, it’s like you have just too much going on, where you have to give them the breathing room that yeah, if you need to change your – the hours that you’re working, change it because – find the quiet time. So you can do justice to both your family and to the world. Right. Everybody wants to be successful. So I think that flexibility and resilience and agility will be more important in the go-forward model. Now, I’ll give you a tidbit.

This week, we will cease to have a physical office, because our prior lease was expiring last May. And everybody was sent home. So nobody was in office. So we didn’t get into the new office touch. Wish you could have that money back. We did. We did. We didn’t sign up for the new lease. Right. So we did have the money back. And now we are actually letting our office space go because nobody’s going in right now. Yeah. And we will, over the summer, we’ll move into our new office space. But and it’s you know, it’s okay. Everybody’s comfortable with it. Yeah, we won’t have an office. So where you gonna go.

William 22:21
It’s, it’s fascinating. And I think both of us like looking at stuff like this over a longer period of time, it’s going to be interesting, just to kind of see how people, you know, adopt different models and try different things. But I think one of the essence of the that I really liked, he says you, you meet people where they are, ultimately your immediate customers, where you are you gonna meet your partners, whether you are you’re gonna meet your employees and your candidate, you’re gonna meet them where they are. And so that that’s going to create a, you know, I think the term I’ve heard used is radical flexibility, which is not necessarily HR’s. That’s not necessarily been in our, our skillset, at least historically. So, so good, we get to learn something new. The last thing I know that I want to get your take on is and we you touched on it just a little bit is hiring for capability versus skills. So let’s, let’s go a little bit deeper there. And one of the questions I wanted to ask you before, but I want to wait until now is okay, so we Screen – not screen – we test for that, we find out where people are, we can assess for, you know, their aptitude and attitude and all that other stuff. Then there’s obviously there’s going to be training and development skills development, there’s going to be kind of putting people on a path or harvesting talent, rather than buying talent on an open market, then we’re going to have to have pieces in play, that from the interview all the way to onboarding and all the way through the lifecycle. We’re going to be constantly, you know, training and developing them as talent. And we’ve not been historically great at that.

Kamal 24:07

William 24:09
And some of it goes back to the 90s, where CFOs would say, Well, what if I train them and they leave? Yeah. What if you – What if you don’t train them and they stay? So what’s your take for – first of all, let’s go back to your original thought of hiring for capabilities versus skills. And we’ll kind of get into the how do we make that better part?

Kamal 24:30
Yeah, and the two are interrelated. Because the thing here is another key. Let me ask you something. How many followers do you have and how many people listen to your podcasts?

William 24:42
Oh, good. Gosh, more than I know, less than probably it should be. But I’m one of those people that I never look at numbers. So I’m probably a horrible example of what you’re going for. I never looked backward. I’ve never listened to a show of mine.

Kamal 25:02
Okay, safe to say it’s thousands to tens of thousands?

William 25:05
Oh, yeah. Right.

Kamal 25:06
And, why do they listen to your podcast? I think that is you – the AI side, you know, up and down, you are the constant.

William 25:14
Yeah. And I think they like, the curiosity that I have, at least that’s what people have told me that they enjoy my – seeing my brain work, seeing curiosity, you know, kind of on the high wire?

Kamal 25:26
And what’s your personality? Like? How do you come across to them? What do you like?

William 25:31
Um, you know, I think I think I’m likable. I think I’m just myself, like, I’m the same guy, we’re very one dimensional, you know, the guy you meet, you know, at a conference in Singapore is the same guy that goes and has coffee, you know, at the local Starbucks, there’s no difference. So I’m very one-dimensional in that regard, that I don’t have multiple kinds of layers or personalities. I’m just the same guy, very curious about HR tech, recruiting, and HR, and about how to make things better. So I’m kind of one of those people that are constantly said, challenging the status quo. And I think people enjoy that. They might not like the output, they may disagree about that. So but they like the path that I took, you know, take them on, if you will.

Kamal 26:18
So just in the last 30 – 60 seconds, you gave me insight into you that I doubt I’ll see if I see a one-paragraph description anywhere about you.

William 26:31
It’s not on my LinkedIn profile.

Kamal 26:34
Exactly. And that’s the essence of the difference between skills and capability.

William 26:39
Oh, that’s cool.

Kamal 26:41
Right? You’re an articulate person, you’re curious, you understand a lot of things very well. But then what are you capable of doing, you are capable of actually having a very engaging following for 1000s and 1000s of people in that domain? That’s the essence that all of us have, we are all capable of doing a lot more. But I keep trying to bring it down to can you speak? Can you write? Can you do Python? can you do this? Are you black, blue, green? All that is relevant. Sorry. But that does not define any of us. Right? And the more we actually respect that, the more we see what is this person capable of doing. And that’s what we’re doing at scale, right? All these use cases are just use cases.

William 27:26
What I love about that sentiment is, you also open up the doors for a lot of people that maybe the doors weren’t open.

Kamal 27:34
That’s the key. You just don’t understand it. We keep trying to put them in a box, and there’s more to them than we give them credit for.

William 27:43
You know, this gets back to a thought I had years ago, I studied art history, as my undergrad. And, you know, the Renaissance, the Italian Renaissance put out a couple of people that could they were great at multiple things, Da Vinci and Michelangelo, right – two great examples. They weren’t just great painters. Great architects are great, you know, all kinds of different things. But you know, from that moment to now, roughly 500 years later, it’s like, we won’t allow people to be great at more than one thing. Yeah.

That’s crazy. I mean, it’s just crazy to me. And I think that’s one of the things you’re unlocking is like, you’re much more capable, a) you’re much more capable, but also the people that are around you are much more capable, and the candidates coming in the front door. They’re also much more capable.

Kamal 28:32
Exactly. And we just stuck with our orthodoxy, right, even with Eightfold three years, right. Today, we are doing we’re doing talent acquisition, we’re doing talent management, career pathing, contract work, contingent workforce, and workforce exchange for states and federal agencies. And all through people keep saying how can you be doing talent management? When you started doing this, this customer talked about this? How could you be? So yes, they can’t fathom that. They can be a single platform for all time. And guess what? It’s not about the silos and use cases, it’s about people, you need to understand people and jobs. That’s the constant.

William 29:09
One of the things I typically tell people because I’ve studied sourcing, now placement software, I typically tell people like listen, recruiting is the center of HR. If you get recruiting done, well, then everything else becomes easier. Succession planning, comp, performance, all these things, that historical stuff around managing talent, become easier. But if you get recruiting wrong, like if there’s something fundamentally flawed in your recruiting, then all that stuff, though, that other stuff becomes harder.

Kamal 29:40
Yep, absolutely.

William 29:42
So so last thing to get your take on is back to the idea of how do we make people better. So if we can open up that aperture, like you said, and say, Okay, we’re going to look at capability. Yes and skills, we’re not going to ignore skills. We’re just gonna look at capability. How do we then develop them? How do we kind of invest in developing people from the moment they become an employee? But maybe even before that, how do we, how do we, it’s a relentless pursuit of unraveling and making their capability realistic?

Kamal 30:17
Yeah, and great question. So we’re doing a couple of things in that lot of investment in low engagement models into meaning how do you get a self-service environment for the employee. And if we just focus on double click on that, there are three ways people like to learn. One is actually during the course of what you’re doing every day. And so that hopefully, you’re building new skills and capability right there. Second is from mentors, people that inspire you people that you look up to, and actually see what you can learn and follow in their footsteps, all that. And the third one is actual class, right? It’s 70/20/10. The bulk of it comes from the actual work you do. And what we are looking to do is get them into the constant learning motion, so that you don’t have to go out episodically people are coming to you, and opportunities are coming to you that may be of interest. And whenever you’re ready, you can engage. But then you also see how others in the organization are growing, because they are spending that little bit of effort to learn new things, how to get alignment done for everyone. You mentioned, succession planning is not a new thing, right. But typically, it only happens for maybe five people in the company or 5% of the company, right? When at 10 to 20%, attrition rate everywhere, anybody could be gone, and you need to replace, right. So think of pipeline for everyone in your company, that if you lose someone immediately, okay, you have already as talented people to come in. So that’s how you need to be thinking in terms of scale. And then the outside world should be about 200 times your talent network should be at least 200 times your number of employees. And that leads to millions for mid to large organization, when you have that. And I’ll give you a couple of stats, a lot of our customers are doing 80 to 90% of the sourcing, sometimes even more from their own talent network, right. And they don’t have to pay anything for that. It’s they already know the SEC. Second interesting data point – 30 to 40% of hires are happening from repeat applicants.

So if you don’t know how to handle that volume, you basically wasting money trying to go after the same people, you know, whether it’s with LinkedIn or this or that, it’s like, they’re coming to you, and you don’t know how to handle that. Right. And that’s how you can change the mindset of how to become more effective, how to do more, with less, eliminate all the noise, and find the best people for every role all the time. So there’s a much, much better when we already have numbers. I mean, we can get into more details, but they’re all over our websites. I mean, if customers are loving, that they can get on with doing useful work than just chasing the insane stuff.

William 33:08
I love that. There are two things that are in particular, you describe learning in a way of it’s it’s not batch, it’s kind of a continuous kind of microlearning and putting people in front of learning experiences nonstop. That way, they don’t even have to think about it. It’s just happening. They’re learning. They’re continuous learning, which again, kind of deals with expanding their capability for folks. Even when they’re not thinking about their capabilities. The company is thinking about their capabilities and how to expand them and make them better. I could talk to you all day, but I know that you have 18,000 other things to do today. Kamal, thank you so much for coming on the show and thank you for kind of give us some insight into what you think are some of the trends that are going to be facing us in the years to come.

Kamal 33:57
Absolutely, and really thankful you gave me the option to join you and enjoy the conversation.

William 34:03
100%. And thanks to everyone for listening. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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