Simon Kent reports from an industry discussion on the digitalization of the recruitment process.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country, The Global Recruiter’s UK Summit took place in central London bringing together the leading lights from the recruitment industry to discuss ideas, discover best practice and to move the industry forward towards meeting the needs of Industry 4.0. While the immediate challenges facing the industry have somewhat changed since then, the ideas and strategies discussed at a series of Recruitment Live round tables held at the Summit, continue to offer insight and inspiration for recruitment leaders. None less so than the session held in association with Bullhorn which explored the concept and ideas around digitalisation. Taking part in this conversation were:

Chris Dunham, IT Director, InterQuest Group

Roy Thompson, Director of IT, Gattaca

Jaspreet Kaur, Marketing Manager, Venquis

Lauren Blackwell, Recruitment Executive, VHR

Missy Shutt-Vine, Head of Permanent Division, Tiger Recruitment

Marc Jarvis, National Senior Account Executive, UK & Ireland, Bullhorn

Simon Kent, Editor, The Global Recruiter

From the start it was clear that the concept of digitalisation – in terms of gaining efficiency through the automation or removal of weighty administration – is not a new idea. Speeding up the process of employment and the bureaucracy around it through the removal or reduction of physical forms, the sending, checking and filing of paperwork and so on has always been an aim of business. What is new however, are the tools and techniques, technology and challenges by which this can be done.

Newer technologies, along with some attractive marketing, argued some around the table, has given rise to the idea that Artificial Intelligence is beginning to have an impact on the sector. However for many in the room the concept of true AI was still a just a concept. In practice what is currently being offered on the market is really  machine learning technology – ie. systems which take in a huge amount of data, identify patterns within that data and then make decisions based on those patterns. The challenge here is that even with a data rich sector such as recruitment, simply basing decisions on what has worked in the past will not necessarily determine success in the future.

Not only that but the challenge that remains as far as data is concerned is ensuring the appropriate details for each candidate placed are entered in a timely and accurate fashion. Some around the table had managed this challenge by designing their systems to force consultants to record the process from the start – a job advertisement, for example, cannot be placed without the vacancy being logged on to a system and so on.

However even with this data resource Chris Dunham raised the question of how long would it would take for a system to process and reach any conclusions with regard to that data, and secondly would the decisions taken as a result of what has happened over 20 years lead to success for their consultants working tomorrow?

Dunham also said that while sourcing candidates can be based on rules – has this person got these attributes/qualifications – there is another level of consideration and decision making made by consultants which is harder to get a machine to understand. Dunham gave the example of a candidate working in Reading but who says he doesn’t want to move for a job. Unless the right rules are there, an automated programme is unlikely to realise that the person will probably commute into London to work – indeed they may already be doing so.

But while there may be hesitation and caution among recruitment companies when it comes to technology, the fact is they are operating in a world where digitalisation is happening. Missy Shutt-Vine believes digitalisation is inevitable because “it’s an external force, and you can’t be left behind.” Within her own business she gave the example of the adoption of new HR systems and automation which mean company updates and announcements can be easily made while booking and confirming holiday times have been made easier for both the consultant booking the time off and the manager approving the absence.

VHR’s Lauren Blackwell also believes the push towards digitalisation is irresistible – it’s not just about being aware of innovation in the sector but about keeping in touch with changes in the workforce – both in the form of potential candidates and in the form of the requirements made from the workforce within the sector a recruitment business serves. “For me if there’s anything that makes us quicker or more streamlined we’re going to go for it,” she says. “It’s about realising the process of digitalisation is a constant. Automation and AI already exists elsewhere and that will come into the way we recruit and how we use our database and systems in the future.”

Roy Thompson, made the point that digitalisation should be more focused on addressing productivity at scale rather than what he calls the ‘hygiene’ issues of a more efficient back office. After all, no business wants to be carrying an unnecessary burden of added cost if it can be mitigated. “The trickiest but most important bit is getting the tools in the hands of the recruiters,” he says – and this is not just because it’s a question of finding the right technology, but because sometimes those who the technology is aimed may struggle to change their working practices.

Jaspreet Kaur reported some positive experiences from using new technology and in particular automative techniques within the marketing function. Not only can the business better manage its public/potential client approaches and brand image, but the ease by which candidate and client surveys can be sent out and analysed has proved useful to inform the work of frontline recruitment consultants. “Getting the brand out there is very beneficial even if that’s just to keep in touch with clients and candidates,” noted Kaur. “Even a survey is a great way to make contact and find out if a client has anything coming up we might be able to help with.”

Naturally any investment made in digitalisation must deliver a good return on investment and this is certainly a challenge for recruitment businesses. Ensuring a solution actually delivers efficiencies and on an acceptable scale, rather than simply looking good and sounding impressive, is a concern for many charged with assessing and introducing greater business efficiencies.

Roy Thompson was not alone in highlighting the need for an awareness of the scale at which digitalisation must be implemented in order to deliver a real impact on a business. Automation of just a few processes or for a low number of consultants/contractors is unlikely to be attractive whereas larger-scale projects will usually have more potential. For these reasons, any effective move towards digitalisation in the recruitment sector will always be a challenge.

“Digitalisation continues to play a pivotal role in our fast-paced, everyday lives to the extent that over the past five years in particular, we have almost become oblivious to how we as a society have evolved in tandem and see future digitalisation as an expectation, not hope,” notes Bullhorn’s Marc Jarvis. “Automation has become a necessity across many industries already but notably within recruitment where ‘engagement’ has and will continue to be a primary driver behind developing strong relationships with candidates and clients alike.

“Technology like Herefish by Bullhorn will enable businesses to effortlessly design and build their own recruitment specific automations,” he concludes, “thereby enabling recruiters to focus on what matters most; a high degree of verbal and in-person engagement to ensure the deepest possible understanding of clients and customers’ needs.

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