"Nowadays, young talent has to be wooed just as intensively as C-level and board of directors positions in the past."

Interview with Dr. Christian Kehler

Christian Kehler explains in an interview which challenges KPMG currently faces as an employer on the job market, how important digitalization is in KPMG’s recruitment process and which important HR trends KPMG is currently monitoring.

Christian Kehler

Dr. Christian Kehler, Director, Head of Human Resources

The current issue of KPMG’s CEO Outlook reveals that the search for talent surged to the top of CEOs’ agendas during the lockdown and even surpassed climate change. What exactly does that mean and how do you manage to attract top talent and specialists?

While the search for talent has already been on CEOs’ agendas for several years now, its importance has been on the rise. Nowadays, young talent has to be wooed just as intensively as C-level and board of directors positions in the past. Employers have to work hard to attract the best talents and essentially submit applications to their potential new recruits rather than the other way around. That’s the only way we can bring top talent on board and KPMG is extremely good at it. These efforts don’t just rely on cultivating a variety of different talent pools, but also on our own network of employees and alumni. Since attractive employer branding has become a pivotal factor with respect to both recruiting qualified workers and successful staff retention, we were very eager to get as many employees as possible involved in the employer branding process – and it’s been a rousing success! Over the course of the next few months and years, we’ll be announcing our employer brand broadly and incorporating it throughout the entire company.

Which challenges does KPMG currently face on the job market?

I just mentioned the importance of employer branding. This is where we have to clearly set ourselves apart from the competition. But the current challenges go much further, as revealed by the CEO Outlook, our global survey of 1,300 CEOs. According to the survey, the struggle to recruit the best talent will probably intensify enormously as the relevance of employees’ place of residence declines. This insight and trend are the direct result of last spring’s lockdown. With respect to international recruitment, the currently valid – and constantly changing – regulations aimed at helping to contain the coronavirus pose additional challenges for those of us in HR. Generally speaking, we’re noticing a universal sense of unease that is reducing people’s desire to change employers. Another equally important challenge is and remains our outdated labor law, which still channels the spirit of the industrial age and urgently needs to become more flexible to enable us to respond to our clients’ needs both promptly and flexibly.

To what extent have working models changed since the lockdown?

The lockdown helped accelerate existing developments and trends. What we’re seeing is a general decline in the relevance of our employees’ place of residence – even across international borders. The lockdown has also had another impact on working models: Now that we’ve seen that remote working can be extremely efficient, many companies are allowing more leeway for location-independent working, whether from a client’s premises or from home. At the same time, however, our on-site work for clients remains one of our key success factors. Personal, direct communication at the office is and remains essential for us as well: to cultivate the team spirit and for informal discussions, creative meetings, employee training and introducing new team members. Home offices cannot completely take the place of all this. Accordingly, a blended model will prevail in practice. And that’s great! Since we’re going to have to live with the COVID-19 pandemic for the time being, we’ll also have to review our labor practices on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as needed. We want to remain as flexible as possible so that we can implement quick, efficient solutions to protect our employees’ health to the best of our ability while also offering our clients the best possible service.

How important is digitalization in KPMG’s recruitment process, both in terms of how the firm recruits future employees as well as the skills it wants to see?

The use of video interviews, whether live or pre-recorded, as well as the automation of application processes has allowed us to optimize processes and improve efficiency. But we don’t just rely entirely on automated processes – we still want to get to know the person behind the CV. After all, we’re not only interested in their professional qualifications but also in how well they fit in terms of our firm’s corporate culture. The biggest talents want to be wooed even more intensely in the future. Here, interpersonal communication and the networking skills of both recruiters and employees play a central role. In general, our clients’ ongoing digitalization also calls for an increase in so-called STEM profiles, an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. People with these profiles place different expectations on their environment with respect to factors such as training and career development. That means that when approaching and selecting top-notch talent, our recruiters and staff in HR Marketing have to be knowledgeable on these subjects as well.

Which are the most important HR trends at present?

We’re currently seeing several trends in HR. One example that I’ve already mentioned is employer branding, since correctly positioning ourselves in the talent market is becoming essential. Another is the current shift from something called “HR analytics” or “people analytics” to “predictive analytics”, which is aimed at providing better baseline data for decision making. Other trends include proactive recruiting and cultivating relevant talent pools at both the junior and senior level. The topic of workforce management should also be mentioned. One hot topic at the moment is achieving an ideal workforce mix and, in some cases, developing new collaboration models. Employee development is yet another one of our top priorities; here, a blend between the digital approach and traditional approaches should help us pinpoint the right approach to learning. Last but not least is the topic of diversity, which of course is extremely important to us and has been a key issue for us for some time now.

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