AI is coming into its own as a practical technology for helping companies with a range of initiatives, from improving customer experience to streamlining business processes. And, while the technology’s long-term impact on the workforce remains unclear, some companies, such as France-based Schneider Electric, are putting AI to work to aid employees in advancing their careers.
The global energy equipment and solutions provider’s Online Talent Management (OTM) platform, launched in early 2020, gives employees more agency around identifying mentorship opportunities, upskilling, and growing their networks within the organization. Using AI, the platform scans user profiles to identify the right skills for projects in the organization, or to pair up mentors and mentees who would be a good fit for each other. It even enables employees to market their skillsets internally.
“I remember sitting in an auditorium in the office in the US in late 2019 when I was relatively new to the company,” says Shannon Booth, senior talent development partner at Schneider Electric, of the company’s initial presentation for OTM. “And I just remember sitting there thinking, ‘This is going to be so useful for me,’ because I don’t feel like I’m a natural networker.”
Booth, who is responsible for managing an early leadership program, says her team has discovered that the ideal time to introduce employees to OTM is between six to 18 months into their role. That gives employees time to learn their job and then “start to explore what else is out there and how the tool might help you focus on your development,” she says.
To make use of the platform, employees set up a profile where they can upload their resumes directly from LinkedIn, including current skills, past experience, future aspirations, and more. And, on the flip side, employees can also post opportunities for projects in their department where they might need a certain skillset that isn’t available on their current team.
“The more information you give, the more it’s going to give back,” says Booth, adding that the platform uses AI to match employees with opportunities, relevant roles, projects, and potential mentors to help grow their careers. OTM also includes a career development feature, where employees can “explore potential career paths and establish short-term development tracks to address upskilling,” she says.
Shannon Booth, Schneider Electric
More importantly, the platform’s AI helps employees gain ownership over their career paths without bias around gender, age, or ethnicity.
“We want employees to find meaningful work, we want to offer equal opportunities, we want to be inclusive so that everyone has equal opportunities and access, and we really want employees to feel empowered to drive their career. All of that ultimately, when it works, increases talent retention — that is one of the main goals, to retain our employees,” Booth says.
Filling skill gaps on the fly
Another major benefit of OTM is that it enables Schneider Electric to address any skills gaps in the organization without having to hire temporary workers or recruit outside the organization.
For example, Felix Ramos, who manages a software application that is in high demand from internal employees and external customers, turned to OTM to expand the capabilities of his team, which is small and operates with limited budget.
“We could not have supported all [internal employees and external customers] without volunteers from the Open Talent Marketplace,” says Ramos, program manager for energy management software at Schneider Electric.
Felix Ramos, Schneider Electric
With OTM volunteers, Ramos’ team was able to expand its capacity by “at least 1.5x to 2x,” he says, noting that the experience was equally beneficial for the volunteers, many of whom “altered the courses of their careers because of their experience on our team.”
“It was easy to post a job, and once I did, within hours I would have candidates applying. And it empowered me to do so without going through layers of people, approvals, and milestones to engage a candidate,” Ramos says, adding that OTM helped him become a stronger manager as well by enabling him to gain more experience with recruiting and managing a wide range of diverse candidates.
Jessica Klipper, senior director of software product management, found her team under-resourced for an opportunity to showcase options for a better user experience on a global hospitality client’s website. Because her team wanted to move quickly, Klipper posted to the OTM to find UX designer help.
“We scoped four to eight hours weekly, across four weeks, with a UX designer from another team that wanted to increase her exposure to sustainability and work on other interesting projects to further her skill set and broaden her network. She partnered with our designer to outline the problem and approach to the deliverables,” Klipper says.
Jessica Klipper, Schneider Electric
The UX designer conducted interviews with the team to identify requirements and then created “three very different approaches to showcase various options for the client to consider depending on the core needs of their users quickly, but in a high-fidelity protype,” Klipper says.
With support from Klipper’s team, the UX designer they found through OTM was the “creator of the primary deliverables,” Klipper says, providing significant impact on an opportunity that might otherwise not have been capitalized on as efficiently without OTM.
Accelerating connections with AI
Leveraging internal talent to meet specific skills needs in the organization also helps bring more passion to important projects. By identifying people who are interested in those topics, or who have the right skills, OTM can connect engaged workers with opportunities to assist in new departments and roles — and, as Ramos noted, in a way that erases red tape as HR doesn’t have to be involved in the process. Managers and employees can reach out directly to one another and connect over opportunities.
“It really accelerates connections” among the 120,000-plus global employees at Schneider Electric, Booth says. “It is shrinking the company in some ways, but also opening it up more broadly,” as employees can make connections with employees outside their office or region, forging internal connections not only locally, but globally.
Another way OTM facilitates connections is through mentoring recommendations. Employees interested in being mentors are matched by the system with those who express interest in mentorship. All it takes is the check of a box in a profile, and the AI takes care of the rest.
“The AI will pair you based on interests or goals or aspirations,” and a weekly summary is sent to all users that highlights opportunities for connecting with potential mentors or mentees, Booth says, adding that the AI works around the clock to identify opportunities within the organization to help grow employee careers and fill skills gaps throughout the company, without adding work to HR’s plate.
As for the employee’s side, Sophie Brause, a strategic projects services innovation team member, notes that “engaging in OTM requires time management, prioritization, communication, transparency, and managing up.”
Sophie Brause, Schneider Electric
When Brause finds a project to work on through OTM, she makes time to work on it weekly or a few times a month. “I may block my calendar to show my team I am busy if I know I have the capacity to work on the project,” she says. “I was challenged once by a manager to think about how the skills, knowledge, and experience I am gaining in my OTM [work] can impact or reflect my current job. I will often take time to reflect on my OTM [work] and its relation to my current job.”
Customer experience program manager Laurie Beland, who has used OTM both as a recruiter and candidate, says OTM has provided her with opportunities to connect with other colleagues who have similar goals, helping her grow her “personal network, gain exposure to new areas of the company, acquire new skills, and experience a ‘trial-run’ with teams to help understand whether we’re a good fit for each other.”
“As both a recruiter and a candidate, I’ve learned new skills. OTM is a great resource that helps make connections in what can be an overwhelming global landscape. Every day I learn something new about our organization, even in departments I’ve been working with for years, and trying to navigate that solo — or even with support from a manager or mentor — can be daunting. Even something as simple as the platform’s automated suggestions can help introduce individuals to a whole new career path they didn’t know existed,” says Beland.
Artificial Intelligence, IT Training , Staff Management