Angela McGowan: It's time to seize the moment and not just on large scale economic strategy

PeopleHawk co-founders Alistair Craig and Paul Kinney

MY dad was from the countryside, so he used to come out with a lot of quirky rural sayings. One that springs to mind is “the time to cut a thorn bush is the time you see it” which emphasised the need to act urgently and not procrastinate.

This saying often springs to mind when I consider the CBI’s “Seize the Moment” campaign which is all about grasping every opportunity available to us today to grow a better economy through raising innovation, improving workforce health, ensuring more inclusion, adopting low carbon initiatives and by levelling up through regional growth.

The task ahead is by no means easy but given the right frame of mind and a sense of urgency, we can perhaps create a sustainable economy that works for everyone.

When I chat to CBI members about the various opportunities in Northern Ireland that we could potentially grasp, it is interesting that some of them note Northern Ireland's “smallness” is in itself an opportunity. For example, a small region like ours could be used as a test bed for green technologies or new health initiatives.

NI Water are already a test bed for an innovative oxygen and hydrogen demonstrator project that deploys a one-megawatt (MW) electrolyser at a major wastewater treatment plant. This was the first project of its kind in the UK and Ireland to demonstrate how electrolysis can help to increase processing capacity, reduce carbon emissions, and improve flexibility in the electricity grid.

Lately I've come across another idea which I am certain will be a global winner in time. It’s a new digital platform which is designed to speedily connect potential employees with employers. PeopleHawk is set to disrupt how graduates and professionals unearth their career potential, and in turn how businesses source and recruit top talent.

This platform has the potential to rapidly match 16 and 18-year-olds with apprenticeships, and FE and HE graduates with exciting jobs, as well as enabling more experienced people (perhaps impacted by the pandemic) to showcase their potential and take on roles in different industries - all at the click of a button.

The platform has emerged from a multi-million-pound technology investment and will help companies shift from a reliance on slow, outdated CV based recruitment processes replacing them with data rich, digital candidate profiles that contain everything an employer needs to make an informed hiring decision. It has been designed to significantly cut the repetitive, first-round interview process by leveraging scientifically backed, highly predictive algorithms to rank candidates based on potential.

There is no doubt that PeopleHawk could work anywhere in the world, and it has already caught the attention of leading businesses and universities in the UK, North America, South Africa and India who are beginning to appreciate its true potential.

But what is interesting, is that PeopleHawk’s chief executive Paul Kinney is from Northern Ireland, and he is keen to use Northern Ireland as a testbed for the platform. PeopleHawk is now partnering with local universities and further education colleges so that young people across Northern Ireland can be matched up with local employers.

The platform is designed to unearth each candidate’s potential, while at the same time provide companies direct access to this valuable information. And because the platform is digital, and all the insightful candidate data is provided up front - hiring decisions are better informed, faster and more cost effective.

The PeropleHawk platform, which draws out the cognitive abilities and personality traits of candidates has been validated by scientific studies in the US, under the watchful eye of its lead scientist, Professor Colin Cooper, formerly of Queen’s University Belfast.

Professor Cooper, now based in Toronto, is a world renowned academic in the field of individual differences and intelligence. He was the psychologist behind the BBC television series Test the Nation. He argues that cognitive abilities and personality traits are some of the best predictors of future work performance and candidate trainability.

With labour shortages being the most important issue for businesses across Northern Ireland today, there has never been a more opportune time for industry and the education sector in Northern Ireland to work together to make the most of testbed opportunities like this.

So, over the next month or so I will be encouraging CBI members to sign up to this platform and HE and FE colleges should do the same.

It’s time to seize the moment – not just on large scale economic strategy, but on projects that will support economic growth by improving job opportunities and hiring.

:: Angela McGowan is Northern Ireland director at the CBI

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