Job Automation, the Robopocalypse, and Online Recruiting

The Robopocalypse is upon us! Robots are taking over jobs! Automation and algorithms will replace us! That’s the word on the street, anyway. (And by “street”, I mean my Twitter feed.)

Job automation is a real phenomenon happening right now, and it will change many industries, including online recruitment. But how? And will it change the roles of recruiters and job boards?


Background – Just What Are Those Robots Up To, Anyway?

First, let’s get the lay of the land. When we say “robots are taking over jobs”, do you picture some kind of cute, retro-futuristic world like The Jetsons where robots are just our helpful pals? Or maybe it’s a dystopia like The Matrix, where we’re at the mercy of artificial intelligence, serving the machines?

Science fiction aside, The Guardian cites a World Economic Forum report suggesting 7 million jobs are at risk of disappearing to due to new technologies, and the Bank of England’s chief economist who believes as many 15 million UK jobs are at risk in light of automation. Research from Oxford University suggests 47% of American jobs could disappear in the next two decades.

What type of jobs are disappearing? For a start, warehouse automation has been around for a while now, and it looks like that will only continue. Uber might be all the rage, but their drivers will likely be made obsolete by self-driving cars at some point. Loan officers, receptionists, legal assistants, and fast food workers are also among the most likely to be replaced. (There’s a short video documentary called “Humans Need Not Apply” that provides a broad overview of the automation phenomenon.)

Jobs are disappearing, but at the same time, new roles and jobs are being invented. According to that same WEF report from January of this year, 65% of kids entering primary school will wind up working in job roles that even exist right now.

Those numbers certainly hint at interesting challenges for the recruitment industry in the coming years. Which brings me to…

The Effect of Automation on the Recruiting Industry

We know that some jobs are disappearing, and new types of roles are emerging alongside developing technologies. Some might see these new roles as a case of digging one’s own grave – you’re busy hiring uniquely skilled workers to design and build technology that automates the old jobs, and then only a few workers are needed to run and maintain that technology, leaving fewer jobs for workers, and less business for recruiters.

The example I often have in the back of my head, is the case of Kodak vs Instagram. At its height, Kodak employed 145,300 people. When Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012, it was run by just 13 people. (Facebook had around 5,000 employees when the Kodak vs Instagram article was written two years ago, and Facebook has over a billion users.)

It takes fewer workers to run huge companies than it used to, but try competing for a job at Facebook. It’s harder than getting the clichéd McJob flipping burgers – and a robot might do
that better than you. Even Google, with its bountiful resources, has struggled through trial and error to discover an unpleasant truth: hiring people is hard work.

But it’s also easier to hire people whom you couldn’t before. The trend towards the “gig economy” means more people are freelancing or juggling multiple part-time jobs, and often working remotely or from home.


Will Recruiters Be Replaced By Robots?

A plethora of tools are on the market today to help you with all those things. While there are many tasks a recruiter performs that are, can be, or will be, automated (
job distribution, email/phone/text automation, background checks, appointment-booking, researching and sourcing, etc.), some will continue to prove tricky.

But humans are still messy. They have their own individual motivations, ambitions, emotions, interests, experiences, and behaviours. Persuading someone to change a core part of their lives – to quit a job and/or take a new one – often requires an (emotionally) intelligent, personalized, sales-like approach.

Certainly many recruiters and job boards will continue to experiment with sorting and matching algorithms, personality tests, and automated or baked-in skills and performance testing programs, in order to save time and labour in the process of shortlisting candidates.

But no one’s solution is perfect, and you can run the risk of losing great candidates through flawed systems. ATS programs are infamous for omitting great candidates because of the wrong keyword density or resume format – an imperfect algorithm, based on assumptions you don’t have access to, can do the same thing.

There will be definitely growing pains with this new tech, but I look forward to seeing how it develops and evolves.


Where Do Job Boards Fit In?

Job boards are already a tool of the Robopocalypse! And they have been changing – or, dare I say it, disrupting – the recruiting biz since they were invented, though their role has shifted a little.

In the 90s, if you were successful on the Internet, people usually found you. But the whole world is on the Internet now, and you need to hustle if you want to be found. Job boards continue to solve the following problem for recruiters: How can I reach the right candidates?

Having built a community around your job board, you serve to connect recruiters and hiring managers with candidates through job advertisements, job distribution, and other services (like support in writing great job ads).

Job boards are making use of email and marketing automation, CRMs, and great online experiences to offer their customers and job seekers through modern solutions for job posting, applications, and candidate management. Those 90s job boards had the joy and burden of pioneering and building their own tech from scratch. While some may still choose to go down that road, there are now other options like SaaS solutions available to power online recruiting websites.


So, breathe easy, friends! The world of work and online recruiting is going to change. It’s going to look and work a little differently, but it should work to help recruiters and job board owners focus on the core aspects of their business – the parts they know how to do better than a robot.

The challenge will come in the form of businesses, educational institutions, and governments to identify and prepare for which jobs will be needed and which will disappear. Recruiters and job boards share that challenge, because their services will be in demand when those new roles need filling.

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