7 December 2016 | By Jeff Phipps Community

Recruitment by algorithm?

As recruitment and retention technology advances, could we see a future where people-management decisions are made by artificial intelligence?

Leadership and management were cited as the biggest challenges for employers adapting to new technology at the first CBI Workplace 2030 event. This is particularly pertinent to employee recruitment and retention.

Let’s imagine a future scenario: someone decides to leave your company. As a leader, you will be notified, and the profile of an ideal replacement will be automatically generated, based on the performance and attributes of the departing employee.

With a wave of your hand - in this version of the future keyboards have finally been confined to the recycling bin – your artificial intelligence software will draw up a shortlist of candidates through analysis of their social media profiles and generate a recruitment plan. The plan will utilise tailored messaging and network contacts to maximise the chances of attracting the best candidate.

If this all sounds a little futuristic, Google has stated that it intends to use data for all decisions about staff. It used entries to its search engine to identify techies and set them puzzles that, if successfully completed, resulted in an invitation to apply for a role at the company. Although still in their early days, analytics tools to improve recruitment are being explored by many companies.

Training technology

Other adaptations of this technology would be to advance the development of employees, improve interactions and overcome the organisational silos that are a common source of frustration. Ever conscious of the cost and time impact of training, managers want technology that offers training based on its measured impact on similar employees.

Technology can transform the annual performance reviews and personal development plans that gather dust. Those using it well will find it becomes a differentiator that drives not only company performance but employee retention.

Algorithm dependence

The dangers of these technologies are the same as in other industries such as finance. Used well, they can increase productivity and outcomes. But if we become over-dependent on algorithms they can be open to manipulation by individuals or third parties. An example would be to falsify social media activity. There are already predictions of deliberate hacking of artificial intelligence for criminal purposes. Some have suggested we even may see industrial relations problems, where workers hack systems in a backlash against the replacement of their jobs by software.

If this seems extreme, consider for a moment the millions of truck drivers around the world that may find themselves out of work if autonomous commercial vehicles become the norm. But there are more fundamental data privacy and security issues to consider, especially with increases in legislation and increased cyber crime.

Cyber clout

Does this mean that only companies with significant financial resources will be able to adopt this kind of technology? If software as a service (SaaS) is the delivery mechanism, companies of any size will be able to participate. It will be interesting to see what skills are required by companies to maximise the benefit of this technology in parallel with the struggle that many companies have today in the use of social media as a business development and employer branding tool.

It is reasonable to question to what degree we can really rely on technology. It may be possible to predict what personal attributes would be required for success in a role today - but can we really write an algorithm that can determine the potential to succeed in a future we don’t yet understand? Should we continue to rely on the human approach, riddled with bias and a poor record of decision making? Perhaps the answer sits in the middle.