- Nick Martindale
New and disruptive technology is having an impact on almost every area of our lives, and our working habits are no exception.
The use of artificial intelligence, chatbots, machine learning and big data are all contributing to a move towards greater automation, which is starting to have a profound impact on many industries.
The most obvious way in which the world of work is being, and will be, affected is on jobs being replaced by machines, including in some cases by ‘robots’, which can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to make some basic decisions without the need for human intervention.
“Once it becomes economically viable and reliable to replace a human with an automated workflow or machine, or to eliminate the need for that task or role altogether, it will happen,” says Gareth Jones, COO at machine learning platform Headstart. “You can look to the retail industry for inspiration; Amazon is 23 years old and the high street still exists. But the landscape is very different. There’s no doubt that online retail has changed the face of retail and that stores are closing.”
Enhancing, rather than replacing the workforce
The challenge for organisations in general is to use the potential of such new technology to improve their processes, rather than simply replace humans, says Graham Shroll, technical director at Meet and Engage. “For example, while it’s possible to spend a few minutes or hours Googling around to discover that a life assurance applicant likes to spend their spare time paragliding, a machine can collate the same information almost instantly,” he points out. “Similarly, we can already see online retailers suggesting purchases based on our shopping history or, increasingly, browsing habits, which would not be a practical use of human resource in the absence of artificial intelligence.”
While some positions will be lost to machines, more roles will also need to be created as firms seek to develop the technology they require. “There is huge demand for data scientists, machine learning specialists, data engineers, RPA developers and DevOps engineers,” says Chris Rosebert, head of data science and artificial intelligence at Networkers Technology. “Due to the rapid pace of technological change, businesses are struggling to find skilled talent for these positions, which also has the effect of driving salaries upwards. The fact is that technology is changing faster than the industry can keep up which leaves a large skills gap.”
Keeping up to speed
Recruiters need to ensure they are up to speed on such changes in specific industries, so they can advise clients accordingly, believes Dale Williams, managing director of Yolk Recruitment. “We have to assume every sector can be affected in some way and the challenge is how we deal with that,” he says. “Recruitment agencies definitely have a role to play, both in meeting employers’ changing skills requirements and in educating candidates about the skills they should invest in to progress their careers.” Candidates in certain sectors may also need to upskill or even take a backwards step as they adjust to the new reality, he adds.
There are ways in which disruptive technology can be used to improve the service recruiters offer to clients too. “Machine learning, for example, can be used to determine the probability of placing a candidate in a specific role by analysing that candidate’s skill set against the skill sets of candidates that have succeeded in similar roles,” says Peter Linas, executive vice president, corporate development and international, at Bullhorn. “This, in turn, highlights transferable experience and qualifications that might not have been immediately obvious to the recruiter.”
Artificial intelligence can also have an impact, drawing on big data to help improve efficiency around searching for candidates and filtering through applications. “Data is everywhere, and talent acquisition and management leaders who deploy robots to identify suitable – and available –candidates, can cut wastage in sourcing,” says Laurie Padua, director of consulting at talent acquisition and management consultancy Alexander Mann Solutions.
So far, though, it seems as if recruiters and their clients are failing to take advantage of such new technology. “A recent survey we conducted of over 3,000 senior leaders in talent found that while 96% believe that artificial intelligence has the potential to enhance talent acquisition and retention, just 25% of respondents currently use artificial intelligence, and 57% believe the innovation within their organisation is too slow,” adds Padua. The recruiter is currently trialling a number of robotic process automation trials, which are demonstrating efficiencies in the hiring and onboarding process, she adds.
Blockchain is another area which could improve efficiency in the recruitment process, by automatically verifying candidates’ qualifications and employment records on CVs. “This will diminish the various ambiguities associated with the hiring process, such as whether a candidate does in fact have the qualifications or skill set that they say they do,” says Anthony Sherick, director of Technojobs. “Having a verified log of such information will ultimately reduce the financial and monetary costs associated with recruitment, as finding a suitable candidate is quicker and easier.”
As well as making their jobs easier, embracing the use of such technologies could help recruiters to stand out from competitors, believes Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo. “The rise of artificial intelligence is separating the wheat from the chaff,” she says. “It’s long been a mantra of mine that if you’re not adding value as a recruiter you may as well change your name to LinkedIn, and now that the ability of machines is virtually on-par with some recruiters, it’s more true than ever.”
Agencies need to focus on improving the softer skills and emotional intelligence of clients, she adds, and to supervise any decisions which may be arrived at by a machine. “Talent analytics and machine learning, for example, can be used to calculate which candidate will statistically be the best fit for a role, but a computer will automatically discount an anomaly, even if they’re the best person for the job,” she says. “A skilled professional, on the other hand, will be able to innately gauge if a jobseeker is truly passionate about a role, or will be a good cultural fit for the client – even if they can’t put their finger on why. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of gut feeling.”
In the longer term, however, technology could eventually start to take on more of a decision-making role, believes Abe Doctor, partner at executive search firm TritonExec, which could challenge any human element of bias. “The technology of the future will work on algorithms that will connect candidates to the culture to which they aspire, as one example,” he says. “We’re seeing trends in executive search, for example, where companies are looking to develop the C-Suite executives of tomorrow from school upwards. The candidate may think they want to work for Google, yet they would benefit from and provide great value to a company from an unknown industry to them.”
This may be some way down the line, but what is certain, though, is that agencies need to adapt to the use of disruptive technology. “Agencies need to get smarter and focus,” says Shroll. “Recruitment is a supply chain and agencies are part of that currently broken and horribly clunky pipeline. At some point that incredibly inefficient supply chain will come under close scrutiny and technology will have advanced enough to make it super-slick. That is unlikely to involve third-party agencies as they are today.”