David Wilkinson’s strategy for Boeing’s global talent management is ready for takeoff.
By Debbie Bolla
With nearly 20 years of experience managing talent around the world with stints in London, Dubai, and North America, no one is better suited to pilot success for Boeing’s new global approach to human capital acquisition than David Wilkinson. The global infrastructure and operations director has been tasked with building a foundation that enables the tech company to compete for the best candidates in its many divisions. Here, he shares the challenges of the current market, the technology that empowers Boeing’s candidate experience, and how to reach talent on a global scale while embodying a local relevance.
What are your biggest talent challenges?
Boeing is an industrial champion but it’s also a new age tech company. When you look at the makeup of the organization, there are many different talent needs. We have a defense and space unit with significant contract wins. We had a record year with commercial airplanes. We also have Boeing global services, which is the afterlife of the planes after we have delivered and sold them, and corporate, which is the management of the business. All of those areas need different skill sets, different talent pools, and different numbers of hires. Every win that we get means more pressure to get talent more quickly.
There are many challenges when you hire up to 35,000 employees a year, but our greatest is that we are competing for talent on a global stage. Digital transformation plays a key role in our talent needs and we recognize the skill sets required for the future will continue to evolve and require a more technology-oriented focus. This means we are competing for talent in industries that are outside of traditional aerospace sectors. Like many employers, we are seeing a dramatic increase in competition for talent across the board, unemployment rates at an all-time low, a reduction in STEM graduates, and increased competition in the technology-oriented skills, making the talent market more complex and competitive than ever before.
Historically, we haven’t had a global view of talent or a global view of how we manage our hiring process. So we needed global efficiency in terms of tools, technology, system, and processes across the acquisition lifecycle.
Our mission is to be global talent champions: We are global, we are diverse, but we are also here to win—and we are going to do that.
How are you tackling these challenges?
We are on a journey within Boeing talent acquisition. We are challenging the assumptions based on “this is always how we’ve done it.” We are redefining how we approach talent. We are moving away from an administrative process to an advisor-like engagement. I like to use the phrase “engage and educate.” Whoever we are touching in the process, we need to engage positively and educate about potential opportunities.
How can we do this? We set up a global infrastructure with technology, tools, systems, and processes to drive candidate experience. For example, if a candidate is an IT or data analytics specialist looking to work at Boeing and one of our competitors, how do we make sure they feel engaged? We are engaging with this candidate through a crescendo of interest that ends with them landing at Boeing rather than a slow-drip process. We’re focusing more on the candidate experience and differentiating ourselves through our culture, our priorities and our products.
We also have a team that is solely focused on candidate care. We are also looking at our application process and our conflict of interest process.
We have to get better at every opportunity. The changes we continue to explore are not about changing all of our practices dramatically. Rather, they’re focused on small changes over time that will lead to greater improvements in how we attract, acquire, and engage top diverse talent.
As our hiring demand continues to be high, we are exploring best practices at engaging talent around the globe at various points in their career. We have invested in entry and mid-level rotation programs that will enable talent in multiple disciplines to learn about Boeing and the opportunities for career growth and exploration. We also continue to keep diversity at the forefront of our priorities. In 2018, Boeing announced a $6 million investment in the future technical workforce through a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the black college community. The investment will fund scholarships, internships, on-campus engagements, and immersive “boot camp” programs that will introduce students to Boeing’s culture and career paths.
What tools and technology do you leverage to get an edge?
We will deploy new HR technology in 2019, which will be a strategic enabler for our organization. We are using this implementation as an opportunity to integrate a large number of systems into this framework, while also simplifying the overall practices used in talent acquisition and also our entire enterprise. We are looking to deploy technology that enables our team—recruiters and HR professionals—to focus on the candidate experience. We can automate some of the hiring process through machine learning and chatbots to allow all of our teams to be more strategic.
We appointed PeopleScout to look at our RPO model. Historically, we’ve gone to them when we are at capacity and they step in to manage the surge. Now PeopleScout is moving into a test lab for services, including a video interviewing pilot and the integration of analytics into some areas of our talent data. I see huge value from PeopleScout with their technology capability, candidate experience capability, and integration capability.
I want to move our services for all our vendors away from reliance in times of surge and max capacity to an intentional and strategic direction. Now we ask our vendors: If there was one risk that you would take with Boeing, what would you deploy right now? Where do you see needle movements in terms of how we are doing? What is the future of this relationship? We are asking them to advise us on what our roadmap should be.
How do you attract talent on a global scale?
We need to create organizational capabilities and a local perspective that has relevance to that market. We recognize that the talent we need is global and have taken significant strides to align our organization to source and attract talent in the markets in which our workforce is present and the business demands. India, for example, is a newer market for us and many of the candidates don’t realize the full breadth of Boeing’s products and services. As part of our talent attraction strategy, we will ensure the candidates understand our business imperative in India, the type of work that our teams deliver, and their role in supporting our customer’s needs.
We also continue to identify talent analytics that showcase where global talent resides. We use those analytics to inform our future hiring locations and also direct our investment in entry-level talent programs outside of the U.S.