“This is what I learned judging HR awards this year”

Chris Holmes explains the trends he’s noticed from helping to decide the winners of accolades among the profession, including diversity and use of technology

I was honoured to be invited to judge several HR and talent acquisition awards this year, both agency and internal. In particular, I was judging three categories that are of great importance to me: inclusion and diversity, use of technology, and responses to global change. 

There was a high standard of entry and it was heartening to see applications from so many different industries and from organisations of different sizes. There can, of course, only be one winner but, in each category, to see so many companies engaging positively with such key issues, all absolutely business critical but not perhaps always understood as such – my favourite entries were those that clearly explained and evidenced the commercial and cultural impact of their approach.  

I have advised the Cabinet Office on how to ensure recruitment practices can better attract and employ disabled talent and many of my recommendations were in evidence – straightforward, practical steps such as more flexible approaches to the application and interview process. Diversity is not just disability, of course, but I was pleased to note that when there were policies that focused, for example, on gender targets, these were expected to be extended by setting targets for other protected characteristics. It was another lesson in the value of evidence for the impact of policies. I fully expect race and disability pay gap reporting to join gender pay gap reporting and pass into law before too long. Organisations engaging with this now will have a valuable head start. 

The best use of technology is another subject close to my heart. I have personally experienced technology as an enabler, having learned to touch-type when I lost my sight, and this award is for those who have solved a business issue through the implementation of a unique, new tech solution or using existing tech in an innovative way. This was a challenge to judge in that the technology used and business issues addressed were not necessarily easy to consider equivalent, but a reduction in bias, improved efficiency and truly effective use of real-time data were all excellent examples of the use of technology that is improving recruitment processes, enabling individuals and benefiting businesses. 

Awards for creativity in talent acquisition recognise the most creative and effective response to the global and regional market changes in workforce deployment, management, engagement, retention, and repurposing. It was fascinating to hear from three industries (healthcare, hospitality, and property) all seriously impacted by Covid but in such different ways, and moving to hear of the humanity at times of crisis: programmes that mobilised volunteers into hospitals, focused on refugee recruitment, and reassuring leadership from a CEO and board taking a pay cut when furloughing employees. 

As Covid restrictions started to ease, LinkedIn data showed that the UK hiring recovery was on. Hiring increased significantly already by June this year – up 92.6 per cent compared to June of last year. While that is not so surprising given that 2020 was such a dismal year, it’s worth noting that hiring in the UK is actually exceeding pre-pandemic levels, 15.5 per cent higher than June 2019. One of the most surprising aspects of the rebound from the pandemic is this degree of activity, combined with acute labour shortages across so many different types of jobs. In-house hiring teams are having to bear the brunt of this, with a massively increased agenda: defining hybrid and more remote working structures, looking at internal mobility; identifying skill shortages, and driving the I&D agenda but often with reduced resources themselves. 

Despite the challenges, a cross-sector hiring boom is something to be cheerful about. If talent acquisition professionals continue to develop the connection between talent and technology, understanding that inclusion is an enabler of innovation and with a greater focus on I&D, more effective use of technology, in particular data management and application, and further demonstrate creativity and humanity in times of crisis, there are many more reasons to be cheerful. 

Lord Chris Holmes MBE is a gold medal-winning Paralympic swimmer, parliamentarian and public speaker