Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Healthcare Talent Management: Seeking Unicorns Using Broken Software Not Very Good for Patients - or Stockholders

In the May 30, 2012 WSJ article "Software Raises Bar for Hiring" by David Wessel, the Wall Street Journal's economics editor (subtitled "Software Screening Rejects Job Seekers" in the web page header), and in a followup June 4, 2012 NPR piece "Employers: Qualified Workers Aren't in Jobs Pool" where Wessel is interviewed by Renee Montagne, an issue noted in past years here at HC Renewal is discussed.

The issue is poorly done and/or misapplied e-Recruiting software actually causing employers to be blinded to needed talent, and skilled members of the workforce laid off in the Great Recession to remain unemployed.

From the NPR interview (emphases mine):

... WESSEL: Well, there are basically two views about unemployment today. One is that the biggest problem is there just isn't enough demand out there, not enough spending so employers are reluctant to hire readily. And if that's right, then there are things the government might do to stimulate demand - either Congress, or the president or the Federal Reserve.

The other view is the biggest problem is, as you suggest, this mismatch between the skills that employers need and the ones that available workers have. And if this view is right, and the fiscal and monetary policy can't do much. So people on the second camp seize on these very loud complaints from employers that they just can't find the workers they need. And the real question is how can that be?

MONTAGNE: Well, offer us an answer or two.

WESSEL: Well, I talked to a business school professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Peter Cappelli, and he suggested a number of possibilities. One is that with so many unemployed workers, employers may simply be too picky. They're looking for the perfect worker. They won't settle for the merely capable. One person in the business calls this looking for a unicorn. A second possibility is they're just not willing to pay enough. A third is that they've lost interest in training and they're insisting on experienced workers, so they're turning away a whole lot of people who could do the job but just don't have experience. And then, in what I find most provocative possibility, they've become over reliant on the software that's used to screen applicants.

MONTAGNE: Now software, that's an interesting idea.

WESSEL: Right. A whole lot of people who have applied for jobs lately, know that the initial application often is done online. That's because software takes the employers criteria, which is often extraordinarily precise, and then screens the application. There's one company that Mr. Cappelli writes about in the new book that says he had 25,000 applicants for a standard engineering position, only the software in the HR department told him nobody was qualified.  [An absurdity on its face - ed.]

In another one, an HR executive, in an experiment, applied for a job in his own company and couldn't get through the software screening. And as you mentioned, I wrote a column about this and I got flooded with people with experiences like this who were just enormously frustrated with the software and how it was preventing them from getting to a human being to get an interview on a job that maybe they could do.

In other words, the combination of employers looking for the "perfect, prefab employee" - a unicorn - is complicated by the fact that employers, or more properly, Personnel Departments (now euphemistically referred to as "Human Resources" departments, a "resource" they cannot properly manage, it seems) are using broken software.  This creates the erroneous appearance of a talent vacuum.

I made quite similar observations at my blog posts of several years ago including at a post of Feb. 2008 "If pharma cannot get its basic IT right, what about the hard stuff?"  and a Sept. 2011 post "Merck to Cut Up to 13,000 (More) Jobs by 2015."  I had noted repeated, bizarre solicitations for positions that were way-off base (such as for "Application Services Associate" in the Feb. 2008 post, and for "SAP Security Analyst--Merck & Co.,Inc.-INF003774" as mentioned here) by the automated e-Recruiting systems of a number of pharmas and healthcare organizations to whom I had submitted an electronic CV.

At the latter post I observed:

... I thought the problems with bizarre eRecruiting solicitations that I wrote about in my Feb. 2008 post "If pharma cannot get its basic IT right, what about the hard stuff?" were over.

However, just yesterday I received an automated solicitation from this company regarding something related to import/export, an apparent profound mismatch to my background. It makes me wonder if the people with a sufficient understanding of computational linguistics who could fix the parser in the eRecruiting system were all laid off.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, mismatched outbounds probably correspond to internal blindness to inbounds (i.e., in properly parsing resumes). I wrote:
Could a poorly-tuned or malfunctioning eRecruiting parser, which probably works in both directions (i.e., alerts not just outside candidates but also people internal to Merck of incoming resumes it identifies as "interesting") adversely affect the "apparently available" talent pool across many disciplines?

I still get entirely inappropriate solicitations from time to time, such as for marketing or low-level IT support roles, from this company -- where I was once high-mid management and use their exact term for that role, "Director", terms such as "Medical Informatics", "Electronic Medical Records" and others directly in my CV -- and others.

e-Recruiting systems could function poorly for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Incompetence
  • Deliberate sabotage, making it seem talent is exceptionally hard to find, to increase the job security of HR personnel who are themselves being downsized due, in part, to automation;
  • Deliberate sabotage to facilitate more hiring of lower-paid employees such as non-citizens found through other means.
Any of these scenarios, of course, is not good for stockholders and the unemployed.

Finally, I actually tried to alert the head of HR of one company, Merck, to this problem.  In the aforementioned Feb. 2008 post I reproduced the email and further commented:

... I wrote to the VP of HR and an HR associate, both of whom I knew, in Dec 2006:

Sent: Monday, December 18, 2006 10:45 AM
To: Levine, Howard
Cc: Lewis, Drew B
Subject: Merck eRecruiting system malfunction

Dear Howard,

I maintain a resume on Merck's eRecruiting site. I rarely get alerts, but recently I received the automated alert below for " Multi-Channel Management Campaign Manager" as below.

It is a profound mismatch to any keyword or context in my background (I am an MD & information science specialist, formerly Director Published Information Resources & The Merck Index.)

The eRecruiting system is apparently broken. It is likely others are getting similarly mismatched results. Suggest repair.

I was thanked for my email, and instructions received on how to turn off auto-notification by their job site. This was something I already knew how to do, and obviously was not a helpful or meaningful suggestion vis-a-vis "doing business."

Nothing more was received, and considering I continue to get frivolous solicitations regularly, apparently nothing much was done.

I had also observed:

  • Is this how state-of-the-art biomedical companies might be expected to manage their recruitment?

A response telling me to de-activate automated alerts from a company's clearly broken e-Recruiting system was not exactly what I considered in the best interests of shareholders.

Finally, in an ironic twist, hunting for unicorns with broken e-Recruiting software might prevent companies from finding the computational linguistics and other talent needed to fix these very systems.

-- SS

1 comment:

Steve Lucas said...

As I stand around looking at all of my friends in their 50”s with great skill sets, decades of experience, and the ability to learn any new system presented, there is one difference between them and unicorns, they would not ship a product jus to generate revenue.

We come from a different time when pride and concern for others trumped sales. What is also interesting is the short time frames in computer system developments would lend themselves to hiring these people as many friends are looking at a five to seven year window before retirement.

Our real crisis in this country is underemployment, from the current student to those looking to finish a career. We have so much talent simply being wasted on some theoretical hire it is costing the nation untold sums today, and into the future, as these people drop out of the work force, or take jobs that do not challenge and use their skills to the greatest extent possible.

Steve Lucas