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HR Tech 2019: What Went Down

Dana Gradinaru
4 min. read

It’s like they say, what happens in Vegas… gets blogged about later on. Or, what happens in Vegas helps us to better understand the future of work and technology. Okay, maybe these aren’t the catchiest sayings—but we’ll stand by the sentiments!


Okay, for those of you who haven’t had October 4th 2019 circled prominently on your calendars since the last HR Tech Conference a year ago, here’s the relevant background: this past week, SmartDreamers attended the largest ever HR Tech event in Las Vegas, which featured a massive expo with more than 500 exhibitors (including 100 startups), keynotes and TED-style talks from industry leaders and influencers, and a pitchfest in which SmartDreamers had the chance to pitch its unique vision and technology.


We (and by “we” I mean Adrian Cernat, Alpar Major, Alexandra Stan, Daniel Spinciu, and myself, who comprised SmartDreamers’ envoy to the event) had a truly fun and engaging week with our peers around the world of talent acquisition technology. We've written about other conferences that HR pros should seriously consider attending, and we think you should strongly consider adding this one to the list.    


What Is HR Tech?


The HR Technology Conference—described as the industry’s “annual meeting”—has been around for more than 20 years, and each year it has shown an impressive commitment to showcasing the ways that new technology can and will change the way that we attract, hire, onboard, and retain the right people. Given the rate of change in the industry as a whole, it’s not hard to imagine that you could fill a whole conference schedule based on this topic. As you can imagine, it’s right up our alley.


As candidates’ expectations change and they begin to behave more and more like customers, the importance of conferences like this one really increases. New challenges are facing recruiters and HR professionals every day—from shrinking talent pools to changing social media best practices to increasing competition for candidates’ attentions—and it’s important to think critically about those challenges in an environment that privileges innovation and new ideas.  


What Happens in Vegas


At this year’s conference, we were excited for the chance to hear from a number of thought leaders in the field. One of our favorites was from Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director at Willis Towers Watson. His focus was on the implications of automation (obviously a topic near and dear to our hearts) and its implications for the future of work. He argued that automation wasn’t going to replace employees in HR, but that it would change the nature of their jobs in ways that are hard to predict. In fact, he argued, automation would create new jobs and encourage the development of new skillsets for human workers over time. This is going to mean adaptation, but it’s also an exciting opportunity for those who work in the field that will ultimately be responsible for managing these changes in the nature of work.


We also appreciated a talk by TalentRISE’s Carl Kutsmode on the nature of bias and some of the strategies we can use to overcome it, which raised important questions about the ways that AI will affect diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In a similar vein, Montra Ellis of Ultimate Software discussed the ethics of AI, and called on HR leaders to take a smart, considered approach to leveraging new technology to decrease bias.


This doesn’t even begin to cover all of the fascinating discussions we heard and participated in, but for those of you who weren’t able to attend, there were a few important takeaways from the talks overall: first, that HR and TA are all about building human connections, and that technology that helps people do that should be a top priority; to us, this means letting the robots handle robotic tasks like scheduling social media posts and collecting data from far-flung web channels. Second, that we all need to get comfortable with an increasing rate of change and keep evolving to meet new challenges; we know that our technology and the challenges it addresses are very different from what they were even a year ago.   


The Future of Talent Acquisition Technology


Again, we’d simply like to express what an exciting week we had in Las Vegas. We really appreciate the efforts of the all of the conference organizers, everyone who exhibited, and all of the many smart, engaging speakers. It’s always nice to be surrounded by likeminded people who are passionate about the things that we are: using the right tools to connect the right candidates to the right jobs.


Well, that pretty covers it for our wrap-up. We hope to reconnect with some of the folks we met this year at next year’s conference (if not much sooner!). Just for fun, here are a few predictions for what we might be talking about this time next year at HR Tech 2020:


The growth of the HR software ecosystem: The more new technologies are introduced into the market, the more pressing the question of how those technologies connect will become. We think next year this will be a big topic for people who may be simultaneously trying to adopt multiple new technologies.

AI and machine learning in practice: Many of the conversations around these technologies still have an air of the theoretical around them. By next year, though, we think more companies will have seen the ways that the rubber meets the road—meaning we’ll have a deeper, more practical understanding of the challenges, pitfalls, and opportunities that real live recruiters will have to grapple with regarding AI and related technology.

A more holistic approach to the entire talent management cycle: HR and talent acquisition functions remain somewhat siloed from one another in any number of businesses. As the field evolves, we’ll be talking about how these two functions and other talented-related activities will interconnect to mutually add value for all involved.

Will these predictions prove accurate? You’ll have to check in with us after next year’s conference to find out. 

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