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The robot in C-Suite: The recruitment sector in the age of AI

Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future; Steve Wells, COO at Fast Future; Alexandra Whittington, foresight director at Fast Future; and Helena Calle, researcher at Fast Future

Prime Minister Theresa May recently shared the UK government’s vision for an increasingly artificial intelligence (AI) enabled future at the World Economic Forum in Davos: A future characterised by more research, AI deployment, automation, and jobs in the digital economy. So, this should mean more opportunities in recruitment? Not so fast.

The pace of development in AI is delivering systems that can increasingly outperform humans across a range of tasks from diagnosing cancer to interpreting complex texts. In recruitment, we can expect to see AI playing a role in candidate search, CV evaluation, credential checking, and even interviewing candidates. Successive waves of AI-enabled automation will certainly drive technological unemployment across a range of sectors.

The impact on recruitment

Collectively, these developments could mean fewer jobs at each level in recruitment firms.

Inevitably, we will see some recruitment firms embrace AI fully and gradually replace humans at every level with ever-smarter technology. Less front-line recruiters should mean a thinning out further up the organisation. However, the industry is not rushing to embrace AI and the change will happen more gradually at first. Step five years out, and we could see even more diversity in the sector with a spectrum running from highly automated firms with literally no employees through to those that deploy the technology in the background but retain a highly human touch in the crucial client and candidate facing activities.

The challenge for recruitment firms is to invest the time now to start understanding this most disruptive of technologies, investigate current and potential application and employment implications in client sectors, and start looking at how it might be used in recruitment. We would then recommend doing some scenario planning to see the different storylines that might play out for the recruitment sector. These scenarios should naturally include different rates of take up of AI across different client sectors and the potential impact on employment numbers, turnover and recruitment demand. The time invested here will provide a powerful basis from which to spot emerging opportunities within a changing employment landscape.

A time of opportunity

The upside of change is that new AI-powered businesses and industries will emerge in sectors such as healthcare, human augmentation, synthetic biology, supercomputing, driverless vehicles, smart materials, robotics, drones, smart buildings, and countless others that will emerge over time. Indeed, over the next 7-10 years, the global economy could grow from around $78 trillion today to $120 trillion and 50% or more of this growth could come from firms and sectors that don’t yet exist.

We expect the innovation leaders in recruitment will look to automate using AI and other technologies wherever they can. However, rather than making staff redundant, the technology will free them up, allowing them to use that time to learn about and get close to the emerging sectors. This should mean that these leaders are well positioned to serve the increasingly complex, precise, and often multidisciplinary recruitment requirements of these new firms and their investors.

Hence, while AI will undoubtedly impact the recruitment sector and the client sectors it serves, it could provide the much-needed stimulus to automate more routine tasks and free up time to pursue new growth opportunities. This could in turn see changing organisational structures changing in recruitment firms. Far flatter hierarchies might emerge, with more staff operating in hunter gatherer mode, researching and building a presence in the new growth sectors.

At the operational level, AI tools will provide far greater information of personal productivity and effectiveness across the team, allowing leaders to target training and coaching interventions more effectively, and ensure more objective and consistent performance evaluation.

Clearly, it may be daunting to accept that the sector, like its clients, will be impacted by AI, with the potential for job losses at all levels. However, we are at a sufficiently early stage in the evolution of the technology for firms to give themselves the opportunity to learn, adapt, pursue new growth opportunities, and ultimately create a more human and differentiated workplace through the effective use of AI.

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