AI in TA – are you the only virgin at the prom?

“Everyone seemed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed except me.”
― Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea

If you’ve been following social media & HR conference circuit chat over the last 2 years you would be pretty easily forgiven for thinking that AI is taking over the world of TA. In fact, you’d pretty much be forgiven for thinking TA teams on the greener side of the grass from your own are deploying tech stacks which NASA would be peddling fast down number 2 Independence Square to high five itself for implementing.

More than $22 billion, and counting, has been pumped into over 1,000 AI start-ups in the last three years, in industries ranging from transportation to health care, & across a range of specialties—including HR – and the impact of the resulting chatter wave is evident. According to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends report, 42% of senior leaders expect their companies to have a heavy reliance on AI in their HR model within the coming few years.

Research is even already charting the bottom-line business case for the robots, according to sources such as the Deloitte Bersin report. Stats included suggest that firms using AI, predictive data analytics and other technology tools are more successful than those who don’t… up to 18 percent higher revenue and 30 percent greater profitability.

In a survey conducted last month however by Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill (Yardstick Associates) in partnership with ClickIQ, only 20% of the nearly 100 UK Resourcing & HR leaders surveyed felt they even had the right core TA model in place to meet their business needs today and into the future.

Their ‘real time’ problems seemed much closer to home, and largely unchanged from conversations well-trodden over the last 20 years. 52% of the leaders surveyed saw budget and/or TA resource availability as their biggest problem they are facing today. A huge 66% believe their TA teams succeed not because of their tech stack, or even thanks to the support they get from their businesses, but simply because of hard work and skills of their TA teams.

Asked to prioritise the most pressing solutions to their biggest causes of insomnia, only 14% said that better tech would be their biggest hiring outcome problem solver.

Johnny Campbell, CEO of recruiter capability firm Social Talent was encouraged rather than surprised at the results.

“A learner driver can’t win a Formula One race, no matter how great the car is. Likewise, an amateur golfer won’t win the Masters just because she buys top of the range golf clubs. Throwing tech at a hiring problem without first enabling your people and fixing your processes is a waste of resources and it’s no surprise to me that senior TA leaders wisely recognise this.” observes Campbell

“Recruiter and Hiring Manager enablement along with more efficient process design can be significantly enhanced with tech but you have to get the basics right first. It also seems to me that learning how to make a great business case for funding is the first skill TA leaders should start with!” he concludes.

Whilst an even higher number of TA leaders than the CHRO’s surveyed by Deloitte felt that AI could be deployed to help remove some of the more repetitive administrative tasks within their hiring process- 48% giving that future forecast an upvote – 0% were seeing AI as a risk to TA jobs, and just 6% were forecasting a near horizon future that utilises AI to remove recruiters from attraction & pre-selection processes.

So, where is the disconnect?

“Part of the issue we have here is a linguistics one” says Jim Stroud, ClickIQ’s US based brand evangelist, and industry commentator extraordinaire.

“AI in the true definition of the term doesn’t exist yet. What people mean when they use the term is somewhere across the spectrum of smart automation tech through to, at the very cutting edge, tech equipped with machine learning – very complex algorithms and statistical models that computers use to perform very specific tasks without needing a human input feedback loop” reflects Stroud.

“That doesn’t devalue the level of expertise and, of course, expense involved in developing these tools- but fundamentally they depend heavily on the humans programming them in order for them to be effective and accurate.”

The sad case of Elaine Herzberg back in March 2018, and the well-commentated sinking of over $15 billion in IBM’s investment in AI driven healthcare solutions both give insight into the real world impacts of mis-calculations in machine learning programming when it is being applied to, quite literally, life and death situations; as well as to how far ahead the journey to ‘destination autonomous AI tech’ still reaches.

Bringing it back into the world of TA, this mis-use of AI terminology and, arguably, over-inflation in some cases of the perfection of capabilities yet possible, equate to an understandable disconnect for many HR & TA professionals.

The fear that others, with more time or deeper pockets, are streaking ahead in the race for talent acquisition sophistication. The concerns about how transactional the worry-beads for TA in your company are compared to what you are hearing in conversations propped up by ‘thought leaders’. The results of the survey conducted are therefore illuminating, but not perhaps surprising.

“There are some fantastic pieces of tech out there on the HR market today, many of them using really smart machine learning to perform data-based tasks with measurably more accuracy and speed than it would be possible for even the most experienced human HR pro to manage it” says Richard Collins, MD & Co-Founder of ClickIQ.

“With the right coding, solid data sets and correct application these tools can help remove unconscious bias from pre-selection decisions, to drive laser-like accuracy in attraction spend output maximisation, and even to genuinely enhance your candidate experience in comparison to stop:start manually dependant early stage process steps” Collins concludes.

“TA & HR leaders shouldn’t be overwhelmed by concerns they are being left behind in the AI arms race” chips in Andy Brett, Global People & Culture Director for employer branding giants Universum. “Pick tech that works for your budget, your organisational risk appetite, your current HR tech architecture and also, most importantly, works to solve the most pressing problems you need to fix for your organisation. Keeping up with what your company, candidates and hiring managers need is a lot more important than keeping up with the Joneses based on what you might be hearing at HR tech conferences.”