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Recruitment companies are turning to generative artificial intelligence to identify candidates and boost efficiencies as the jobs market begins to cool.

“Talent markets have been tight for a while, meaning companies struggle to find humans for open jobs,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief innovation officer at global recruiter ManpowerGroup, professor of business psychology and expert in hiring technologies. “AI is massively helpful here: it enables recruiters to look at talent in wider, broader, more unusual places, scraping and scanning through millions of applications.”

Efforts to identify more candidates come as a fall in the number of permanent vacancies hits recruiters’ fee income.

Robert Walters, which operates in 31 countries, has — like other recruiters — reported a hit to fees in the UK and elsewhere. Toby Fowlston, chief executive of the London-listed group, says it is using advances in AI to increase job applications by reaching a wider group of potential candidates.

Its recently launched AI-driven Adify software can assess and write job adverts “so that the actual language used will attract people from diverse backgrounds”, Fowlston says. “It’s about [using] neutral language that will ensure you’re at least trying to attract the broadest range of applicants.”

It can help employers boost diversity in their workforces, too, the company says. Trials of the Adify program “led to as much as a 23 per cent increase in female applicants”, as well as a “significant” rise in applications overall, as a result of modifications to language in job ads.

Denis Machuel, chief executive at rival Adecco, says AI is helping recruiters “make better choices” and speed up the recruitment process. “That’s good, because it helps the recruiter focus on what is essential: interaction with the client and candidate,” he says.

Chatbots can hold “humanlike conversations” with jobseekers at the initial application stages and AI can do “the background work”, suggests Machuel. This gives recruiters more time to build relationships with employers and job hunters, he explains.

As well as being able to create job ads in “a matter of seconds”, Adecco uses AI to compile candidate shortlists, by identifying key skills. In 2021, it bought QAPA, the second-largest provider of digital workforce solutions in France, for €65mn. QAPA uses AI and cloud infrastructure to match candidates to roles.

Tech is helping jobseekers, as well. Adecco’s AI-supported “CV maker” generates résumés through verbal instruction. And the group has announced a tie-up with Microsoft to create a generative AI-powered career platform that will assess candidates’ skills and provide customised career advice.

These moves come as recruiters and their clients prepare for the emergence of new jobs — and the need for greater technical expertise.

The role of “prompt engineer” — who determines the best way to frame a question when interacting with AI-powered systems — is one example of a job that will “flourish in the future”, says Machuel.

However, a recent report from Adecco showed that people at the forefront of innovation were most convinced about the importance of human skills in the workplace. The role of the “human touch” ranked above AI for 67 per cent of technology workers, in a survey of 30,000 employees across 23 countries.

Emotional intelligence, empathy or active listening, and interpersonal skills were the least replaceable human attributes, according to respondents.

But the “dehumanising” of recruitment and the risks posed by cyber attacks were “real ethical concerns” surrounding the adoption of AI, says Chamorro-Premuzic.

“If you train AI on rubbish data, it will give you rubbish insights and recommendations,” he notes. “If you teach AI to copy human preferences, it can replicate and augment human bias and unfairness. Inequality could increase.”

Recruiters are anticipating this will generate increased demand for new skills. As AI develops over the next five to 10 years, “technology [roles] and particular technical skills within technology are going to be required”, says Fowlston.

He also notes the impact on legal and human resources departments. “Making certain that the technology is ethical and is going to generate the right responses and outcomes [necessitates] some legal hires,” he believes.

Fowlston expects human resources teams to change, “because, if you’re automating certain roles, that’s going to have an impact in terms of job briefs, how you’re hiring, how you’re attracting people [and] moving latent potential within the organisation”.

“We’ve got individuals in our organisation,” he says, “many of whom were recruiters and they became product specialists . . . and they’ve moved into strictly product-driven roles.”

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