Podcast: Retrain.ai’s Shay David on the Future of Skills

Drill Press

Transcript

Mark:

Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Shay [David 00:00:16], the CEO of Retrain AI. Their platform uses AI to help employers understand and use market and skills data to forecast skills gaps, help employees up skill and run assessments to help understand an employee’s knowledge, skills, impression attributes. We’re going to talk about the labor market, automation and the changes in store for business on this edition of People Tech. Hi, Shay. Welcome. Briefly, can you tell me what retrain.ai does?

Shay:

Retrain.ai is developing the world’s most best talent intelligent platform. We’ve cracked the science of finding, developing, and keeping the right people for any organization.

Mark:

And how does it work? What’s going on under the hood?

Shay:

So basically what we developed and continue to develop is what we call our global skew framework. We think about our solution as kind the Google Maps of the labor market. So the first step is to create a map. That is a map of the organization, could happen at an organizational level, departmental level or even state or country level, where we use artificial intelligence and natural language processing. In order to process meanings of data points by way of CVS job descriptions, want ads to understand what the demand of skill talent is. We analyze what people are hiring for, and we create a map of occupational opportunity. That’s step one. Step two is that our system can analyze CVs, LinkedIn profiles and either employee or people within the map. So if we have a map of occupational and opportunity, we can map individuals on the map. And step three is that we can help chart pathways, post learning pathway their career pathways to show post individuals and organizations, how they can move around that occupational and opportunity map in order to manage their career, gainful employment or advance if they’re already working.

Mark:

Now, given what’s going on in the labor market right now employers can’t find the people they want.

Shay:

Right?

Mark:

How much attention are employers really paying to the whole idea of well matched candidates and all of that?

Shay:

I think there’s a growing realization, there’s a new normal [growing path 00:02:54]. For the last few years, we have begun to understand that phenomenal disruption that AI automation, digital transformation, [inaudible 00:03:04] is creating on the labor market. But there was a sideline story or a headline story rather, suggesting that soon enough robots are going to take over the jobs and nobody’s going to have the job anymore. It turns out that there’s a real disruption, but the disruption is probably going the other way in COVID 19 with a great accelerator for that. It turns out that the big problem is not that they’re not enough jobs, but they’re not enough people. I don’t know if you saw the data that came out of the bureau of labor statistics two weeks ago, showing in the US alone, 12 and a half million open jobs and about six and a half million job seekers.

Shay:

Now that is a sad story in two different aspects. One is that there’s just not enough people to feed the jobs. But two, either that number of only six and a half million job seekers is actually artificially low, because that does not count the people that have been long term unemployed. They job seeks because they’re not looking for jobs. They’re not looking for jobs because they gave up, because they don’t have the skills to participate. So on one hand, it’s a tragedy that employers can’t find enough people. On the other hand, it’s a tragedy that people gave up on trying to participate. And there’s a very large mismatch between supply and demand. We call that the skills gap emergency.

Shay:

And I think that more and more [employers 00:04:23] are beginning to take notice of that. And employers are understanding that they need to take control of the future, that they need to be able to hire faster, and they need to be able to create vocational training programs on their own, and that they need to really widen the net with which they can recruit candidates. And I think that is becoming an acute problem. And I think that’s definitely top of mind for many organizations today.

Mark:

Sorry about the barking in the background. I have two very stubborn schnauzers. So what’s your sense about how long this dynamic is going to continue with the labor market?

Shay:

I think we’re obviously seeing the tightest labor market definitely in the modern earth since [inaudible 00:05:15]. It’s straining the UK, it’s straining most of the developed world. And I dare say that this is a new normal. I think this is a secular trend. I think that this is not going to reverse anytime soon. And I think that if there was what McKinsey called the acceleration of the future work, they put it best when they said the future work is now. If we thought that this larger trend in the market are going to take 10 to 15 years, COVID 19 really accelerated things. And we’re talking about remote work, we’re talking about hybrid work. We’re talking about the rapid rise in automation and robotic process automation. And if you look at past historical precedents, and I think that the best examples are actually given by Prof. [Caffrey 00:06:05], the head of the future working studio at Oxford.

Shay:

And he wrote this book that I highly recommend to listeners to look into called the technology trap. Carl looks at [parlet 00:06:15] between the first, second and third industrial revolution, and the fourth industrial revolution we’re experiencing now. And one of the things that he notices is that in times of economic crisis automation is increasing, because employers that are looking at the innovative dilemma, all of a sudden have an external incentive to automate. So I think we’re going to see more automation. And I think that more automation is going to require more skilled labor, and more skilled labor is going to create an even bigger crunch on skilled labor in the market.

Shay:

So the tightening of the labor market, I expect that this is a trend that’s going to stay with us for years. And I think that employers that are not going to respond to that, are going to be in a big problem. I’ve had a conversation with economic development council advisor of the White House about a year back, and I’ve heard them describe it as a tsunami come. The only question is, are you going to be a above flood line or below the flood line, because it’s coming. And I think that we hope to build technology to help people climb above the flood line, so they didn’t get swept away.

Mark:

And I wanted to say, to shift back to talking about Retrained.ai. When you were building your platform, what’s the biggest challenge that you faced either technically or in terms of business?

Shay:

I think that the technical challenge is just the immense [inaudible 00:07:50] dataset. Historically speaking, HR tech has been quite a neglected area of the market. People did not invest in their HR stack, the types of investment by way of time, money, attention that they needed to. And as a result of that, a lot of HR tech stacks are very dated. It’s not uncommon to find an old implementation of some HR technology, like it worked there at Oracle that was basically deployed some 20 some years ago, literally green screens with the cursor. And for most organizations, this means that they have a lot of data, but they don’t have a lot of knowledge. Historically, HR has been a very data rich, but information poor area. So the biggest challenge that we have is what I call breaking down the data silos. We need to unify data.

Shay:

That’s coming from talent acquisition systems, from talent management systems, for other operational systems to marry that with data about learning and development systems. And to be able to create a unified language that allowed us to understand who the employee is, what are their potential, what career pathway are they on, what learning pathway could we put them on so that they can maximize the career pathway? And how do you do that when you’re talking with four or five different systems at the minimum, sometimes six or seven systems that don’t speak the same language, that don’t exchange data, that sometimes do not even have a unified view of the active director of a single silo. So that’s the biggest challenge, unifying different data silo and creating a unified language. So that’s something we’ve been working on for a couple of years to solve that.

Shay:

From a business perspective, I think the biggest challenge is to help on one hand [inaudible 00:09:39], but on the other hand, convince people that this is even possible. And I think that the sole state of enterprise training and learning in the HR tech is that people are very skeptical of the usefulness of this system. And let me ask you, Mark, for any company you ever worked for, when was the last time you logged into a corporate learning network and expected to actually find something useful for you to teach you something you really wanted to learn? And of us are because it just never happened.

Mark:

You’re right. It has never happened.

Shay:

Of the market is that you log into your appropriate learning network only when you get the 17th email alerts or non compliant or some compulsory training or something like that. You don’t really think that’s a place where you’re going to learn. You don’t really think that the dated green screen for a work day or [inaudible 00:10:34] is going to help you move your career. So a lot of people definitely on the employees side, but sometimes even on the HR manager side, gave up on the in-house systems and they used a lot of external systems. So they would send their employees to Coursera or Udemy, or Go 1, or they would use LinkedIn for recruiting. So they go to outside systems. The challenge with that, those outside systems do not have a unified view of the employee, do not understand the organizational needs, are not connected to one another. What if we could create a system that had the best of both words, it was a modern system that uses AI and NLP in order to offer HR managers the decision support that they need.

Shay:

And in order to offer the employee experience, it’s actually useful for the employee. Not a bot that sits on your shoulders and overlooks at what you do to determine whether you are eligible for the job, but rather an AI that helps you plan your career, that helps you learn new skills, that allows you to take control of your learning of what we call the skills wallet of the opportunity marketplace. It’s going to help you find your next career, whether within the same organization and your career beyond. So convincing people that is even possible, I think is a big business challenge. But is the evidence is beginning to Mount that the tremendous progress that has been done with AI and machine learning over the last few years is making that dream possible and creating evidence that that could actually be true. I think that is what is helping us penetrate the market and work with very large brand in order to show the system in action.

Mark:

My last question. You closed $7 million in funding last August, I believe, and press release said that you were going to use the money to expand in the United States and do some hiring and put some money into product development. How’s that going? Are you running at any roadblocks or are things going as you hoped?

Shay:

I think things are a little faster than we’d hoped. So we raised $7 million and then we added more, so total we raised about $20 million because we had a lot of inbound interests of people that basically are beginning to see what the system like that could do. And I think it’s been going phenomenally well. We just announced a couple weeks ago, the readiness of what we call our general availability platform. And we announced the rapid enterprise onboarding program, because we believe that this is technology that’s going to help millions of people. Our goal was to help 10 million people in the first five years. I think we’re very much on track with that goal. And I think that it’s a really good time to innovate within that market. I think that customers are paying attention. I think that investors are paying attention. And most importantly, I think that employees and job seekers are paying attention.

Shay:

They’re beginning to understand that artificial intelligence is a tool, that’s not only part of the disruption, but also could be part of the solution. And to give you an example, I think that we’ve seen the tremendous price of AI in consumer facing technologies, such as image recognition. The fact that Google photos can identify cats and dogs in images is no longer surprising. The fact that it can identify one of my children from the time they were babies to the time the are teenagers, again, that no longer surprising to us.

Shay:

This is technologies that didn’t exist three or four years ago. And by way of analogy, I think that the huge breakthrough that are happening in natural language processing did not exist three or four years ago, but today we can have an AI that could help HR professionals write job descriptions that are going to be more accurate and more actionable than a human can write.

Shay:

We can have an AI that could look at millions of candidates and sift through the best candidates for an organization in speed and accuracy that you couldn’t do three or four years ago. Today we can have an AI that can read millions of course descriptions, and find and tailor personalized learning development pathway for job seeker and an employee in way that we couldn’t just do three or four years ago. So I think that in that sense, it’s a really good time to do it. And I think that if anything, we’re just surprised by the rapidity in which things are moving and we’re very encouraged by the way the market is developing.

Mark:

Thanks very much. Thanks for coming in and thanks for talking.

Shay:

Absolutely. This has been a pleasure. And if [crosstalk 00:15:19]. And thank you very much.

Mark:

My guest today has been Shay David, the CEO of Retrain AI. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM technology report, where a publication of recruiting daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

Image: iStock

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