AI as an Enabler

HR Outsourcing

New tech tools can help HR improve hiring processes.

By Michael Switow

Before he joined Allegis Global Solutions, Paul Martin applied for a job at an Australian bank. He thought he was more than qualified for the role, but months went by without any word from the company. After four months, Martin received an automated email stating that he did not get the role. As an HR professional, he understood the requisition was closed and that companies use automated technologies to reply to applicants. But the fact that a formatted letter was the only communication he received left a bitter aftertaste.

In contrast, Martin had a much different experience when he recently went shopping to replace one his favourite messenger bags, a Crumpler “Barney Rustle Blanket.” At the store, the clerk informed him that the 14-year-old bag had a lifetime guarantee. He simply had to provide an email address and leave the bag with them. Soon the correspondence began.

“Hi Paul, Just an update on an old friend. Your bag has made it to our repair centre in Melbourne. It’s having a great time with the team but really does miss you loads. Just a reminder that your reference number is . . . .”

Later, when it was time to pick up the messenger sack, he received another email explaining that “the operation was a great success.”

Although he knew that these were automated communications, Martin sent an upbeat reply, asking the company to “sing [the bag] a little song before tucking her in at night” until he returned to town and could pick it up.

“Why is it that a small bag manufacturer can provide greater communication than an organisation that deals with humans?” says Martin, now director of operational excellence and strategy, APAC, for Allegis Global Solutions. Not only were Crumpler’s emails amusing, but they were also clearly triggered by actions taken by the company’s staff.

“We’re living in a new era of recruitment,” says Martin’s colleague, Kristy Sidlar, Allegis’ APAC managing director of business development. Thirty years ago, recruiting had a very personal touch, but it was often expensive and relied extensively on agencies. The dot-com era ushered in technology that enabled companies to send information to multiple candidates, but it was less personal. Artificial intelligence (AI) and the creation of talent communities has changed the equation again. “Now what we’re trying to do is really combine that personal touch with the ability to reach many and to make that happen faster.”

Martin and Sidlar argue that AI can enable talent acquisition by improving customer experience, providing greater insights into candidates’ skills and personalities, and enhancing diversity by removing human bias.

Currently, nearly 45 per cent of recruiter time is spent sourcing and screening for open requisitions. AI systems can reduce this significantly, freeing recruiters to move up the value chain.

AGS notes that AI is particularly useful for:

  • Marketing and engagement;
  • Multi-channel sourcing;
  • Engaging talent networks;
  • Screening and assessment;
  • Interviews; and
  • Onboarding.

The hiring process still needs a human touch, especially when cultivating and converting candidates, managing career sites, selecting finalists, making job offers, and ensuring compliance.

A main HR concern about AI is the possibility of high investment costs.

“We’re looking to implement an automated assessment from the very beginning of the process,” explains fashion retailer H&M’s recruitment manager Giorgio Benassi. “The challenges come when it’s money on the table. These investments are quite big. Decisions are often taken on the global or headquarter level—sometimes the specific countries or business units don’t have the money—and it’s very difficult to get the buy-in from global stakeholders. This is something that we face quite regularly.”

Other participants agreed that Asia Pacific offices sometimes play second fiddle to headquarters in North America, where budgets are larger and technologies adopted more quickly.

“In HR, we see the value,” adds Philip Morris’ APAC head of talent acquisition Lilian Singson. The organisation is rolling out a global talent acquisition ecosystem that links client relationship management, applicant tracking, onboarding, and off-boarding. However, new leadership is raising questions about the system’s return on investment. “The struggle is translating [the technology’s value] to the business. What does it mean when you get more quality candidates? How does that translate into numbers? How does it [affect] productivity? That’s where the business cases need to become more robust.”

AGS’s Martin says helping the business case is a McKinsey study that shows that “digital winners” out-invest their competitors, whilst “first movers” and “fast followers” have a significant advantage.

Many HR professionals are also worried about job security.

“It’s a matter of trust and lack of understanding,” explains UBS HR Director Darren Addis. “The recruiters are saying, ‘I’ll be out of a job, so why should I embrace it?’”

Whilst many workers fear that bots will take their jobs, history indicates that these concerns are misplaced, Martin argues. When automated teller machines (ATMs) became widespread in the 1980s, most observers presumed bank tellers would lose their jobs. After all, an ATM can do the work of eight people. Yet the number of bank tellers soared during the 1990s and continued to rise through the 2000s. Why? Cost savings created by ATMs led banks to open more branches, all of which require staffing. At the same time, tellers now focus more on high-value transactions, like selling mortgages, instead of simply cashing cheques and accepting deposits.

Participants agree though: AI improves processes and increases efficiency.

“We test all our candidates before they come in for interviews. Basically, what we’re seeing is that using that technology up front—and we spoke to a lot of our hiring managers about this—is giving much more time back to a recruiter,” says Mandie Fankhauser, the head of international talent acquisition at healthcare and insurance provider Bupa.

“Our referral programme stagnated around 15 per cent of hires,” adds Martin Garnes, HR project consultant for Philip Morris. “So we’re looking at technology to bring that up to 30 to 40 per cent of our hires.” Whilst Philip Morris is looking to AI to provide a boost, company officials find that the human touch is essential in this area as well.

“We looked at the customer experience,” explains Garnes’ colleague Singson. “In Asia, we maybe spend $150 per hire on referrals, versus thousands for agencies. The issue is how you enthuse people so that they’ll want to share stories about the company in a more organic way?” Colleagues are slow to share job openings, but happy to post fun stories about the company in social media.

This piece covers the interactive workshop Embracing Bots: Why AI Will Be Your Competitive Advantage In The War For Talent, presented by Kristy Sidlar, managing director of business development, APAC, and Paul Martin, director of operational excellence and strategy, APAC, for Allegis Global Solutions, at the HRO Today Forum APAC in Hong Kong.

Posted January 2, 2018 in Talent Acquisition

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