HRchat Interview with Thomas Mathew by Bill Banham of HR Gazette

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EMP Trust is thrilled to be recognized by HR Gazette in the latest episode of their renowned HRchat podcast.  Senior Director at EMP Trust, Thomas Mathew Kottukapally was interviewed by Bill Banham, host of the HRchat show on Recruiting and Onboarding Trends and the EMP Trust HR story.


The HRchat podcast is a series of interviews with high-profile influencers, leaders, analysts, and those in the HR trenches. The show covers the big issues relating to HR, Leadership, Talent, Diversity and Inclusion, Recruitment, Employee Engagement, Performance, and Company Culture. The show has received 130,000+ downloads and is frequently listed as one of the most popular global podcasts for professionals in Human Resources, Talent, and Leadership.


Below is the entire podcast between Bill Banham and Thomas Mathew Kottukapally.




The labor market is buoyant right now, and demand for talent is at a high. In this HR chat, we’re going to focus on how to onboard salaried and hourly workers at scale and consider some of the main recruiting trends of 2021. My guest, this time is Thomas Matthew Kottukapally, senior director and partner at EMP Trust solutions, a software technology company that provides HR solutions and services in over 40 countries and job locations over internet and intranet networks. So it’d be on my short introduction there. Thomas, why don’t you start by telling our listeners a bit about yourself?




I’m a software engineer by training. I spent over 20 plus years building out software for senior executives across enterprise software. I lead EMP Trust as a senior director and managing partner helping to build solutions. Really a lot of the credit for building the solutions goes to my wonderful team of employees who spend every day trying to create wonderful products that can be used by laypeople and HR people to improve, their HR onboarding experiences. So, that’s a little bit of background. I’ve spent some time actually volunteering at the local SHRM chapter, where I’ve learned to, work with other HR leaders in the space and try to learn from them so we can improve our software. That’s a little bit of background about what I do at EMP Trust.




Perfect. Thank you very much, Thomas. Now then why don’t you take a minute or two and tell us a bit more about EMP Trust solutions? You started mentioning there a little bit about the fantastic staff that you have. Please give us an overview of the company.


Thomas :


We like to say we are the best-of-breed provider for employee onboarding software. We tend to believe that we are one of the better platforms in the industry today that is focused on creating great employee onboarding experiences and complying with the law. Solutions that help companies in recruiting and nurturing the employee through their first 90 days, helping companies to fully engage the employee and create great onboarding experiences for them. We support companies as you mentioned in over 40 plus countries. I think we are in our 41st country today.


We have a lot of Fortune 500 companies, name brands, such as PepsiCo, Cisco, Blackboard, and a couple of others. Out of Canada, I believe we have a great company Joey’s restaurant, and we support them for onboarding out of the US and Canada. So we get a lot of very large companies and small and medium-sized companies today. We like to say we are one of the fastest-growing SAAS companies in the HR space. And we have seen a lot of companies just love what we do. So, I think it’s a great credit to the employees at my organization, who spend time trying to create the best solutions possible for our clients.




Talk to the HR chats audience about the complexities associated with managing employees across multiple worksites, job locations, and countries. How is it further complicated by the needs of salaried versus hourly workers?




That’s a great question. You know, quite often, you know, when we look at their HR space, there’s no one size fits all cookie cutter onboarding solutions. Typically doesn’t work. Once you go across multiple borders so often companies have to deal with what we call complex laws and regulations in the federal and state space. The U.S is a hybrid of laws. What you might have in California might be very different from the forms that you may have an employee complete let’s say in the DC area. This is where I am from. So we tend to look at, what companies tend to have with the forms that they need to complete. The hiring for salaried employees obviously is very different from an hourly worker. With hourly workers, you have wages that need to be defined as overtime wages.


So within our solution, what we try to do is to provide, the regulatory background for companies when they bring an employee on, so they can complete our required state and federal level tax forms. There are differences between national tax IDs across the board when you’re going across countries. When you look at just the US Social Security Number versus, you know, a SIN(Social Insurance Number), a social insurance number out of Canada. So while finding differences, not only in the data that you need to capture but also in the laws that need to go back in there.


One of the other things that we have to look at is that, companies have different record-keeping requirements based on the type of form, how long they need to retain it. If you are a federal contractor today in the US obviously you have to comply very often with what is known as employee verification with the Department of Homeland security in the E-verify system. So what we try to do is to provide you with the regulatory framework, put it in a nice little onboarding experience that tells employees what forms to complete, what tasks they need to do so that they’re more productive from day one. And I think this goes back to creating solutions that can really make a difference for people who don’t want to manage this but want to have a company take care of all of it. So that’s what we do for them.




Increased engagement, lower costs, improve retention, and the shorter hiring process, are a few of the benefits of a shift to internal mobility. Thomas. Maybe you can talk a little bit about why companies are prioritizing internal hiring, and if they are doing that, which I do suspect you’re going to say they are. What’s the reason for that?




My answer, it depends on the size of the company. So for example, if you are a growing company and you’re growing from a small base of employees, it’s very hard to find that internal mobility to put people in the right positions. And I think especially if you are growing as aggressively as we are, we do tend to hire people from outside. So internal mobility typically can work for you if you have a greater employee size of employees that you can actually fill in back, fill into certain positions.

Our effort, at least on a product side has been to take a look at and see whether there are employees we can mentor into leadership positions when they spend the time with the company and we also look for both vertical and horizontal fit where employees are being looked at from an internal mobility perspective. So the answer is really if you don’t have the talent, in-house, you have to go outside. If you do have the talent, I think you want to give opportunities for employees to actually do better and to actually help them with their career goals as much as possible. So I would say that size of the company matters, the type of people that you’re having matters. So internal mobility is all dependent on those two factors.




So as you know, there’s also been a bit of a focus recently, Thomas on re-skilling recruiters themselves.  In fact, new skills are the top growth competency for recruiters at the moment. These skills are focused on diversity and inclusion, making decisions, and learning how to use an HR strategy better. They need to be able to bring clear and continuous talent data to the marketplace, of course, implement a new employer brand and streamline the virtual hiring process. Tell me more about how recruiting has dramatically changed over the past couple of years when it comes to the skills needed.




Well, I think Bill, it goes back to what my core competency is. You know, I do tend to think that some of these questions are maybe better for my HR operations who tend to work on it on a day-to-day basis, but here’s my take on it. When we look at what companies are actually buying or, things that they are looking for, we are finding that recruiting, especially talent acquisition is looking at data, you know, what they are hiding from job boards are actually giving them the greatest benefits. You know, where does that final heading come from? What does that funnel look like for them? We have seen a great set of automation tools or AI-based talent decisions that are coming through, which is kind of likely to be a better fit.


We have seen the rise of assessments that I believe help companies to actually make better decisions. Is this the right employee for me? Do they have the right skills? Do they have the right temperament to fill in those positions? So we are seeing the rise of tools such as video interviewing, if you’re talking to me about five years ago and talked about, you know, how would interviews be done? I would have said that we did interviews for the last on my scale, but, with the pandemic, I think we have seen a great uptick in reading tools out there. We are seeing recruiters increasingly use those common names, to actually interview remote candidates as well as local candidates, because you can meet with somebody in the midst of a pandemic. So I think we are finding that the tools that recruiters are likely to use there is a shift. We are nicer as a shift, and we have to continue to build and evolve solutions that will help them.


You know, you mentioned diversity and inclusion. That’s something that, as you know, in the US there’s been a lot of discussions over the last couple of years, how do we promote minority leadership across these companies?  Do we promote women in leadership for that matter? And if you look at some of the stats that we are looking at we have seen that the company is consciously deciding to build in more minority participation, also tending to pay, I would say, more equal pay for the same amount of work that has been acquired. I call it one of the mantras that have been going across the industry. So I think we are finding those changes tying to start to take place and take shape.


What we also find is that recruiters need to be aware that they can’t go back with the older strategy they have been used to, they have to learn to use more tools that will help them, to analyze the data better, and that allows them to hire remotely with remote interviewing, also take the help of professional assessments tools that are there to actually get a better fit by now, great employees, typically starts with a great fit. So if you put a round peg in a square hole, it’s typically not going to work. So I think people are intending to use some of these skills, to define what that looks like for recruiters.




Well, I guess that could be a point in the coming years, actually, Thomas, because many employers believe that the entire recruitment process will be automated by the end of the 2020s. Organizations across the globe reshape their talent acquisition procedures with increased use of, for example, automated HR tools. And of course, AI, what’s your take?




I don’t believe so. I think there could be a lot more automation. I think we are seeing the rise of automation, but I do believe that you know, that personal touch, the ability for an employee to go and talk to an HR person, tell them what their problems are, for an HR to look at their performance, to mentor them, to set goals for them. That is still a part of human interaction that you need to have. So I don’t think a machine is ever going to replace that mission and, human interactions that you need to do with your employees. One of the great downsides of remote work is that you’re no longer meeting in person. So companies have to say, how do we encourage team collaboration? How do we keep people’s mental health going? Because there’s only so much you want to do. So I don’t believe primarily because of those reasons, you’re likely to have full automation happening.


We will see an increase in the use of automation in hiring decisions. What do I mean by that? Well, very often, today actually into some of the tools that I’m seeing across the board, even when you’re hiring somebody, the system will allow you to see top candidates rise up based on how your resume has been built up the skills that you have to match up with the jobs that you are looking for. We are saying that, the ability to score individuals based on responses that you provide so that your top candidates are automatically ranked. Those are changes that you will see, continue to happen.


We are seeing the rise of chatbots that will help employees to guide them through the recruiting, through the onboarding experiences. So we’re seeing a lot of AI-based tools that actually help employees in the journey to find the right career. But I think the human touch that you get with HR working directly with people, either as part of orientation, as part of training, and selecting the final down select, I think that is still going to require that human touch. That is just my opinion, but I believe that is a trend that we will see. We’ll see a lot more automation, but I think we’re still going to need people.




Thank you. Well, I guess, uh, there’s only one way for listeners to find out and that’s to remain an avid listener of the HR track show, well, up to 2030 and beyond, and then we’ll all know for sure. Anyway, let’s continue through Thomas. In the wake of the pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the hiring of recent graduates, and first-timers wages have gone up too, here’s a quote for you, according to a recent report from the national association of colleges and employers, the average starting salary for the college class of 2020 was $55,260. A 2.5% increase in the class of 2019 and an 8.5% increase in the class of 2018 among graduates who majored in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic fields. Average earnings were even higher, why are companies so reliant on grads to fill the talent gaps at the moment?




I think that is going to be a trend in the sense when you have the great resignation as you like to call it, right. You know, people opting not to come back to the workforce. We had single moms, some mothers, you know, people who are managing children at home that are struggling with the pandemic to help their children read classes as well as with the work that they have to do at home, which really doesn’t have the childcare support that they need to get back to the workforce. So these are real trends that we have to recognize.


We also have to find, replacement positions for people who are aging out from the workforce, and that’s a very natural part of it. So when we look at, y classes of employees, you talked a little bit about salary increases. I can tell you for a fact that is very true. You know, it used to be that, three years ago you would offer somebody a starting salary and they’d be very happy. We are finding that their experiences are, people are now asking for more. They recognize that they can get more they’re negotiating better on their starting salary.  So I think you’re always going to get that fresh look at the talent that is either replacing talent. Now that is happening at what I call the starting positions. I don’t think you’re going to find fresh talent, come into a middle management position that is going to be so hard to fill.


And I think that’s where the challenge for most companies are filling out those people who are, might be senior or in mid-level positions that are either, deciding to opt for a career change or opting out of the workforce, trying to get those positions filled, I think is going to be the great challenge for companies, not necessarily at the low-end positions or the starting level positions. But I think across the board, we are seeing salary increases. And I think that is going to be a trend.




Hey, Thomas, we are coming towards the end of this particular interview.  A couple more questions for you. The concept of a successful onboarding process was fundamentally redefined by the pandemic and remote work. Can you wrap up today by sharing what you’re seeing that’s working when it comes to making employees feel welcomed as part of the onboarding process?




That’s a great question. So a successful onboarding, I think it really starts by giving employees the information to be successful from day one. So a lot of the tools that are out there actually help to onboard employees with forms. I think employers want to see more than forms as part of employee onboarding. They want to see and feel, especially if they’re working remotely. What does the team look like? Who are they going to report to? Do they have great mentorship in the company? So I think some of the tools that we are talking about successful onboarding goes back into team awareness, you know, who they’re working with, you know, what type of training that you can provide for them remotely, especially if they’re working remotely, which is one of the big challenges that you have at starting level positions.


How do you mentor and train a staff employee that is starting out when you don’t have them coming into an office where you could typically train them? Well, there are differences of opinion, but when you know, is online training as effective as being, working with somebody that you’re working with side by side. And I think a lot of that goes back to employees and now setting them up with maybe a mentor, somebody that’s a work buddy that can actually show them how their first few months can actually look like. And I think that makes for successful onboarding. I think we are also finding that as part of the onboarding, getting to know company policies, you know, letting them know what the do’s and the don’ts are, working in Washington DC, work differently for somebody working in Toronto, making sure that they get to see local experiences and not who the local people are. I think that tends to make a difference because something that people can connect with.


So I think a successful onboarding really goes back into not really providing them forms to complete, but also creating great experiences for them that will help them with, performing better on the job, setting out goals for them within the system. So I think it goes back to, building out missing pieces that may not be there in your onboarding program today.




Awesome. Thank you. And just finally, for today, Thomas, how can, how can our listeners learn more about you? So for example, I got lucky. I reached out to you on LinkedIn and the timing was just right to set up this interview today. So maybe LinkedIn is a place to connect with you personally, but also how can they learn more about EMP Trust solutions? Please give us a lookout.




Well, I think the best way to learn more about the company and about EMP Trust and, you know, very often people ask us, how do you spell EMP Trust? You know, and I like to say, this is the easiest way to remember us employees trust HR. And that’s the job mandate. That’s how we actually look at our software. Can we make it easy for employees to actually use a platform for a job, people to actually provide that trust relationship with the employee? So EMP Trust HR is the best way to find us on the web. You can also find us at different conferences, but very often if you’re trying to reach me, I think LinkedIn is the best. I tend to respond to emails better and LinkedIn better than actually looking at, my phone or picking up on my voicemail. So just some closing thoughts, EMP Trust.  www, or if you search for EMP Trust HR on Google, we should actually be able to come up as a first base that you’re looking for. So thank you again, Bill, for having me on the show.




And thank you, Thomas, and listeners as always until next time. Happy working.


About EMP Trust HR


EMP Trust HR is a software technology company that provides HR solutions and services in over 40 countries and job locations over the internet and intranet networks.


The company provides employee onboarding software and talent management solutions including hiring, recruiting, employee nurturing, employee engagement with onboarding new hires across many multinational and Fortune 500 companies in every major vertical.




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