James Mayes

Blog: Submarines, flying, context and Talent Acquisition!

In Human Resources, Recruitment, Social Recruiting on January 10, 2012 at 11:15 am

Reading Wired on the train home this evening, ambling through an article on AI. Great reference to the old question of whether computers can think. Dykstra explained it thus:

“Whether computers can think is like the question of whether submarines can swim. In English, we say submarines don’t swim, but we say aeroplanes do fly. In Russian, they say submarines do swim”.

I experienced a similar translation issue when in the US a few years back. In the UK recruitment market, we speak of Vacancies – yet in the US, this refers most often to empty hotel rooms. Continuing this debate with a colleague, I question whether such difference are purely a dint of language. Initially, with the fly vs swim debate, there’s an organic difference. “A ball can fly, if hit hard enough” – but swimming implies natural movement, something organic in origin. Is this the explanation, some gut reaction that attaches to one kind of movement more than another? Nope. On further debate, it’s more a combination of context and historical comfort with the construct.

Talent AcquisitionMy real interest lies more with words and phrases that are relevant to my professional life right now. Human Capital is one. Talent is another. I see both becoming ever more commonplace, and mixed feelings about them. I have my own strong views on both, but as I’ve explained previously, sometimes I want to use this forum to gauge the reactions of others. A kind of sanity check, if you like.

With that in mind, I’d really love your first reactions to these two, both from an employer / recruiter perspective and also considering them as a job seeker. Do you have a Talent Acquisition team? How would you feel if you were hired (or indeed rejected) by such a team? Does Human Capital accurately reflect the way your organisation thinks of people? Or would you rather a more personal approach was taken?

All views gratefully accepted – comments as always unmoderated, but please, if you disagree with someone else, do so respectfully…

  1. Ooh, good discussion to start! I think I may have more questions than answers, myself!

    Human Capital sounds a bit like Human Resources. Like we’re trying to put a price on people so we can measure them. It’s not very personal. I think I’d prefer ‘team’!

    As a jobseeker I think I’d find ‘talent’ a bit confusing. Maybe flattering, or maybe the opposite!

    From a workplace perspective, is it talent as in ‘Britain’s got’ or is everyone talented? Schools now have ‘gifted and talented’ classes which are exclusive, is that an integral part of ‘talent’ or is everyone ‘talent? Do ‘talent’ deserve more L&D, or less?

    Do your ‘talent’, if it’not everyone, know that they are talent?

    Recruiters: ‘Checking out the talent’ – is it something you do at a club or is it a review of your latest candidates? (Feel free to say both if you like…;-) )

  2. I can tell you that job seekers never identify with the “talent” label. Globally talent is something entertainers have and which you pay to enjoy. While the ability to entertain is a skill, one that is economically viable, not all skills are considered talents.

    This issue is further complicated by the growing number of engagement mechanisms enterprises use to engage talent. You could be an employee, a contractor, a strategic partner, a vendor managed employee working onsite/offsite, an intern, etc.

    The term I like to use is historical, but all encompassing, I call human capital planning and talent planning…labor resource planning.

    • Growing number of mechanisms is certainly something to pay attention to. I believe there are rapid changes in the US, much as in the UK – though I’m less clear on the reasons there. Certainly, taxation has always been a driver for change here, but that’s a whole other post 😉

      The reference to Labor Resource Planning is something I’ve heard before – but only in the US, never in the UK. I revert to the English/Russian point on whether submarines can swim… wondering if there’s a universal/global phrase which employers are happy with and doesn’t exclude or marginalise candidates?!

  3. I’ve called myself a Talent Acquisition Lead in the past, which has caused much hilarity from friends and a false ray of hope for one lady on a dating website I was on (many moons ago). So my thoughts are that outside the profession it doesn’t mean what we, in the profession, want it to mean.

    Human Capital is a horrid term – for me it arcs back to my time in agency when my boss called candidates, “Products”.

    But your post reminds me of an old colleague I worked with at an agency who used to use the term “Skills Brokerage” when making cold calls!

    • “Products” is a horrible term, but I’ve heard worse. I think “wet mass” is the most offensive I’ve come across previously. Certainly, I step back from anything which dehumanises. If organisations are to constantly re-iterate that people are their most valuable asset, I think it’s disingenuous (at best) to then turn the engagement of those people into some kind of mechanical harvesting and processing line…

  4. Aha – good stuff James. However I fear a battle in semantics could well unravel here.

    As Master says, `Talent` causes more discussion and confusion amongst HR & Recruiters than it does with job-seekers. they don’t care. Simple. I think Talent is an excellent term – because it applies credit to everyone across a business or people map. Each person has talent, just often in different areas to each other.
    Our roles in the recruiter space as well in HR, is to recognise and nurture this talent for the benefit of individual and business – or in my case, recognise it and apply it to like-minded businesses & vacant roles.

    As for Human Capital – it’s a impersonal term, yes – but in it’s adoption, it recognises the value in people and their impact and capabilities – and that is a good thing in an organisation – not a bad thing. Independently as a phrase, it shouldn’t be peddled out much farther than operational management, but how it is applied could be essential to making a strong workforce and potentially an employer of choice.

  5. Interesting perspective…on a personal and professional level, I find ‘Human capital’ impersonal, vague and meaningless.
    I have found the move from resourcing teams to TA team more driven mainly by the US but it does what it says on the tin, which is always a good start.
    I do believe candidates are now increasingly courted /networked by ‘sourcing consultants’ and then their touch points become TA/ resourcing, would be an illuminating discussion to see how this is being received.Good read and discussion thread, thanks for sharing James.

    • Hey Charu, thx for the feedback. Interesting point regards the difference in touch points (sourcer / resourcing). I’ve seen this increase in recent times and only expect it to grow. Agree, it’d be interesting to see some candidate feedback on this split contact model. I might be able to pull something together there, so watch out for is as a future topic. Thanks for the idea!

  6. It is interesting to see how, over the years, terminolgy has changed for a process which has always been about getting the right person into the right job. From ‘vanacies to fill’ to ‘personnel required’ to ‘opennings for experienced…’ etc etc the language has changed substantially. Personally I am happy with using ‘talent’ as people, including myself, react positively to this phrase (seen as a compliment) and would rather not be part of a wet mass. Human capital depersonalises and leaves me feeling like a number and nothing else. As the ‘landscape’ continues to change the language will change but the central theme will remain the same. All involved have to adapt as neccessary I think.

  7. If the word ‘talent’ does have a generic meaning, often it is this: ‘Someone who has done the same job for a competitor company’.

    In many cases it’s just a euphemism for people to use who are too lazy to do any meaningful assessment of the job or who the right candidate might be.

    My favourite word when communicating with candidates is their first name. Call me old-fashioned if you must.

  8. I have been following the discussion and over the years have been referred to by many names when being put forward for a role or as someone looking to fill a role.

    I feel Talent Management sounds like entertainment (which given the way some people recruit or are recruited is probably more like a tragedy than a comedy, with loads of slow moving bits in-between). And also seems to be a bit of an arm’s length comment. Management – who wants to be handled, I’d rather be placed.

    Human Capital reminds me of cattle being moved in a procession from one place to another – totally impersonal as merely as a means to an end (which could end up being served overdone and on a cold plate and overpriced)

    For me it’s all all about YOU! I have always been a fan of personalisation (thanks Mitch) with emphasis on a name and the word “you” as in “you will make a difference, it could be absolutely right for you, are you looking for….”. It’s all about the right fit for both parties.

    So thanks David, Mitch, James, Charlie, Rob, Charu, Steve and Master Burnett…

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