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Christchurch Tech Stories: FluentIQ

Posted by: Marc

Christchurch Tech Stories: FluentIQ

Christchurch’s tech sector is proud to be world class, connected and creative. The Talent Hive has been working on a blog series with a number of Tech employers in the region and we’re delighted to share those with you over the next few weeks.

FluentIQ delivers online testing of English communication ability, helping candidates find more success in the job market, and providing businesses with key data to make lower risk hiring decisions. To find out how this project benefits both sides of the applicant-recruiter table, we sat down with Andy McLeod, Director of Sales & Partnerships at FluentIQ, to find out more.

How and why did FluentIQ come to life?

The original founders were working on linguistics tools  in partnership with the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour at the University of Canterbury. It was a natural collision of an existing concept being introduced to someone who was intensely active in the UX and UI space. That was the introduction, which culminated in the three founders forming FluentIQ two and a half years ago.

Communication capability is the key skill set in every job in the market, in some way or another, previously there was no swift, reliable and cost effective way to test this  – the industry opportunity for us was clear.

Which industries/sectors stand to benefit most from overcoming unconscious bias in their recruitment process?

All organisations can benefit from the removal of the subconscious bias. But primarily, after 25 years in the Talent sector, I’d say the recruitment industry is actually one of the worst offenders in terms of unconscious bias.

This bias can discriminate against someone’s location, area code, their last name, and can also reinforce natural assumptions. So companies that assume they need local experience – that’s probably code for ‘oh, we don’t think person x can communicate’.

So anyone that’s got a need for front line, second-tier support, health sector, talent there’s a massive shortage.  Any organisation that doesn’t currently have a talent pool they can readily tap into should be looking at exposing themselves to a tool of this nature.

In terms of workforce diversity, have you observed disparities between small startups and large corporations? How do you account for these disparities?

Yes, we have. We encounter it in our own business. I think small businesses are a lot more nimble and, to be frank, you can acquire fantastic, international, global skill sets for less than you would normally. That’s because a candidate will probably take what they can get because they’re not being treated on an equal footing with other candidates in senior roles.

In our small team of 10 people, we’ve got 4 different nationalities. So I think we’re reflective of a lot of SMEs in that they’re more prepared to take a risk because you can manage it better, you can have development profiles in place, and the composition of your team is a lot easier to see.

Corporates – talk a great game and they’re actively using the word ‘diversity’ – it’s really a corporate catch-cry. There’s inherent bias. They’re perhaps being run by people that haven’t been exposed to significant diversity their working or personal life.

It’s a lot easier to shift the small, nimble boat than the aircraft carrier. We definitely see that in the smaller SMEs – and that’s 95% of the country.

A global workforce is more future-proof than one drawn solely from an EFL talent pool. How do you get this message across to risk-averse entrepreneurs whose intuitions tell them otherwise? 

Another good question. If you want to scale and access global markets you can’t just be looking within your own borders. We’ve got exposure to the UK, Vietnam, India, US, Australia and to the Ukraine. You rarely find that experience  set wrapped up in a person residing within Canterbury that happens to look the same and talk the same as you.

If you’re staying within the confines of your own borders, it limits you at every stage of your growth and your development. So competitive advantage will be grabbed by those that embrace border-less talent. It’s a lot easier to take a risk if you’re aware and you’ve got data to make those risk decisions and then mitigate them.

What feedback have you received from ESL candidates? Are they listing FluentIQ certification on their CVs or is it something that comes up at the interview stage?

Those that have online CVs embed the link to our test results and people with LinkedIn profiles are able to have this reside as a certification in their  LinkedIn page. So, you can see the person’s FluentIQ profile on their LinkedIn profile. They’re embracing that as a way to stand out in a massive pool of people that are actually being eliminated as applcants  in under two or three seconds based on name.

The feedback we get is it’s been the easiest to execute, i.e., it’s user friendly, it’s relevant, they can see the relevance because it’s real-world English. They can see how it can assist them getting a role, because it’s a measure of where they are right now.

If they aspire to a particular role, it shows them that, ‘you know what, I’ve got a bit of a journey to get on’, as opposed to spending a couple of hundred dollars and many months to achieve an academic qualification and they’re then told no, based on someone’s assumption on their last name.

So, it saves a lot of time and hassle, at a logistics, cost and execution level. We’ve been getting some fantastic feedback.

Any predictions for the future of a digitally-native workforce? Will the concept of nationhood cease to matter?

When we refer to borderless talent, it’s being hampered by political rhetoric, and there’s no way you’re going to be able to shift that quickly. The greatest scapegoats are always migrants and it’s happened for the last 200 years.

I think that any organisation, or any country, that can actually be creative enough in attracting the right talent and ensuring that this talent is properly looked after when it comes into your country, the competitive advantage is going to be phenomenal.

We all know the numbers, the talent shortages in New Zealand, in Australia. In the UK too – 30% of their health sector is going to retire in the next five years. You can’t grow it and you can’t develop it internally. They’ll be many millions of people short, and then they’ve just introduced barriers to entry, so that’s going to have an impact on the retiring population – and there’s nothing worse than pissing off retired people. You really don’t want to do that.

And as group of voters, I think they’re going to be ensuring that we need people to be there. Not only to build products, to service them, but to do those roles that traditionally the migrant groups come and pick up as cultures establish their foot hold in  new land .

I think the scariness of AI that people focus on  is misguided. We’ve got the machine-learning in part of our product, but we’ve overlaid it with a human interface. There’s a rationale behind that, because we’re dealing with a very human product.

It’s about empowering people and giving them the tools. Not using technology as a club to beat people over the head with or a crutch to lean on, but as a tool to empower you to make the best decisions. That’s where we see the future of AI technologies that are enhancing people’s lives not taking away opportunity. Quite the contrary, we’re giving opportunity to people.

What’s coming up for FluentIQ over the next 12 months and what’s exciting your team most of all?

We’ve got ongoing research happening and that covers a number of layers. One example is industry specific. There is industry specific language content   we are exploring such as aviation and IT , etc. So we’re looking at expanding our tools in those directions.

We will have a full mobile version of our product out in March 2018 which we are very excited about. We have integrations with the top  Applicant Tracking Systems around the world, so that will expose us to maybe 40,000 customers that use those products, and the top three recruiters in the world will soon have access to our product as well. So the scale is exciting.

We’ve got entry partners into India and Vietnam that we’re working on right now, and that is phenomenal. For a company who released its product seven months ago, we’re having organisations coming to us that you would struggle normally to get an audience in the front door.

So it’s exciting times but we’re also going to be careful to focus on the basics and not to get distracted by shiny objects and go off on the wrong tangent. But I think, for a small team, we’ve achieved some fairly fantastic stuff.

Start ups are tough  so I think if we asked the team that question, they’d say they’re looking forward to a holiday break!


This interview is condensed and edited for clarity.

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Categorised as: Career Development, IT, Tech Stories