Sector Report: Robots Take a Big Step in Staffing

The gig economy continues to dominate trends in the staffing industry, triggering new partnerships, driving technology innovations, and forcing recruiters to wonder what role they will play in the future.

“The rise of platforms like Shiftgig, Upwork and Taskrabbit is causing many staffing professionals to ask tough questions,” said Vinda Souza, vice president of marketing for Bullhorn, a staffing industry technology firm. “They want to know, are they friend or foe?”

The case can be made that they are both. These gig work platforms give employers and candidates fast, easy access to each other, often via one-click applications and rapid onboarding. “They are taking over cheap, easy-to-fill roles that require little human interaction,” Souza said. That is seen as a threat to some staffing agencies, particularly if they focus on finding front-line retail workers. Fully 43 percent of staffing professionals see online talent platforms thwarting their businesses because of increased competition, according to Bullhorn data. However, other staffing experts see these platforms as a resource to draw from. “Like LinkedIn or job boards, they are another place to find candidates,” she said.

This is resulting in new collaborations between tech firms and staffing agencies as the later look for ways to better meet the needs of their clients. “More than half of agency professionals see partnership opportunities with digital staffing platforms,” said Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts. He points to Randstad’s acquisition of the job board giant Monster, and Trueblue’s rollout of JobStack, an app that lets workers search for construction, warehouse and other project-based work. “This trend is inspired by companies like Uber and Lyft, where workers manage their own work.”

High quality or high volume?

Demand for new and more agile staffing channels is being enabled by advances in artificial intelligence, chatbots and other automated communication tools that speed recruiting while reducing the need for actual human contact. “Humans — millennials especially — don’t care if they are talking to a human or a chatbot,” Souza said. If a tool can update a candidates on the progress of their application, or get them into a job faster they are happy.

Staffing professionals are less enamored with the benefits of these tools to their own livelihoods. While 67 percent of staffing professionals surveyed by Bullhorn believe automation will help to promote top recruiting talent by freeing them to focus on building relationships, 33 percent of staffing professionals admitted that they plan to use the technology to reduce their workforce. “It is definitely changing the role of the staffing agency,” Souza said. Staffing agencies can either harness technology to focus on high volume placements, or continue to offer personalized high quality recruiting with lots of human contact. “You have to figure out who you are going to be, because there is no in-between.”

Jim Stroud, global head of sourcing and recruiting strategy for Randstad in Atlanta, thinks that fears about robots taking over recruiting jobs is a lot of hype. “They are just tools, they can’t replace humanity,” he said. While automation may be useful for upfront tasks like sorting through resumes, recruiters still need to talk to candidates and hiring managers to complete the cycle. Companies that lose that human touch run the risk of damaging the candidate experience, he said.

That can be the death knell for companies recruiting in a tight labor market where frustrated candidates are quick to post ratings on Glassdoor and other social media sites that could scare off future candidates. Talent Board’s 2016 candidate experience report shows 75 percent of candidates research a company before applying, and said that employee testimonials are among the most valuable content they look consider.

Despite the potential risk of negative reviews, the overall candidate experience has not improved much in recent years. Bullhorn’s 2017 staffing trend report found that while candidate acquisition ranks among the top three priorities for staffing firms, most companies fail to track candidate satisfaction at all, while others do so inconsistently. Similarly, Talent Board found nearly half of candidates report not hearing back from employers more than two months after submitting an application.

“The lack of commitment to improving candidate experience is problematic,” Souza said. Firms that want to continue attracting high quality candidates, need a comprehensive approach for engaging them via multiple channels that includes prompt feedback. “Candidate experience matters a lot for staffing agencies and their clients,” she said.

Stroud agreed. “There are a lot of cool technologies that can help you find and connect candidates,” he said. “But in the end they need to feel good about the company for the process to work.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

 

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