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What Is Automation and How Will It Affect Staffing?

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Automation is a hot topic, and many are on the fence just how it will impact their every day. Will it disrupt the tasks they perform on a day to day basis? Could future jobs be replaced by automation? Or worse, could current jobs be replaced by automation? There’s so much fear around how automation will change the way we do business, but which fears are valid and which fears stem from nothing but myths? In this post, we’ll explore what automation actually means in staffing, and whether or not you really have cause to be concerned. I hope by the end of this article, I can convince you that not only do you not have to be afraid of automation, but that the real fear should be that you’re not fully embracing automation the way you should.

To start, what exactly does it mean to automate?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, to automate something is to “to make a process in a factory or office operate by machines or computers, in order to reduce the amount of work done by humans and the time taken to do the work.” It’s no wonder there’s fear around what automation in staffing will mean to the future of current human jobs. Before we jump to that conclusion though, let’s talk this through.

There are a number of places in staffing where automation is already helping you do your job. One of the earliest technologies that was staffing industry-specific was the invention of the resume parser. Another example of automation technology was the online job application. And another example of automation was the advent of matching engines. Over the years, there were many that promised to be able to find the ideal candidate and pair them up with the ideal job. Even automation like “job alerts” attempts to minimize some aspect of busy work through a routinized set of operations. It is noteworthy that all of these automations are basically oriented toward cost reduction.

That’s great, but won’t automation replace my job?

Staffing is not the first industry embracing automation. In fact, Barry Asin at Staffing Industry Analysts actually looked at a couple of jobs to demonstrate just how differently automation can impact an industry or job. Two jobs he looked at were travel agent and real estate agents. He noted that, while automation was impacting both greatly, the result affected them very differently. While travel agents showed a decline in growth over the years, real estate agents actually grew before slowing down. One of the biggest differences between these jobs is the requirements of having a human relationship. Automation can be excellent when it comes to cutting down on easily repeated, high frequency, low touch processes. It’s not possible to recreate the human relationship though. Jobs that require creativity, trust building, negotiation—those jobs cannot be easily repeated at high frequencies, and therefore they cannot be easily replaced by automation.

Staffing is very much an industry reliant on the human relationship. Recruiters must build trust with their candidates. And they must negotiate pay rates and contracts. In an industry requiring so much human interaction, it’s highly unlikely that automation can replace recruiters. In fact, one could easily argue that automation will help recruiters, by eliminating the tasks that currently take a recruiter away from interacting with candidates and clients; tasks like copying jobs from a VMS into an ATS, screening a candidate for their location preferences, and gathering required credential documents.

Below is a potential world in which automation has been added to streamline workflows, freeing up a recruiter’s time to build relationships with candidates and clients:

Customer Blog Automation

You’ll notice that there are several areas where automation has taken a task from a recruiter: importing jobs into the ATS, scheduling phone screenings, submitting candidates into the VMS, sending status follow-ups. There are a number of tasks, however, that are still dependent on a human: recruiter phone screens, client phone screens, negotiating. It’s often the recruiter who explores what areas of change are of interest—title and compensation, work-life balance, commute, one’s boss, the culture, the future opportunities. When it comes to understanding them in the context of the local market, that’s something only a recruiter can do. It takes the recruiter to identify those reasons for change, and the recruiter to play them back to the candidate later on in the process when it’s time to close. If applicable to your business, prepping before and debriefing after a client phone screen or client interview is not something automation will solve for you. You’ll need to role play, and you’ll want to reinforce certain ideas—that’s just not something automations do today. Finally, there’s negotiation—whether it’s finalizing a pay rate or locking in the start date or any additional reimbursements—it’s critical that a human be involved. There’s also plenty that you as a recruiter learn about the candidate during the negotiation; both what’s important to him or her, but also the way in which he or she pursues it.

I would argue that if you asked any recruiter if they would prefer to copy/paste a job from a VMS into an ATS, or if they would rather it be done automatically for them, they would almost always request it be done automatically. In fact, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal agrees. In the article, they point out that automation could potentially create more jobs than it destroys. The tasks that are easiest to automate are usually those that are redundant and routine, and therefore the jobs that many find the least fulfilling.

So, if I’ve been able to convince you to embrace automation, you might now be asking – how?

There are so many ways to automate today, but it’s not necessary to do everything at once. I’d actually argue that it’s better to start with just one or a few processes, so that you can really measure its impact on your business. Below are some steps you might want take, and questions you should ask, in order to direct your efforts and help you prioritize your first attempts at automation:

  1. Pinpoint an area of your business that could benefit from automation. What processes take you too long to do today? What processes could you afford to give up that human touch, so that you can shift that human effort elsewhere?
  2. Set goals for what you want to achieve with automation, so you can measure its success. What goals do you have for your business? Do you want to increase fill rates? Do you want to decrease time to fill? Are you trying to improve candidate engagement and experience? Do you want to decrease headcount, or do you want to reassign your current staff?
  3. Ensure your team is on board, so you can see results. Make sure your team understands the goals associated with this change. The more bought in the team is, the more success you’ll see, and the less they will fear that automation will replace them. Help them understand the benefits these changes have on both the business, as well as their career.

Still not sure where to start, or want to read up on automation a little more before taking the plunge? Herefish, a Bullhorn partner who helps staffing firms automate the small things so they can focus on the big things, recommends 25 Things Every Recruiting Firm Should Automate.