how PwC UK achieves greater agility and enhances access to skills
When it comes to the audit, tax and consulting services, few firms are as well-known as PwC. With a network of 284,000 in 155 countries, the company has an enormous need for talent and skills that range from financial auditors to teachers and artificial intelligence experts. To deliver the wide range of services and solutions its clients need, the company is adopting a more holistic approach to talent, according to Sam Ellis, Head of Experienced Talent at PwC UK. She recently joined Mike Smith, the CEO of Randstad Sourceright, in a frank and wide-ranging conversation about the company’s talent strategy and how it continues to evolve.
Operating in a talent market with highly dynamic needs, PwC UK has seen the skills required by its clients expand over the years. Ellis says ensuring the business has access to those skills, whatever they may be, is the key to growing the business. And with talent scarcity growing in the U.K. and elsewhere around the world, her company must turn to innovation, data and technology to ensure PwC remains a leader in this market.
Many organizations today face an enormous challenge when conducting workforce planning. The pandemic has disrupted the operations of all businesses, and assessing human capital needs isn’t exempt from the disruption. With a focus on economic recovery, businesses in the U.K. face the worst labor shortage since 1997, and a combination of higher demand and border restrictions has led to the fastest drop in talent availability on record.
a total talent management approach
To keep PwC UK well resourced, the company began considering a total talent management approach even before the pandemic. Part of that strategy meant shifting more requisitions to contingent roles — an approach that differs from its practices in the past. Historically, PwC UK leveraged mostly permanent hires in support of its clients, but expanding the use of flexible talent has benefited the company in a number of ways.
The most impactful way, says Ellis, is access to a wider range of skills more quickly. In a total talent model, organizations consider all work arrangements to get work done, and that is what PwC UK is now doing: complementing its permanent workforce through contingent labor. This enables the firm to enhance speed of deployment while expanding skill sets. The impact on the business has been markedly positive.
“It’s much quicker at times to find and onboard contingent workers than to find permanent hires. Often we will run our contingent recruitment process alongside the permanent recruitment process,” she explains.
Time to deploy is, of course, an important metric all talent leaders focus on closely. Not limiting the company’s choices when it comes to work arrangement significantly opens up the talent pool available. Furthermore, it enables the firm to consider talent outside of the U.K., although there are tax and employment implications to consider.
Still, Ellis explains that the company can also expand its service offerings by sourcing skills that are not typically part of the company’s portfolio. Recently, she notes, PwC UK engaged the services of a surgeon on a contingent basis in response to a client’s needs. This skill set is not one the company regularly recruits for, so having access to it allows PwC to provide a richer and tailored set of services.
Most leaders who have embraced a total talent mentality would probably say doing so has not been easy. It requires cultural change and extensive advocacy to hiring managers that can be a real uphill battle at times. The challenges for PwC UK have been overcoming the perception that the rate of contingent talent is too costly and the quality is inferior to permanent hires. And because the company has a sterling reputation to maintain, some parts of the business, such as its audit practices, are reluctant to consider flexible talent.
Other areas, however, have become more open to using flexible resources, and Ellis says she and her team are prioritizing those business lines for now to effect change. While there continues to be some hesitancy, leaders are also mindful not to turn away business due to lack of talent. To help them reconsider the best talent model, her team is leveraging successful use cases and conducting one-on-one meetings with line managers to help them better understand how a total talent model can be beneficial.
direct sourcing and control
For many organizations, the rise of contingent talent has also brought forth the use of direct sourcing. By building a talent pool that sources talent from many channels, including silver medalists from permanent recruited roles, direct sourcing practitioners enjoy benefits — for example, more engaged talent who can be deployed more rapidly and cost effectively.
This is the case for PwC UK, which uses a direct sourcing team that works cohesively with its talent acquisition team. Ellis says direct sourcing gives the company more agility, with its talent pool of engaged and skilled professionals. And through a platform that matches candidates to projects, the company can more quickly deploy the right resources to the right project.
In addition, she adds, the platform allows talent to have more choices also. There are times when contingent talent may be interested in a permanent role at PwC UK and vice versa. Its platform enables all those in the system to find other opportunities at the company.
Technology has become the linchpin at many talent organizations in recent years. Enhanced matching technology, often leveraging increasingly sophisticated AI algorithms, is delivering best-fit candidates more efficiently expeditiously.
“Tech is a complete game changer in recruitment. We are on a journey with it,” Ellis says.
The company receives more than 100,000 applicants every year, and is currently exploring matching technology that will be able to help recruiters screen more quickly, focus on qualified individuals and develop stronger relationships with them. More importantly, tech will help PwC UK to retain passed-over applicants for roles they are qualified for.
“At times, we end up turning candidates away who may be suitable elsewhere in the business. That’s where we need the tech to help us to match the people to other equivalent type roles,” she adds.
talent analytics drive transformation
Technology inevitably leads to data proliferation, but organizations like PwC UK are benefitting from the growth of data. For one, it’s tremendously valuable for supporting workforce planning. Using a combination of internal and external statistics, the company can better anticipate its needs in the next one, three and five years. The company can decide whether skill sets need to be created, built or outsourced based on business needs and talent availability. Furthermore, as a business that operates in 155 countries, PwC UK is able to conduct global mapping of its skill sets to support internal mobility.
Aside from workforce planning, the data plays an important role in helping the company’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. By examining the D&I metrics around talent acquisition, for instance, and comparing them to U.K. market indicators, PwC UK can determine whether the percentage of women, people of color or any other groups recruited by the company reflects the labor market makeup. Analytics also can help detect biases in the recruitment process.
Like so many human capital leaders these days, Ellis is living through a highly dynamic period in the labor market. Change is occurring at a blinding speed, but she says so much of it is positive and is transforming the way companies engage with and acquire talent. As the company advances in its holistic workforce planning model, the investments PwC UK recently made — and will continue to make — will set the foundation for its future.
Ellis adds, “We need to have that total workforce view, and that’s the piece that gives us the agility — it’s the total workforce lens.”