Interview with Ali Ghiassi, TA leader at Fortrea, Advice for Recruiters and Staffing Firms

joseph cole

Updated on November 15, 2023

Talent Acquisition has experienced a lot of challenges from longer and slower hiring cycles to not knowing the impact of AI-recruiting, in turn causing a lot of uncertainty for TA, HR, and staffing firms. In this webinar, Joseph Cole, VP of Marketing and Research, interviews Ali Ghiassi, leader of TA and People Experience at Fortrea.  Ali shares his experience, discusses the company’s recent spin-out as a 20,000-person, $3 billion “startup” focusing on clinical research.

TL;DR: The webinar discussed challenges in Talent Acquisition (TA), highlighting the impact of AI, skill-based hiring hurdles, and staffing partnerships. Ali Ghiassi, a TA leader at Fortrea, addresses:

  1. Hiring Trends & Challenges: Covering macro issues like geopolitical impacts, compliance concerns, and the role of AI in recruitment.
  2. Skills-Based Hiring Challenges: Balancing skills, culture, and soft skills, emphasizing the need for precise skill definitions.
  3. Partnering with Recruiters: Stressing integrity, feedback loops, and valuing qualitative metrics in the recruiter-staffing firm relationship.
  4. Technology’s Role: Acknowledging AI’s role in recruitment’s future and the need for an informed, cautious approach.

Continue reading below for in depth insights from Ali, or to watch the on-demand webinar, please register here.

Part 1: Hiring Trends and Challenges

  1. General  Hiring Trends: Joseph highlights several challenges faced by Talent Acquisition (TA) and HR teams, including difficulties finding quality talent, skill gaps, job market uncertainties, concerns about job security, and the impact of AI and automation on recruitment.
  2. Macro Challenges for TA Leaders: Ali shares insights into macro challenges, including geopolitical issues affecting talent movement, identifying individuals open to change in a large company transitioning post-spin-out, and the need for rapid yet compliant global operations. Additionally, he discusses the role of AI in addressing these challenges, including its use in assessing skills without bias and complying with evolving regulations.
  3. Specific Challenges for Ali’s Role: Ali emphasizes the criticality of compliance, data protection, and maintaining high standards in a life sciences company. He discusses the potential risks associated with non-compliance, particularly concerning patient impact and regulatory bodies. Skill, AI’s role, and the need for cautious implementation due to data protection concerns are highlighted.
  4. AI in Talent Acquisition: While AI is seen as a tool for efficiency gains in drafting job descriptions, candidate interactions, and addressing macro trends in recruitment, Ali stresses the importance of educating the wider organization on leveraging AI without compromising proprietary or personal data.
  5. Future Landscape: The conversation underscores the evolving landscape of AI, the need for vigilance regarding its impact on data security, and the importance of education within the organization to responsibly utilize AI tools. TA leaders, including Ali, are optimistic about AI’s role in recruitment and staffing. There’s a measured enthusiasm in leveraging AI tools for sourcing and assessing candidates while maintaining a cautious approach about its potential to replace human recruiters.

Part 2: Skills-Based Hiring, Strategy vs. Execution

  1. Skills-Based Hiring Challenges: While skills-based hiring is lauded for its benefits in diversifying talent pools and enhancing employee engagement, the practical implementation faces hurdles. Ali highlights the difficulty in evaluating skills alongside cultural fit and soft skills, which AI tools might not entirely address.
  2. Demand for Skills at the Enterprise: Fortrea requires a diverse skill set across departments. The challenge isn’t solely about finding specific roles (like accountants or cybersecurity experts) but identifying individuals with the right skills, experience, and cultural alignment for the evolving company.
  3. Recruitment Volume and Time Frames: Fortrea’s turnover averages around 10%, translating to potentially hiring a couple thousand people annually. They aim for a 60 to 90-day time-to-fill metric for positions. Ali’s advise is that staffing firms support him on this goal, but also keep talent quality top of mind.
  4. Advice for TA, HR, and Staffing Firms: Ali advises learning about AI tools impacting skill-based hiring, emphasizing the need to define specific skills required for roles. He encourages collaboration between staffing firms and companies to transform the hiring process by focusing more on skills rather than traditional factors like educational background or previous employers.
  5. Strategic Role of Staffing Firms: Ali views staffing firms as potential strategic advisors, guiding companies on identifying skills needed for specific roles, emphasizing the importance of skills alignment with the company’s unique environment and goals.
  6. Real-world Hiring Challenges: Ali highlights the complexity of hiring for specialized roles like an AI/ML head, where assessing whether a candidate’s expertise fits the specific needs of a clinical research organization is challenging. He values advisors who can provide insights into candidate fit beyond industry experience alone.

Part 3: Partnering with Recruiters and Staffing Firms

  1. Partnership Expectations: TA leaders want integrity, honesty, and open communication from staffing partners. They want partners to offer valuable insights into the market, provide constructive feedback on improving recruitment strategies, and understand their company’s culture and needs.
  2. Feedback Loop is Crucial: TA still believes the candidate experience matters, highlighting the importance of a closed feedback loop (don’t ghost candidates). Candidates expect and deserve feedback, and TA expect their staffing partners to relay this feedback, contributing to a positive candidate experience and maintaining the employer brand.
  3. Metrics Matter, but Soft Metrics Are Valued: While traditional metrics like time to fill and success in placements are important, soft metrics like qualitative feedback on the process and understanding the reasons behind any challenges in the recruitment process are highly valued.
  4. Your Approach Matters: TA leaders prefer informed approaches from staffing partners. Understanding the business, its industry, and tailoring your outreach, if seeking business is critical (don’t expect business from a generic message). Being generic can be off-putting.
  5. Role Evolution with Technology: TA is changing because of AI and automation. To be relevant, TA is shifting towards providing more strategic insights to the business stakeholders, leveraging technology for efficiency, and expanding the role beyond just traditional recruitment functions. They need this strategic input from their staffing partners.
  6. Exclusivity vs. Multiple Agency Engagements: While there’s value in exclusivity with an agency for a role, having a contingency plan is also important. Exclusivity allows for deeper understanding and commitment between the recruiter and the staffing partner.

Skills-based hiring and AI recruiting are changing all aspects of the hiring and recruiting process, impacting everyone involved, from the hiring manager to in-house talent acquisition teams to staffing partners. Ali’s advice? Embrace technology like AI and explore its potential benefits. Those who adapt and learn to utilize technological tools will likely find success in the evolving recruitment landscape. If you’d like to watch the interview live, register here.


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