“He picks up scraps of information
He's adept at adaptation
'Cause for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay…”
—Rush, Digital Man
It was a technology meet-up event in Toronto, Canada, and the consensus was that AI and machine learning will make it easier to match qualified individuals to the right jobs through highly-developed algorithms and self-adjusting assessments.
All us panelists agreed that the robots aren't taking over any time soon, although one of them added that these recruiting technologies are advancing faster than most of us are aware of. We agreed. Today there are dozens and dozens of artificial intelligence startups in the business of hiring people.
Nearly two decades earlier, when I first entered the HR and recruiting technology space, I worked for a company whose pitch was:
We source Interested, Qualified Applicants for software developer, IT, and Asian-language bilingual positions. You pay only for those candidates who you decide meet your specifications and who have agreed to an interview. You’re in control. Sophisticated artificial intelligence quickly predicts the likelihood of a match between interested applicants and a particular position.
It was cool. It was disruptive. It worked. Kind of. And it was way too early, even with the magic algorithm we had and the computing power of the day. Unfortunately it became a dot.com demise before it really took off. Since then I've seen hundreds companies over the past 18+ years claim their technology will help companies identify and screen the right applicant for the right position quickly and effectively, if not automatically.
Each panelist answered thoughtfully. When it was my turn I said, "The nuance of empathic interaction; our capacity to love."
I went on, "Maybe hundreds of years from now technology comes to life, but until then it can only replicate our behavior, faster and better, but not become it."
"True that modern neuroscience has shown us how bad we are at making decisions, but it's also part of what makes us uniquely human, the very essence of our ever-evolving DNA."
I babbled on pseudo-poetically for a few more minutes, then we wrapped up the discussion. The night before I had finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a wonderful novel about a man who loved books and through circumstances and life experience learned to communicate with and eventually love others again. I longed for my wife and children, to hold them and tell them how much I loved them.
Closer to my professional world, I also thought about the millions of us who apply for jobs everyday around the world, most of whom have a pretty crappy time in the hiring process. Per the nonprofit candidate experience research organization I help run called Talent Board, nearly 50% of us who apply for jobs never hear back from those companies after 2-3+ months. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Yet, for those companies that invest in consistent human interaction, communication and feedback (providing it and asking for it) throughout the hiring process from before they even apply to the final offer, the 99 out of 100 of us who don't get the job -- the business reality of this messy human transaction -- these rejected individuals are more likely to apply again, refer others to the same company, and even buy stuff if it's a consumer-based business (think airlines, mobile phone companies, hotels, etc.).
The robots won't save us from ourselves quite yet, but the artificial intelligence technologies in play today will empower and inform our dysfunctional decision making, freeing up that time to keep the communication and feedback flowing regularly and nuanced with empathic interaction.
It's also a two-way street. Recently I heard a story of a retail company that sent brief rejection notes with a little feedback for the candidates -- and a gift card. One of the recruiters received a nice note from a father who had lost his wife the year before and had been out of work for months, and was thankful to have the gift card to buy his children Christmas gifts.
Good God, that story gets me every time. And out the every 1,000 horror stories I hear about what it's like to look for a job any day of the week, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells us today, I hear at least a dozen or more positive stories like the above.
This is the storied life of our working class, our human capacity to care about each other even in the sometimes dehumanizing confines of employment, and lack thereof. This is so important because the world of work is so inextricably linked to the rest of our lives. The work we do defines us, good and bad, whether detached or passionate, which is why retaining our humanity throughout can never be negotiated or negated.
I smile at this because our two girls have an affinity for science and technology, as well as a growing sense of empathy and respect for others. I hope someday they will be part of a solution that helps the millions of the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged become adept at adaption, to learn new skills and find work with a conscience that provides a living wage.