We’ve heard a lot about the implications and applications of artificial intelligence (AI) for HR and recruiting functions in the last five years, with headlines ranging from “What happens when AI meets HR?” to “What are the legal risks of using AI in recruiting?”. We’ve been told that AI “jumped the shark” and is now “table stakes” - meaning buyers just expect it will be there - for any HR tech product. We've seen the rise in AI-ready solutions for a multitude of HR tasks from hiring to managing. But all that activity raises one key question. Is AI truly ready to hit the streets?
On the surface, we can easily see why AI is an appealing tool for human resources. After all, HR and recruiting have a lot of functions within them that are better handled by massive computational approaches, i.e. AI and machine learning. Even top-of-funnel hiring, where oftentimes 250+ resumes need to be whittled down to a list that a hiring manager has time to evaluate, benefit massively from AI. It makes sense that AI would be all the rage in HR tech circles right now. But it’s been all the rage for a half-decade if not more, and it hasn’t necessarily, well, changed the perception of recruiting and HR as functions. So as we start the next decade which looks to be fueled by tech breakthroughs let's ask ourselves, what's next? And what can we, in the HR and talent space, expect from AI moving forward?
How can we use AI in HR?
Where is AI currently being used and are there any applications of it you might not be aware of? Let's run through several opportunities within HR that AI could assist with and rank their usefulness in terms of where the tech stands today and where it might evolve to.
This is one of the most obvious applications we’ve seen so far, and will continue to see. AI can help figure out who needs to be put in front of a hiring manager; in so doing, it reduces the workload of the middle/front-line manager - already busy with other responsibilities - and often hands them a tiered, sorted list of candidates. Now, there's a big word of warning here. Hiring and AI is not perfect by any means. There was a big story in the back half of the 2010s about Amazon building a secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias, which they had to internally destroy. AI applications often operate using a “blackbox” philosophy. That means that we don’t always know how they came to decisions they did because it's locked behind security measures or code we can't access. That’s scary because the bulk of the early-stage coding for AI is done by human beings. Humans are biased by nature. So right now, the idea that we can expect AI to fully remove bias from a hiring ecosystem is flawed. It helps more with top of funnel sourcing and screening, and it will continue to evolve as a strategic presence there. So all that being said, where do we stand with using AI in the hiring process?
Verdict: It's here, it's kind of usable and definitely a time saver, but using it comes with a big caveat. Most of this tech hasn't addressed the issues of bias well enough to be used as a tool on its own. Make sure human eyes review the work an AI hiring tool produces to ensure you're not accidentally discriminating against anyone.
2) Training and development
The idea here is all about personalization. You can train at your own pace on skills and modules of interest to you, based on recommendations from an AI-powered platform. Learning is often under valued in companies, unfortunately. And right now, we have multiple generations in the workplace, and they all learn very differently and at different paces. How do we ensure that learning has value? Well, we customize it -- and that’s the idea behind AI-powered learning. Let’s say you’re a new hire and a video-driven learner who needs to learn more about supply chain. The idea is that you’d watch one or two videos about supply chain, take an assessment afterwards, and then get sent more videos that are contextually relevant as you progress further.
Verdict: AI for learning makes sense. Personalized learning paths are definitely a developmental trend of the future and AI is well situated to assist in this sort of application. Think chatbots for learning modules. The tech is here to a point and usable, and will no doubt continue to improve as time passes.
3) Employee engagement and employee experience
This is more relevant in big companies, with potentially thousands or tens of thousands of employees. At that level, if you get an amazing amount of data points back regarding a survey or pulse survey, you need a way to quickly parse the information without burning your human employees at both ends. This is where AI can be beneficial. It should be noted that truly effective employee satisfaction programs involve a good deal of managerial training, as how you feel about your boss is an important part of how you feel about work. But … AI is helpful for taking employee data and putting it into easy-to-understand recommendations.
Verdict: It's easy to picture AI as a people analytics powerhouse that can uncover trends that human eyes might not notice. When dealing with vast amounts of data, AI can be a useful HR addition that could let you take the temperature of your employees more often without the fear of combing through endless numbers.
4) Combating ageism
AI and automation help companies identify potential biases in their hiring patterns. It can help companies move beyond age restrictions or a candidate’s “years of experience" as criteria, which can hurt both younger and older applicants and lead to a less diverse candidate pipeline. Capricious age restrictions tend to eliminate broad swaths of potential workers. This not only promotes bias but undercuts efforts to find the best candidate available for a job. AI can also help businesses work around other proxies for ageism, like salary requirements, which can unintentionally filter out older applicants.
With the power and scale of AI and automation, hiring managers and recruiters can spend their time crafting thoughtful messaging and properly calibrating their searches to ensure they are not excluding potential candidates. Without the benefit of AI, however, recruiters don’t have that luxury.
There’s actually been a belief recently that ageism bias begins as early as 33/34, so if AI could help benefit that and get great, more-experienced candidates in the door - that’s a win.
Verdict: Needs more time but this trend will clearly become a useful strategy in the future. Much like AI-fueled hiring tools, bias is an ongoing issue with the technology, even though in this scenario you'd be leveraging the filtering power of AI to sort out information that can be discriminatory. No doubt there will be some bumps in this road but this kind of application has a lot of potential moving toward the future.
AI isn't going anywhere
If you've been reading all the “best of 2019” HR/recruiting articles you've probably noticed many are about digital transformation, AI, blockchain, etc. Some applications of this technology are more useful today than others but one thing is certain, these are the topics that will be revolutionizing the talent space in the next decade. HR leaders might be some of the first to encounter the tech but they won't be the last as it trickles through the business ecosystem. The big question of 2020-2025, in all likelihood, will be how much AI-powered applications and product suites impact the average worker. Right now that’s not a lot, but if we see developments in areas such as talent acquisition, onboarding, and performance management (or big data crunching) it will become a game-changer in the space. So how do we prepare for that eventuality? Some of it starts now in the form of training to help HR professionals learn the new skills needed to effectively use AI systems and another part of it encompasses the whole company and it's approach to the future of work and future-proofing their staff. But no matter what the next decade brings, AI is only going to continue to become more usable and savvy hiring managers are paying attention to each new development as they happen.