Automation, AI, and the future of the recruitment industry

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The UK recruitment industry has historically had an open mind about technology: wherever possible, it’s been an enthusiastic early adopter of new software and services. It’s not hard to see why. Engaging with people is at the very heart of recruitment: it’s why people get into the business. Everything else – the data entry, the meeting preparation, the reporting – is just process, and while it’s certainly important, the less involved a recruiter is with it, the better.

And yet, Bullhorn’s 2018 UK Recruitment Trends Report suggests a degree of hesitance around technological adoption. Though nearly a third (29 per cent) of firms consider improving core process efficiency to be one of their top three challenges for the year ahead, only 16 per cent consider introducing more automation to be one of their top three priorities. Recruiters have named the problem, and they understand it – so why reject one of its more obvious solutions?

Certainly, there are reasons why recruiters might view automation with a slightly suspicious eye: Bullhorn’s report indicates that nearly 41 per cent of respondents think it will lead to job losses – while 30 per cent believe it will create more jobs, and 29 per cent don’t know either way. If it does lead to job losses, it likely won’t be a good thing for recruiters.

Nonetheless, if you’re running a recruitment firm, the sooner you incorporate more automation, the better. This is because automation is, in a sense, old news: the rise of more sophisticated AI is in progress. To successfully adopt the latter when the time comes, it will help to have experience with the former.

AI on the prize

The thing to understand about automation and AI is that they aren’t there to serve as a one-to-one replacement for human service. The aim is not to supplant consultants but augment them – and empower them to focus their time on more strategic tasks.

Consider chatbots, for example. Already available in rudimentary form, they’re expected to become more intelligent and more responsive as AI advances. The benefits of this are obvious: when common enquiries can be dealt with by your software, when prospective hires can be pre-screened to discern their credentials and their suitability for a given job, when meetings and calls can be scheduled without having to consult your respective calendars, you have much more time to work more closely on building relationships with clients and candidates. This drives operational efficiency and ensures that every consultant at your firm is doing work that benefits the firm.

Chatbots will be underpinned by machine learning algorithms – which have broader applications within the recruitment industry. Using these self-improving platforms to analyse candidate information in real-time (whether it comes from employer information, candidate history, or their activity on social platforms), you’ll be able to create shortlists of the most qualified, capable, and experienced applicants for your client’s particular requirements.

Using machine learning algorithms, it is even possible to screen CVs and applications for keywords and skills which indicate that a candidate might be a suitable fit for a particular role – and to help eliminate bias. After all, an algorithm can’t have racial or gender-based biases unless the programmer puts them there. In an age where pay gaps and discrimination against minority groups are receiving unprecedented scrutiny, this is an essential consideration.

The human recruiter will, of course, retain full responsibility for the interview process: the same process as it was before, but with none of the time-consuming preamble that prevents them from meeting every candidate and gauging their suitability. Here, recruitment consultants are not replaced, but made better over the short and long-term: their time and expertise put to more efficient, effective use.

AI concerns

Nonetheless, there remain valid concerns about the current wave of automation technology, the future proliferation of AI, and barriers in the way of implementation. Here are just a few.

Relationship building and maintenance

As mentioned before, the ability to engage with clients and candidates, and build meaningful relationships, is something that only human recruiters can do. It doesn’t matter how good your software is, it can’t built trust and consolidate relationships in the same way as a real person. This may lead some businesses to wonder what the point of AI is at all. If it can’t help with the core duties of the recruitment professional, then what, exactly, is it for?

Think of it like this: the technology doesn’t build connections – it strengthens and reinforces them. It can bring you and a client together, but it can’t compel you to hook up. Personal relationships are the heart of the industry, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Before you implement AI, automation, or any other technology, make sure you have the right expectations for it. The business should treat it as an enabler, but not a crutch.

Privacy, security, and legality

Data protection is always a salient concern – but with the introduction of GDPR, it has become a somewhat overwhelming one. Creating new processes for handling, managing, destroying, and otherwise interacting with candidate and client data must become an operational priority.

Most urgently, you’ll be required to gain the explicit consent of any EU citizen to collect and retain their personal information – and this must be reflected in your data protection and retention policies. Of course, the success of AI and automation depends heavily on the information they’re able to work from. If candidates opt out by default, you may struggle to get the most out of this technology.

Software providers are likely already working on ways to adjust to these issues, but they’re worth bearing in mind nonetheless.

Rise of the machines

Finally, there’s the (already mentioned) concern about technology taking jobs. If AI eliminates certain low-skilled roles, does this mean fewer jobs for recruiters to fill?

This is a common argument against progress, and it’s one that hasn’t really held up in the past, either. No technology yet invented has rendered the human being entirely obsolete, and there’s no reason to think any differently when it comes to recruitment. If new tools take some jobs away, they will create other, more specialised jobs in different areas – jobs with better compensation, more opportunities for advancement, and less busywork.

There will doubtless be some growing pains, and those in process-based or administrative positions may find themselves susceptible to redundancy. But this is, again, no reason for recruiters to avoid the technology. The best possible version of the future is one where more people work in more fulfilling roles for more money. Recruiters can play a key role in bringing it about.

They will mostly do this by focusing on what they’ve always been best at: people. Recruiters forge strong links between themselves, clients, and candidates. Their true value is in finding the perfect hire; in working with a seemingly impossible job spec and identifying the perfect applicant for it nonetheless; in bringing employers and employees together.

Neither AI nor automation will change that. They’ll just make it better – if recruiters let them.

Peter Linas, EVP of Corporate Development and International, Bullhorn
Image Credit: Cordis Technology