HR’s Aversion To AI Will Affect Its Ability To Hire

Artificial Intelligence

Successful hiring should be based on evidence based decisions supported by technology and automation but HR remains slow to respond. PwC’s 20th Global CEO Survey found that nearly half (47%) of UK CEOs are failing to address the impact AI and automation will have on their businesses (compared to 31% globally and just 19% in Germany). As 83% of UK CEOs rank access to skills as their number one barrier to business success in the next 12 months, this needs to change.

Why the reluctance to engage?

HR has often demonstrated a wariness of data and more recently automation and AI, exacerbated by recent headlines including:

  • Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance in Japan announced its intention to automate the jobs of over 30 employees, replacing them with IBM’s Watson Explorer. According to the Nomura Research Institute, half of all jobs in Japan could be performed by robots by 2035.
  • A similar scenario was projected in the UK, with the prospect of 15 million jobs being eradicated by AI, shortly after an announcement that outsourcing specialist Capita was replacing 2,000 of its employees with automation.
  • The world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates intends to automate three-quarters of its hiring decisions over the next five years. The company is building a robotic recruitment platform to remove ‘emotional volatility’ from business decision.

How AI and automation empower HR

AI and automation offer a number of benefits for HR:

Talent pipeline : In its simplest form automation identifies issues in your talent pipeline, such as, qualified candidates abandoning a prolonged application process. Algorithms are also used to reveal factors which improve employee engagement and identify leadership potential. This is relevant in a week when a Robert Half survey found that that half of all candidates for management level roles don’t possess leadership skills.

More effective candidate selection : HR has historically relied on standard but limited candidate selection criteria, such as interview performance or an emphasis on technical skills or qualifications but that isn’t sufficient to predict a quality hire. Broader, evidence based HR is needed to support effective candidate selection, which algorithms in your recruitment software offer.

Potential flight risks : Combined with predictive analytics, algorithms can also predict potential flight risks in your organisation. With an expected talent exodus in 2017 understanding why your high achievers leave is critical. Typical ‘prompts’ include birthdays (especially milestones) and work anniversaries but your own recruitment metrics will provide more insight.

Reduction in bias : Automation and AI help to eradicate unconscious bias. This is exemplified by the tendency to hire so-called ‘brogrammers’ across the US’s Silicon Valley, fuelling the image of a male dominated tech culture. Closer scrutiny revealed that the majority attended elite schools and secured their jobs through friends or the tech fraternity. AI start-up Tara.ai aims to change that bias. Tara removes information relating to age, gender, previous employment, education and race to assess candidates based on the quality of their work – analysing and ranking programmers’ code – rather than their personal connections or background. Selecting specific criteria within your applicant tracking software helps to achieve the same results.

Technology needs the human touch

Should HR be wary? Algorithms in the hiring process have been proven to make better hiring decisions than humans but the role of HR, while shifting, is integral to the future of AI.

The following strategies can help to make the vital transition to evaluating the benefits of AI and automation in hiring:

  • Technology is only as effective as the information gathered. Inputting bad data will produce poor quality results. The quality of your data is vital.
  • When posting open jobs, understand the precise skills you need from your new hire. A candidate persona improves recruitment success for either high volume or stand-alone critical positions.
  • Algorithm or AI averse hiring teams can begin with automated recruitment software that streamlines the hiring process and analyses the common patterns revealed in your recruitment metrics. Start by focusing on just one specific area. With qualified candidates in short supply, time to hire is one of the most important metrics your business can measure and allows HR to evaluate the effectiveness of automated recruitment systems.
  • Create a structured interview process supported by online tests during screening to assess cognitive ability, conscientious and leadership.
  • Final decisions on candidate selection should be collaborative and supported by relevant data gathered during the hiring process. The CIPD found that, in organisations that use HR analytics, a quarter of senior leaders are not being given access to HR data to make effective business decisions. Without data, your ability to attract and hire high achievers is restricted.

HR technology should be simple to use, easy to engage with and produce data which informs and drives talent acquisition strategies.

Introducing a ‘kill switch’?

While AI and automation are now unavoidable, justifiable concerns exist over its growing impact on the workplace. In response to these concerns, the European Commission’s Legal Affairs Committee is seeking the creation of a European agency to provide technical, ethnical and regulatory advice on robotics and AI within the EU. Its proposal recommends:

  • A voluntary code of conduct related to AI.
  • A ‘kill switch’ in all AI systems to ensure they can be automatically deactivated in the event of a malfunction.
  • Consideration of a minimum income to compensate people who have been replaced by robots in the workplace.
  • A new status of ‘electronic persons’ for autonomous robots.
  • Reassurance that the use of robots does not engender ‘fear of physical or psychological harm’, while maintaining privacy, human dignity and safety.

HR is a long way from dealing with those issues on a daily basis but employers must begin now to address the impact of AI and automation in the working environment to remain competitive and meet future business goals.


If you want to share this article the reference to Kate Smedley and The HR Tech Weekly® is obligatory.

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