In my last column, I leaped into the raging debate about whether or not AI, machine learning and other advanced neuro-technologies can and will replace human recruiters. As important as that issue is, however, it is not what puts recruiters’ jobs most at risk. There is another and, to date at least, largely unnoticed threat that has absolutely nothing to do with machines replacing recruiters, and it is far more likely to throw them out of work.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious. Recruiters are valued corporate contributors … as long as companies are hiring people. When they aren’t, recruiters quickly become an unwanted overhead expense. As the Great Recession (and every other downturn in the economy over the past 75 years) made crystal clear, when the economy sinks and hiring dries up, recruiters are among the first to get their pink slips.
So, let’s put aside the debate about whether smart machines can recruit and look at all the other things they can do. And shortly will. Because when that happens – when machines begin replacing millions of workers – they will create an “artificial depression” so deep in the human job market that recruiters will once again have nothing to do.
Now, before you rise up in righteous indignation, I’m well aware of the hype bubble in the AI space. The following predictions, however, don’t come from techno-evangelists or over-caffeinated sales people. They’re from some of the world’s most credible companies and institutions. And here’s what they have to say.
According to a 2016 study by the World Economic Forum, super capable machines will eliminate a net of 5 million jobs in just the world’s fifteen leading economies, and do so within the next three years, by 2021.
Not surprisingly, most of that disruption will occur in the blue-collar ranks. The Boston Consulting Group, for example, predicts that robots will take over 23 percent of all industrial jobs in the next two years.
And, a 2017 article in the MIT Technology Review forecasts that 83 percent of the jobs that pay under $20 an hour could eventually be automated. How many people will that affect? According to Goldman Sachs, 51 percent of all American workers earned $20 or less an hour in 2014.
The future isn’t much brighter for white-collar jobs, despite widespread commentary to the contrary. McKinsey & Company, for example, estimates that 40 percent of all knowledge jobs – ranging from clerical positions to those involving professional services – could be filled by super capable machines in less than a decade, by 2025 in fact.
Oh, and in that loss of 5 million jobs I mentioned above, the World Economic Forum says it’ll include white as well as blue-collar jobs, including:
• Office and administrative roles
• The arts and entertainment
• Installation and maintenance
• Manufacturing and production
• Construction and extraction.
There are some, of course, who argue that such disruption isn’t a problem – the magic of “creative destruction” will make the world a happy place once again. They believe that the introduction of any technology will ultimately create more new jobs than the old jobs it destroys. Just look at what happened, they confidently assert, when the automobile replaced horse-powered buggies.
It’s an enticing argument, but one that doesn’t hold up in the face of our experience with super capable machine technology. The only data we have on its impact comes from the introduction of robots on assembly lines, and there the story is much less optimistic. For example, a Forrester Research study has found that robots will likely create 15 million new jobs in the U.S. over the next 10 years. Sadly, Forrester also predicts that those robots will simultaneously eliminate 25 million current jobs.
The only conclusion that makes any sense, therefore, is that recruiters and the companies that provide technology-based solutions to support them are at risk on not one but two fronts. AI will eventually eliminate recruiters from the recruiting function, and it will also eliminate the need for much of the recruiting function itself. It is not a question of whether these disruptions will happen, but only of their timing … and their first impacts are just around the corner.
So, what should job boards and other talent acquisition solutions companies do? First, they have to become expert in the scope and pace of AI-driven change within their segment of the market. They must achieve and sustain situational awareness. Then, they have to develop a nonstop evolutionary plan that will enable them to stay connected to and relevant in the market as it changes. They must see themselves as a “work in progress” – not as a settled organization with a settled go-to-market strategy to sell a settled product or service suite – and they must act that way.
Food for Thought,
P.S. Adapted from my book Circa 2118: What Will Humans Do When Machines Take Over, which will be out in about 6 weeks. You’ll find it listed first in the TAtech Bookstore and then later on Amazon.
TAprose and Job Board Journalist by Peter Weddle are brought to you by TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions.
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