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IT'S easy to think that in the talent recruitment business, it is people skills that rule the day. After all, as the intermediary between a company looking to hire and a job-hunter seeking employment, the talent recruiter is - quite literally - a middleman.
But more technical skills such as data mining and analytics are increasingly gaining in importance - especially in Singapore, where a tight labour market has heightened the already-stiff competition for talent, says Kelly Services's Natalia Shuman, 42.
"It really makes us think about data analytics more, and it makes companies invest in technology to be faster than their competitors," says Ms Shuman, Kelly Services's senior vice president and general manager of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia-Pacific regions.
As a talent recruitment agency that bills itself as "a people company, staffing the world", Kelly Services has detailed software and procedures that make sourcing for niche talent pools - such as nurses or oil & gas engineers - an extremely data-driven process, complete with finely-spliced findings.
"You have to know where they are, what countries they're from, what colleges produce those types of individuals, what they like to do in their spare time, what websites they're looking at. How do they like to work? Do they want to work out of Hawaii, out of their houses, or in the office?," asks Ms Shuman, demonstrating how the work of staffing agencies has become more complex over time.
Of all recruitment firms, Kelly Services should know; it has witnessed changes in the staffing landscape, and has had to evolve accordingly through the years.
Established in 1946 and named after founder William Russell Kelly, the Michigan-headquartered company rose to prominence in the post-war economic boom. By deploying female typists known as Kelly Girls to offices to help with ad-hoc clerical jobs, the firm essentially created America's temp market.
Today, Kelly Services is a Fortune 500 company listed on the Nasdaq. In 2014, it raked in US$5.6 billion in revenue, with net earnings of US$23.7 million. It has been in Singapore since 1979, employs around 200 staff here, and counts brand names like Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, DBS, and Citibank as clients.
While Kelly Services's core business remains in temporary labour solutions, its growth is primarily in the outsourcing & consulting area - or what it calls talent supply chain management.
"When we talk about talent supply chain, we are really looking throughout the entire talent population within a company. So that means the contingent or part-time labour, permanent or full-time employees, and also third-party labour. If let's say a customer wants to engage labour from different sources to meet their business objectives, they ask us to manage their entire talent supply chain on their behalf," says Ms Shuman, who adds that this complements internal human resources efforts.
While Kelly Services' Singapore office is particularly strong in the finance & banking and lifesciences sectors, even she acknowledges that they "can't do it all". To meet customers' varied staffing demands, Kelly Services engages other suppliers - specialised recruitment firms who deal in niche sectors - to form part of the talent supply chain.
"There are multiple niche players in our industry who are extremely good at what we do, but they only service a particular area - let's say a company that only specialises in accountants. They have a talent pool and really invest money to attract those accountants, whether they're local or in other places in the world.
"So our goal is not to recreate that specialty (within) Kelly Services. Our goal is to partner with those best suppliers in each category, and to engage them in one supply chain, and then bring this supply chain to our customer. (That way we are able to) guarantee that (the client) will get the best talent, at the best price, with minimum risk," explains Ms Shuman, who joined Kelly Services in 1997 when it acquired the St Petersburg recruitment company she was working for.
Data analytics comes into play here as well. To ensure that suppliers are delivering value, Kelly Services tracks their performance on several indicators, and shares this information with its partners.
Says Ms Shuman: "We actually have a lot of measurements that we use to measure the performance of our suppliers, on behalf of our customers. So we can tell you on any given day, on any programme: what supplier is performing the best, how many requisitions they closed, at what time, at what price, the lengths of vacancies, how many candidates they submitted, how many candidates were interviewed ... When our partners see this information, they would want to be better."
For all her enthusiasm for measurements and KPIs (key performance indicators), however, it's clear that Ms Shuman isn't lacking on the people skills side, either.
Delving into what she enjoys about the job, Ms Shuman says with a shrug: "It really feels good when you actually help someone to find a job. As basic as it sounds, it's really satisfying when it happens.
"And the next day, the person calls me up and says thank you, they're so grateful that things are going so well. Then 10 years on, they call me back and ask for Kelly Services's help with a bigger global (staffing) solution - that always feels very good."