Talent acquisition is a vital function of any company’s HR department. A truly great talent acquisition strategy can help you acquire the people and skills you need to succeed in the present, and set up your business for the future.

This is particularly crucial if you're going through a period of change, you need to expand your talent pool to take on new projects, or you're dealing with the repercussions of a major event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

By tracking the latest trends in talent acquisition, you can ensure you're in the strongest position to find the best candidates and keep up with your competitors in a tight labor market.

Here are five of the key themes in this space to be aware of in 2021:

1. AI and automation

The growing importance of AI (and related concepts like automation and machine learning) in HR and the world of work isn't a new trend, but it is one that's likely to accelerate and take on more importance in 2021 and beyond.

From a talent acquisition perspective, the latest technologies and solutions in this space can help you optimize your activities and raise your levels of efficiency. For example, tools like Pymetrics, which is supported by the Randstad Innovation Fund, use AI-driven methods and solutions to conduct in-depth evaluations of candidate capabilities and match them with the most suitable roles.

AI, automation and machine learning could also open up new opportunities for you to predict future performance and engage with applicants throughout the recruitment process.

As far as the future of business is concerned, AI is becoming an increasingly significant aspect of how companies function and how people do their jobs. Consequently, it will become more important to focus on how you're making AI-relevant capabilities a key focus of your talent acquisition and skilling strategies.

According to research by PwC, the most common methods companies are using to address the AI talent challenge are:

  • Creating a workforce plan that identifies new skills and roles required as a result of AI (59%)
  • Implementing upskilling and ongoing learning initiatives that include AI (46%)
  • Providing tools and opportunities for employees to apply AI skills in their day-to-day work (43%)
  • Launching credentialing programs for data scientists and more advanced AI skills (40%)

2. diversity and inclusion

Modern companies have a lot to gain from making diversity and inclusion (D&I) a core component of their recruitment and talent acquisition activities.

Firstly, widening your scope to encompass the broadest and most eclectic range of candidates can have a material impact on business performance. A series of reports published by McKinsey over the past six years have shown the connections between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial success strengthening over time. This is backed up by research from Boston Consulting Group, which has shown how diverse leadership teams drive innovation.

Furthermore, making a clear commitment to D&I will strengthen your employer brand and increase your appeal to younger employees who will shape the future of work. More than four out of five Gen Z candidates see this as an important factor when choosing an employer, according to a survey by Monster.

There are various steps you can take to make your workforce and your recruitment processes more diverse. For instance, you could consider:

Working with a dedicated HR partner is another positive action that will enable you to collect data on what today's jobseekers want and conduct a detailed, impartial analysis of your talent acquisition methods and how they can be improved.

3. health and wellbeing

The massive scale and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever for all employers to look after their workforce. That means going further than simply offering fair pay and safe working conditions, and thinking about how you can provide meaningful help and support for your employees.

In Deloitte's 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 80% of organizations said worker wellbeing will be an important factor in their success over the next 12 to 18 months, but only 12% said they were very ready to address this issue.

The company underlined the benefits of businesses 'redesigning work around wellbeing' and expanding their focus 'from programs adjacent to work to designing wellbeing into the work itself'. It highlighted examples such as Microsoft Japan, which has trialed policies including limiting meetings to 30 minutes and even reducing the working week from five days to four.

Putting health and wellbeing at the heart of your HR and workforce strategies will boost your talent acquisition efforts, through the development of a stronger employer brand and a clear commitment to looking after your employees.

It's important to think about practical measures you can introduce to improve workforce health and wellbeing and help your people look after themselves.

This might include:

  • Offering wellness-related benefits or schemes (such as discount gym memberships)
  • Encouraging people in largely sedentary roles to take regular movement breaks
  • Supplying healthy food and snacks in the workplace
  • Incentivizing walking or cycling to work 

4. building resilience and adaptability

Another valuable lesson all companies can take from COVID-19 - as well as other periods of economic or industry adversity - is the importance of resilience. You can make your organization more resilient by prioritizing adaptability, not only in terms of the talent and capabilities in your workforce, but in your core processes and workflows.

Gartner has highlighted transitioning from designing for efficiency to designing for resilience as one of the most important "future of work trends". It noted that companies can become more responsive and resilient by providing "varied, adaptive and flexible" jobs that enable employees to "acquire cross-functional knowledge and training".

Ingrid Laman, vice president of research and advisory at Gartner, said: "Diversity leaders will need to be involved in role design and creation of flexible work systems to ensure that employees of all backgrounds and needs are considered when the organization designs new workflows."

5. flexibility and remote practices

Flexible and remote working have been on the rise for several years, but the events of 2020 made these concepts more important and relevant than ever.

Nearly half (48%) of employees will continue to work remotely at least some of the time after COVID-19, compared to 30% before the pandemic, according to Gartner. Research by PwC showed that 78% of CEOs expect the shift to remote collaboration to be a lasting trend.

From a talent acquisition perspective, demonstrating your commitment to flexible and remote working can help you attract in-demand candidates who are looking for a level of freedom and control over how they work.

It will also strengthen your employer brand with regards to work/life balance. According to our latest Employer Brand Research, this is the second most important reason for candidates to choose a particular company to work for, behind salary and benefits.

Steps you could take to promote flexibility and make remote working a feasible option for your staff include:

  • Gaining management buy-in by highlighting the benefits and making the business case for flexible and remote working 
  • Looking into different types of flexible work arrangements that suit your employees (such as compressed work weeks or job sharing)
  • Providing the technology, software and technical support people need to do their jobs effectively from home
  • Making sure remote workers still have opportunities to engage with their colleagues, take part in collaborative sessions and get face-to-face time with their managers

As recruitment and the world of work continue to evolve, and new challenges and opportunities arise for your business, you'll need a strong talent acquisition strategy if you want to succeed and thrive. Download our guide to learn how to build a world-class TA strategy.