Digital innovation is transforming temporary recruitment. But is it driven by artificial intelligence, asks Andrew Johnston at TempRocket?

No matter what sector you look at, it seems it won’t be long before artificial intelligence rides in like a knight in shining armour to transform it. It’s almost like some industries are actually coasting along without innovating because they are simply waiting for the AI panacea. And with the lack of innovation in temporary recruitment, up until this year, you might be forgiven for thinking that the sector was a culprit.

However, digital disruption finally arrived in the sector during 2018 in the form of online temporary recruitment platforms. By bringing a hitherto disparate industry together in one place online, these new disruptors in the recruitment space offer a quicker, more cost-effective and joined up way to find and employ temps.

These platforms are technologically advanced and innovative and look set to transform temporary recruitment for the better, providing a national or even global one-stop shop where hirers can connect directly with contractors and agencies to find the perfect temp cover in minutes. And of course, because they are digital they are available 24/7/365. The best versions of the platform also include a bidding system enabling hirers to get the best deal from agencies. Plus they are completely free to use for hiring businesses.

So has AI struck again? Are these cutting edge recruitment platforms being driven by artificial intelligence?

Well, the answer is not quite so straightforward. Yes, the platforms incorporate AI, but to say they are powered by the technology is taking things too far. These temporary recruitment platforms employ a specific form of AI known as computational intelligence (CI). They use this particular strand of AI to handle assignments autonomously for hirers and in some cases for agencies as well. The more advanced versions of the platforms combine inputs from hirers, contractors and agencies with their own intelligence to provide a streamlined workflow saving users time and money. This optimised workflow allows a booking to occur in under a minute.

Unlike the AI that most of us are familiar with, which is based on hard computing techniques, CI is based on soft computing methods, which enable adaptation to many situations. Hard computing techniques follow binary logic based on only two values (0 or 1) on which modern computers are based. The problem is that the more random, variable or ‘human’ a process is, like recruitment, the less successful AI’s absolute approach will be. Soft computing techniques, based on ‘fuzzy logic’, are more useful.

In temporary recruitment, if we remove the human decision making element from the system, we could, in theory, speed the booking process up immensely. If we don’t need the contractor to confirm they can undertake an assignment because we’ve linked a computer up to their calendar directly, then we could save precious minutes in the booking process. If we used AI to predict when a company needs temporary workers, then we could have them booked in a matter of seconds with automatic bookings made across the system. This would be great, right?

Except, removing the human from the decision-making process is a mistake in systems where human interaction is key, and the recruitment industry is a case in point. If we remove just one element from the booking process the entire system will collapse.

We need the contractors to confirm their availability, the agencies to confirm their willingness to supply, and the hirers to confirm they need temporary workers. A contractor isn’t going to want to have their schedule and calendar dictated to them by a machine. A hirer isn’t going to want a machine second-guessing their staffing requirements.

Therefore, involving the decision makers is key, and that’s exactly what the new online temporary recruitment platforms achieve. The best ones combine inputs from agencies, hirers, and contractors with AI to provide a streamlined workflow saving users time and money. This optimised workflow allows a booking to occur in under a minute while continuing to engage with the key stakeholders.

In a sector like temporary recruitment that relies on just as much subjectivity as objectivity, you have to question whether the common hard computing form AI will ever be appropriate. Perhaps AI-powered facial recognition might at some point be used to monitor staff for signs of illness, such as colds, flu, etc, and then alert management to sign up a temp for the following day. The problem is that Debbie comes into work no matter how ill she’s feeling and a cold certainly won’t keep her away, whereas Bill takes a day off when he’s got a hangover or at the earliest possible signs of man flu. How would AI understand people’s individual complex personalities?

Great recruitment requires a very human touch. Which is why it’s a sector that AI alone will never completely automate.

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Andrew Johnston is a self-made entrepreneur and the founder of TempRocket, which he started to develop in 2016 when he noticed a gap in the market for a digital solution to help hirers, recruitment agencies and contractors work better together. He brings over 20 years’ experience running his own businesses, supporting others and mentoring budding entrepreneurs with innovative ideas from inception to market. Previous companies he has founded include Red Pencil, a specialist telco recruitment agency that secured the only contract ever issued to supply senior management and director level placements into British Telecom, and in the last nine years, he has founded and grown ePayMe, one of the UK’s largest outsource payroll providers to temporary recruitment agencies and freelance workers.