There was a moment of concern at the very beginning of the first day of ER Expo 2001, when I came across two people sitting on the steps outside the conference hall. They were staring motionlessly across the San Diego Harbor. Their eyes were glazed. I asked them if everything was alright. They just replied, “We’re from Boston.” Despite the perfect weather (which seemed a bit nippy for Southern Californians, and heaven to the escapees from the snow-socked Northeast), the March 8 & 9 program was strong enough to draw nearly every attendee indoors when the speakers held forth. Here is our own take on the two days:
- Robert Reich, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, gave the keynote address on the first day. He’s an entertaining speaker with some useful things to say about workforce planning. He emphasized that while we can’t ignore the short-term effects of an economic correction, the longer-term indications are still driven by demographics. My takeaway: Reich pointed out that only a few years ago most economists honestly believed the lowest level of unemployment we could sustain in the U.S. was about 6%. That barrier, along with the thinking that goes with it, is gone. Unemployment is unlikely to rise above 5%. Get used to it.
- H. Perry Boyle was the “pre-keynote” speaker, and even he had fun trying to figure out what that meant. It was also the third time I had heard Perry speak and it was definitely his best – even without slides. My takeaway: You can’t forget that Perry is an investment banker and needs to have visions that his clients can spend their money on to make more money. He describes the future of the (three) remaining job boards as moving toward a “professional content model.” His lengthy definition of what that means, however, sounds suspiciously like that of a professional association. Hard to invest in non-profits.
- Kevin Wheeler’s “Recruiting in the Year 2005” was an enjoyable tour de force. His description of a set of “temporary” databases ought to get folks thinking about the downside of the static resume collection process that most companies currently call a strategy. My takeaway: Kevin, along with many other speakers, predicted the demise of the resume and the rise of more robust, deeper profiles. This logic is based on the employer’s need to screen and assess. It’s a two-way street, though, and we can’t imagine it ever happening without employers providing similar content. I’m unlikely to share an assessment of my leadership skills, let alone test results, without knowing the skills of the people I may work for. Who’s leading in this dance? Folks concerned about the quality of the resumes they receive would be well-advised to examine the quality of the ads they write describing what one would do in their companies.
- John Sullivan attempted a “cross-fire” panel on “Visionaries and their Visions” by mixing Michael McNeal, Randall Birkwood, Kevin Wheeler and Eric Lane. Great banter from some of the most knowledgeable writers and practitioners in the industry, but the high expectations weren’t getting met until the audience pushed back. I loved the questioner who finally asked, “So are you telling us that everyone should be shooting for 60% employee referrals?” The resulting comments – and cautions – were all on target. My takeaway: The audience at ER Expo 2001 had a high proportion of knowledgeable practitioners who have heard and read a lot about visions, but were looking to drill down to a new level they could implement. (You could see this in the overflow concurrent sessions offered by Audra Slinkey, Karen Osofsky, and others.) Both Michael McNeil and Randall Birkwood focused on data, especially the business case, reinforcing the work force planning and research that corporations will have to build into their organizations. Very few organizations recognize this as fundamental.
- “The Future of the Internet Job Board” was a misnomer when you considered that the panelists (R. McGovern, Careerbuilder; Samer Hamadeh, Vault.com; R. Montgomery, Headhunter.net; and Mark Simonsen, Flipdog.com) were so invested. It might have been called “Why I’m the Best” – despite the excellent efforts of moderator Dr. Dana Ardi. Still, it was great insight into the diverging paths each of these leaders chose to take. My takeaway: They all agreed that the “trust” of the job seeker will be a integral component of the boards that succeed. We agree, but can’t help but wonder who is measuring it.
Some final observations:
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- Mike Losey’s slides showing the demographics of the workforce for the next 10 years and beyond are the best I’ve seen. His challenge to the audience is to think about how this affects strategy, and his points about expanding the pool through welfare-to-work and the employment of people with disabilities are more important than most folks realize.
- Mark Mehler’s (CareerXroads) panel on “Selecting and Living with Applicant Tracking Systems: Best Practices” included Intel (Ronan McCann), Fist Union (Ed Gegan) and a well-known industry consultant (Ed Struzik). Attendees took away more than they expected as they dissected the recent demise of iSearch and the implications inherent in choosing systems in the future.
- The “Dot-Coms vs. Bricks and Mortar Faceoff,” which I moderated late in the first day, was billed as a reality show (a cross between Survivor, the Mole, and Temptation Island). The differences between the Dot-Coms (Jeremy Eskenazi, Idealab and Mary Claire Ryan, Agency.com) and the Bricks (Jim O’Malley, Arthur Andersen and Patti Cotter, Nationwide Insurance) were both real and imagined. The lines may be blurring as they learn from one another.
- I caught glimpses of the great benchmarking talks by companies like Southwest Airlines, AOL, and Cisco on topics ranging from college recruiting to retention. Wendell Williams panel about online screening will be an oft-repeated theme as this issue heats up.
- This was the first conference where the audience participation offered the most challenging questions – forcing speakers to another level. Hats off to Karen Osofsky for her audience contribution, as well as her participation as a speaker.
- Outstanding events by all the sponsors, but the Wednesday night boat ride offered by WetFeet.com was especially classy.
Spring is just around the corner. Except in Boston. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>