At its core, digital transformation is all about people. I enable our teams to develop products and drive strategies that have an impact on the way people work — to change how work is done at scale.
On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Joe from PwC about upskilling 2022 grads.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 26 minutes
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Announcer: 00:00 This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup,
William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, it’s William Tincup. And you’re listening to the recruiting daily podcast. Today. We have Joe on from PWC, and our topic today is upskilling the 2022 grads. And I can’t wait to talk to Joe about it. Joe, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and what you do at PWC?
Joe Atkinson: 00:53 Sure. Well, I’m great to be with you. I’m Joe Atkinson. I serve as the chief products and technology officer at PWC. I’ll be celebrating 29 years with the firm next week, actually. So by that measure, I’m probably an old dog around the firm. But the firm’s been around longer than me, so I consider it even.
William Tincup: 01:11 That’s fair. That’s fair. So upskilling. Now, we’re already talking about the ’22 grads, which of course, it’s May, June-ish. And so you got a bunch of folks coming out of, yes, two years of COVID related college experience, which is interesting in and of itself. There’s a lot of remote learning that was mixed into that. First of all, what are we seeing from our ’22 grads?
Joe Atkinson: 01:42 Well, I think the first thing you see is it’s a very talented group of people who have been through a lot. To your point, William, they’ve navigated a college landscape and a university landscape that’s different than what I certainly had to navigate, and frankly, anybody’s had to navigate. And yet here they are. They’ve managed to come through that time. They’ve managed to get their degrees, and they are in the job hunt, or they’ve landed their jobs. So from my perspective that generation of talent has a lot to celebrate about what they’ve accomplished.
William Tincup: 02:11 So how do we look at experiences? Because historically, we would look at undergraduates, and maybe even graduates, with maybe externships, or internships, or experiences that they had would. Obviously, we look at GPA, and classes they took, and all this kind of stuff, things that we might care about. But this isn’t the same. Especially internships, unless you did them virtually you don’t have that resume that, I guess, you and I would’ve historically looked at in college. Well, you did all these things while you were in college, as well. So, what’s your take on experiences first, before we get to skills?
Joe Atkinson: 02:57 Yeah. Look, I think the amazing thing is how many experiences this talent has managed to gather, given the circumstances that they faced. And kudos to a lot of companies, by the way, who figured out how to deliver those internship and externship experiences in different ways, in virtual ways. And we could probably talk the whole podcast about whether that’s an equal experience, a better experience, a worse experience, but nonetheless, it’s an experience that they’re all building on. So I think they’re bringing a ton to the table. And again, they bring a set of experiences that has created a resiliency in this generation that I think is different. It’s not to suggest that everybody has come through unscathed. I think there’s a lot of challenges for all of us coming through the pandemic, frankly. But they’ve come through and they’re standing very tall in my experience, and feeling pretty good about what they’ve accomplished.
William Tincup: 03:50 So why upskilling is in the interest of companies to offer gen Z? First of all, why do they need it? And what’s the perception from the candidate? What would be the employee’s perspective? And then also, what’s the perspective for the company?
Joe Atkinson: 04:09 Well, let me start with why they need it. And I think probably the more important piece is why they’re asking for it, because they are asking for it. They expect it of employers today. I think the reason they expected from employers today is that they know as well as any generation coming out of college that what they’ve learned is a baseline. We often talk about college and university as a place you learn how to learn.
William Tincup: 04:32 Right.
Joe Atkinson: 04:33 And I think this generation knows that as well as anybody. And now coming in, the question is … Then you connect it with all the other macro trends. You connect it with the pace of technology. There are so many pithy ways to talk about the pace of technology. The reason there’s so many is because they all happen to be true. The pace is so fast, and it’s faster than most of us have experienced in our lifetime.
Joe Atkinson: 04:55 So as a result, these students coming into the workforce recognize that the skills they have today, the knowledge they have today, the tech talent they bring to the table today, the reality is, it is aging on the vine the moment that you get it in place. And I think the ability for an employee to look to an employer and see that the employer is committed to helping to continue to cultivate that vine versus let it just die on the vine, I think that should be an expectation of every student looking for a potential employer.
William Tincup: 05:31 Yeah. It’s almost the questions out of the gate. I’ve accumulated some skills up until now. I will obviously accumulate more skills. But it’s almost like as you were talking about, I was thinking about Moore’s law and as it, as it relates to computers and computer power. It’s almost like we need to kind of think about Moore’s law and as it relates to skills, consumable skills that we need today, tomorrow, next week, next year, et cetera. So I get why companies … Because again, it’s almost like … I have a bunch of my friends that have written books, and I’ve written a couple in the past, and what I’ve told them, I’m like, the very moment that you’ve published is the very moment it’s out of date.
Joe Atkinson: 06:18 Yeah.
William Tincup: 06:19 So, in a way we’re thinking about skills in the same way.
Joe Atkinson: 06:22 Yes.
William Tincup: 06:23 You’ve been through school. Congratulations. You’ve got a degree. Congratulations. And your skills are almost out of date, day one.
Joe Atkinson: 06:33 Yep. Yeah. It’s funny, the Moore’s law reference, and I agree with you. I think the reality is we’re all out of date today.
William Tincup: 06:40 Right.
Joe Atkinson: 06:40 It doesn’t matter whether we’re coming out of college or what we’re doing in our day job. We know there’s something new out there to learn. There’s another one of the laws, I always like to talk about, which is one that Amara coined, where he talked about most people will overestimate the impact of technology in the short term, and underestimate it in the long term. And if you think about that combined with the pace of technology change, all of that pressure, the V of that pressure, if you will, is landing on the backs of students and employees, frankly, across the career progression. So that ability to help people navigate through that, one, I would characterize it as nearly an employee obligation. We sometimes talk about it as a new 401k. It should be part of the standard benefit package for companies.
Joe Atkinson: 07:26 I recognize there’s affordability, and there’s challenges, and there’s nature of different businesses. But the reality is that those pressures are all coming to rest on the backs of our employees. And if we’re going to equip them to navigate through that, not only on our behalf, but on their own behalf, to put them in a position to succeed over their career, I think helping them recognize that reality that your skills are constantly needing reinvestment, and that the reason they need reinvestment is because we’re just beginning to see the massive implications of some of these technologies on our businesses.
William Tincup: 07:57 Right. So before we get to some of the things that you’re seeing in upskilling, I wanted to ask you what you’re seeing and soft skills versus hard skills.
Joe Atkinson: 08:09 So the soft skills arena, I think, is … It is a constant, constant discussion. For as long as I have been recruiting talent, and hopefully helping people along in their careers, I’ve been saying, as many leaders have said, that you can have all the technology skill, you can have all the technical skill that you want, but if it’s lacking in the soft skills to help other people see the value of your skills, help other people develop their own skills, help other people work in collaborative environments, and communicate, and all the things that you see, then the most technical skills … It’s not that they wouldn’t have any value because there are places that very, very deeply technical people can focus just on their technical knowledge. But in most business settings and most environments, you’re going to need both.
Joe Atkinson: 08:56 And I think this generation has a little bit of a challenge there. Not because they’ve been on Zoom calls, but more so because the rest of us are figuring out how to reengage in the offices, and on the Zoom calls, and on the Meets, and the Teams, or whatever platform you’re using. That’s a change that the entire culture of businesses has been going through. So the way that we used to help people develop their soft skills may not be as available to this generation of talent as it was to their predecessors, which means there is a bit of an onus on them to figure out how to close the gap, and on us to help them do that.
William Tincup: 09:34 And do you think that’s a reason for some companies and some executives wanting to return to the office?
Joe Atkinson: 09:42 I do. I think that is probably one of the primary reasons. And if you look at collaboration and creativity, it’s very difficult to do that without being in the room and sparking the human connection as to how that happens. And if you look at mentoring and coaching and sponsorship, it is not impossible to do that virtually, but it’s harder to do it virtually. And I think most executives look at that and say, “Well, therefore, ergo, the answer is get people back into the office.” The question is, how often do they need to be in the office to accomplish those very important things? And I think it goes a little bit to the way that we’re all working differently today. I think we’re all figuring that out. We’re figuring out the right balance between focused work, productive work.
Joe Atkinson: 10:25 I think most of us would argue, we get a lot of work done when we’re remote in our homes, or in our remote workspaces, whatever it might be. But there is a missing piece. I love spending time with people in the office. I love the unplanned, unscripted connection points where you learn something about somebody, and you figure out a way to help, or they figure out a way to help you. I think that’s the piece that executives are trying to solve with the return to the office strategies. The question remains, how much is enough to get that benefit without undermining the benefits that we’ve all unexpectedly seen from remote work at large.
William Tincup: 11:02 Right. And every company and every leader is going to see that a little bit differently. The talent, you hear the revolt is they’re remote forever, going to digital nomad, never going to go into an office. And when you hear this conversation, you’re like, well, that’s fine. You can do that. But you almost do that to some degree at your own peril of learning some of the softer skills. And again, you said it masterfully, you can still do mentorship virtually. It’s just harder.
Joe Atkinson: 11:39 It’s harder. It’s just harder.
William Tincup: 11:41 It’s just harder. You can do it, but it’s just harder. So, when you think about upskilling, a part of this is assessing talent, and understanding auditing, understanding where they are, where the organization needs them to be, what their skills-
Joe Atkinson: 11:54 Yep.
William Tincup: 11:55 Where their skills need to grow. And then I would assume that some of this is tied to training and development or learning and development, et cetera, putting them on a path.
Joe Atkinson: 12:02 Yes.
William Tincup: 12:03 If all that’s true, give us some ideas on how, in practical ways, that happens.
Joe Atkinson: 12:11 Well, I think a big part of it for us, at least … and most organizations that I’ve spent time with I think come to similar conclusions. For us, a big part of it is understanding both what the organization needs and what the individual desires in their career. Obviously, it’s great when those two things match up, and that’s the easy street. But when it doesn’t match up, sometimes it’s about helping the individual unlock for themselves where opportunities lie in their career development. And I always say, if you had asked me … You didn’t invite me, William, when I was a 22 year old coming out of college, so I knew nothing, and you were right not to invite me, by the way. But if you think of what that experience is like coming out, all of us have the challenge that we just don’t know what we don’t know.
Joe Atkinson: 12:56 There are whole roles and opportunities and career paths that are available to individuals, that if you don’t know somebody who has had them, or you don’t have an opportunity to connect with somebody who can share more about them, you simply wouldn’t know they would exist, and therefore would never aspire to them. So to your point on the development paths and learning paths, I think that pathway understanding of here are the ways that your career can play out, I think that’s a really important part of upskilling individuals to get them to see the possibilities of their career. And then the second piece is, if you see your career playing out in step two, and three, and four, or whatever those pathways might be, what are the skills that are going to be necessary for you to take each of those steps?
Joe Atkinson: 13:37 Most careers build on skills. The skills you need at the beginning of your career are foundational, but they may not actually get applied quite as often as you need in your mid or your later career. And so, helping people understand the connection between skills and those learning and development pathways, I think, is an obligation, again, of employers. But I also think it’s not just the understanding. It’s establishing and building them, and being transparent about what they are, so that individual choice component, what do I choose to do, and how do I choose to engage, and how do I choose to grow my career with this organization, that, that piece is cared for as much as the organizational need is.
William Tincup: 14:11 I love that. So, college recruiting and the way that we’ve thought of college recruiting, in some cases it is different, obviously, the way that we … Fundamentally, it’s different now than it was before the pandemic. But if we’re looking at folks as we are with upskilling, we’re looking for potential, in a way. We’re not looking necessarily at finite skills that they have. It’s great that they have a college degree and they’ve shown the ability to accumulate some skills. That’s great. But it seems like we’re hiring for the potential or the potentiality of them building on those skills. And if so, then it seems like we would be hiring differently, or at least going to different schools, or looking at different degrees. What’s your take on that? College recruiting was broken before 2019, so we don’t necessarily have to go back to 2019. However, if we’re going to be hiring for potentiality and how to pull skills forward, how do we do that?
Joe Atkinson: 15:25 Yeah, I think that is a really, really interesting challenge for all of us. I’ll make a couple of observations, and I’ll tell you the way that we’re thinking about it. I couldn’t agree with you more that the recruiting models … It’s a little bit of multiple pathways, and some of them are dead ends. If you’re in certain practices, certain practice areas, certain majors, certain colleges, certain universities, certain programs, I think a lot of those students would say, “Oh, I think college recruiting works great. I’ve gotten exposure to 15 different employers, and I have great opportunities. And all these things are terrific.” If you’re not in one of those, if you’re in a university or college that doesn’t have those traditional relationships built in, if you will, if you’re in a non-traditional pathway that isn’t a business major, an accounting major, an IT major, a cybersecurity major, the ones that the employers will go find you wherever you are right now, but if you’re in one of the others, then I think your point on how do you identify and develop a view on potential is incredibly, incredibly important.
Joe Atkinson: 16:27 And for us at PWC, what we’ve really been focused on is broadening out that lens about where do we recruit and who do we recruit? I’m a proud product of a state school, and I love the state school, and I would connect with it as often as I can, and I would hire students from there as often as I can. But I also have to recognize it’s not the only source of talent in the world. And in fact, if I want to diversify my talent in every sense of the word, then I have to start thinking about different sources of talent.
Joe Atkinson: 16:54 And that, by the way, includes people who have not completed college degrees, or have not completed university degrees. It includes the community college programs that are often the first step toward college for many people who do not come from significant economic security. And if you add into that people who may never have even thought about going to college, but no doubt have potential, that’s just a huge opportunity pool that I think employers are getting smarter about. But it’s a process and it’s the beginning of a process.
William Tincup: 17:24 Yeah. It’s interesting, too, the way that you’ve broadened it out. I was even thinking about boomerangs, people that have left for whatever reason, how do we bring them back, and re-skill them, and rethink of them differently? And I love the way that you’ve basically framed it up as, okay, if you’re blessed enough to go to a school that has all these relationships, great. If you’re not, okay, then now what do you do, and how do you get yourself out there as a candidate?
Joe Atkinson: 17:57 Yeah.
William Tincup: 17:58 I love that. So you had-
Joe Atkinson: 17:59 And William, just your other point on boomerangs is a great one because I think in a world where we’re all looking at a talent constraint in a way that, frankly, my now 29 years in the firm, I’ve never quite seen it like this. I think most people have not seen an environment of talent quite like this. But in that environment, the boomerang population is a huge opportunity. Now, but the other opportunities are people that have, at different parts of their career, taken the off ramp for whatever the reasons might have been. They left their career in order to go care for family. They left their career because they had illness. They left their career because they wanted to backpack across Europe for two years. It really doesn’t matter the why.
Joe Atkinson: 18:40 But now the question is how do we reengage that population if, again, they choose or want to be re-engaged? Because those are all individuals that know our organizations, they know business, they know technology, they know all of these things that can help them and help us. And the bridge in that case is a shorter bridge, if you will. So I think your point on boomerangs is also a point on diversity of talent, and really thinking broadly about how do we bring people back into the workforce in a way that works for them, which by the way, may not always be full time, and very often is going to be remote.
William Tincup: 19:13 Right. What do you think the manager’s reaction, hiring managers in particular … So recruiters, job description, you go through the laundry list of things that you need. Okay. You go out and you cast, you can’t find it, or it’s too expensive, or all the above. And then you go back to the hiring manager with a slate, ish, of candidates that might not be any of the things that they were looking for. How do we mentally move them to a place of accepting potentiality, as opposed to finite skills, or skills that have already been coalesced and developed, et cetera?
Joe Atkinson: 19:57 It’s a phenomenal question. I think it’s twofold. There used to be … I love the old pithy sayings because usually they come and go. One of them was hire hard and manage easy. I don’t think that exists anymore. I think hiring is hard and managing is hard because the obligation to connect people is different than it was when most of us came up. But the other piece is your broader point, which is, this is the reality for hiring managers. There’s simply no choice. Even if you wanted to have a lengthy debate about whether this is good, or better, or worse … And by the way, I’d be in the advocacy spot for this is much better than the way that we used to do things. But even if you wanted to advocate that somehow it was worse, the reality is talent has choices today. High caliber talent, high potential talent has choices today. And even individuals that have a skills bridge to make, they have potential, and they have opportunities. So I think the reality is that hiring managers, and hiring leaders, and executives are going to have to figure that out.
Joe Atkinson: 20:59 But it does come back to the core topic, why upskilling, in my view is so incredibly important. We owe those hiring managers the tools that they need to get as close to managing easy as they may be able to get in the current environment. And if you can help them see that, look, if you have skills gaps in areas A, B, and C, we have a defined program that you can bring those individuals in, and they can climb the learning curve in a tech enabled, well thoughtful, structured way, then I think hiring managers are going to be more likely to take the risk, what might feel like a risk to them, which is really, in reality, unlocking opportunity for somebody.
William Tincup: 21:38 So you just described the Trojan horse of upskilling. So the game becomes upskilling-
Joe Atkinson: 21:46 The key is you never tell anybody it’s the Trojan horse, though.
William Tincup: 21:47 No, no. Yeah, of course. You can never-
Joe Atkinson: 21:48 Now that we’re on the podcast-
William Tincup: 21:49 You can never tell them that. You can just say it’s the horse, it’s made of wood.
Joe Atkinson: 21:52 It’s just a horse.
William Tincup: 21:53 Yeah. No one really reads history. It’s okay. So you basically take the hiring managers and upskill them.
Joe Atkinson: 22:03 Yes.
William Tincup: 22:03 So you spend time, money, and energy and upskill the hiring managers, upskill the recruiters, sourcers, HR, et cetera, so that they can see the value of upskilling.
Joe Atkinson: 22:13 Yes. I think that’s very well said. And when I look at how we did it at PWC, I often use a farming analogy on the way that we thought about upskilling. The first thing you have to do is you have to prepare the field for the crops you’re trying to plant here. That’s awareness. It’s understanding. It’s digital IQ. It’s just the understanding that the solutions to problems may be different than the solutions you’ve employed over your career. Then the second thing is you’ve got to plant the proverbial crops. You’ve got to give people those opportunities to grow. You have to feed them, sunlight, water, all those things in order for them to actually take advantage of the field that you’ve just plowed. But if the farmer in this lousy analogy, if the farmer doesn’t realize that’s what’s about to happen, they may just keep the ground solid. And if they keep the ground solid, then you don’t get any of the benefits that you’re trying to get out of the crops.
William Tincup: 23:06 Last question, but you mentioned just a second ago, the reinvestment, our reinvestment. Because I used to tell my mother this, that basically every five years you had to reinvest. You had to make that cognitive decision, am I going to learn Snapchat? Okay. All right. Okay. Whatever the bit is. But every five years, ish, you had to make the decision as an adult, yeah, okay. I’ll learn that. And it’s always awkward, and it’s always … And then I’m making fun of social media, but really it’s everything.
Joe Atkinson: 23:40 Yeah.
William Tincup: 23:41 You have to just make the decision, or you make the decision, no, I’m going to skip that one.
Joe Atkinson: 23:48 I’m going to let that one go by.
William Tincup: 23:49 Just let that one go by. People years later will tell me about it. Yeah. Whatever.
Joe Atkinson: 23:54 Yeah. It’ll be okay.
William Tincup: 23:54 So, obviously five years is way out of date. How do we think about that reinvestment of skills? So now we’ve got, again, we’ve got hiring managers on board, recruiters on board, HR on board, and sourcers on board, etcetera. And now everyone understands the game of hiring for potential. How do we now think of how often we reskill?
Joe Atkinson: 24:17 Yeah. Look, the answer is not a helpful one, but the answer in my mind is it’s constant. And the closer that individuals get to comfort, that they are constantly going to be learning. I say this to students all the time. So, congratulations, you graduated. Nothing has changed. You are still learning. So, if you think about it as a constant exercise, then the challenge is always … then the challenge gets simplified, frankly. It’s what am I going to learn? And how much time am I going to allocate to that activity in my life?
Joe Atkinson: 24:49 And if it’s, what am I going to learn, that question should be driven by where you and I started this conversation. What’s the development path? What are the jobs I’m after? Do I have somebody that’s helping me clarify the skills I need to advance the way I want to advance? Whether that’s in the organization, whether it’s start my own company and do a startup, whether it’s go to a different part of industry, whatever it may be, that pathway to say what are the skills that I need to build on to do that, that’s the question of, what am I going to learn. And again, hopefully in the best of worlds, it connects nicely to what the organization that you’re working for wants you to learn.
Joe Atkinson: 25:20 And then the second is how quickly can I get there, and how much time do I want to allocate in order to get there at that pace? And I think if individuals stay focused on the what and how quickly, I think most people are going to find that’s going to serve them extraordinarily well as they grow their career.
William Tincup: 25:36 Drops mic, walks off stage. Joe, thank you so much for your time today. Wonderful topic. And I just appreciate you.
Joe Atkinson: 25:44 My pleasure, William. Thanks for what you’re doing.
William Tincup: 25:46 Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Until next time.
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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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