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Where Will Disruption in Recruitment Come From?

Author: Christopher Shaw, Chairman

Disruption is one of those terms that gets thrown around, but in many cases its meaning has been lost. True disruption of an industry is rare. I am going to look at what has been considered disruptive in recruitment, before giving some examples of real disruption in technology.

One of the obvious ways recruitment has changed is through job-finding apps and websites. These have dramatically speeded up the time taken for a candidate to realise a suitable job is available, through push notifications and filters. However, a good recruiter should be aware of a strong candidate for a job, and might have been simultaneously contacting them. There is also a disruptive rise in jobs available to fit around other work, such as evening or weekend positions, maybe as part of the gig economy. In addition, AI is now starting to have an impact. It can bring speed to the process, but again an excellent recruiter should be as good: after all, AI is only as efficient as the data it gets fed. Yes, AI can be used for candidate screening and interview scheduling, but at the higher end of recruitment, the personal touch that companies like Parker Shaw pride ourselves on would be lost.

But none of this counts as real disruption, rather ‘RecTech’: just baby step changes in response to improvements in technology. So what is real disruption? In his recent book, Non-Bullshit Innovation, David Rowan (a founding editor of UK Wired) gives examples from various industries around the world.

Rowan shows that real innovation and disruption tend to come from outside-the-box thinking, and from outside an industry. For example, over their history Nokia have gone from running paper mills, to making rubber boots, cellular networks, and then to making mobile phones. However, ability to innovate isn’t guaranteed, and they failed to pre-empt or react adequately to the iPhone. Or take the example of Quantas in Australia, turning their air miles scheme into an entity that is used by people who don’t even fly due to the benefit it offers. This leads us to the interesting conclusion that any radical change within the recruitment industry is likely to come from an outside player.

The biggest example of real disruption is that of the Estonian government. Constraints after the fall of communism lead to them introducing their own government IT systems. This resulted in a country well ahead of the curve in its digital systems, and it also resulted in extraordinary innovation. Estonia started offering e-residency to foreigners, allowing them to set up businesses in Estonia. Having these e-residents pay a subscription means that Estonia plans to abolish income tax. Having introduced online income tax payment, voting and medical records by 2008, Estonia is putting everyone to shame. Companies have flocked to register their start-ups in Estonia. Skype, anyone?

So what might happen to upset recruitment? Disruption is clearly about far more than just responding to the advances in technology. An app to submit a timesheet, while undoubtably useful, is hardly disruptive. Following the example of history, we should be looking to outside the industry for innovation. Most revolutions tend to come from smaller, keener, leaner players, who aren’t constrained by expectations within an industry or by shareholder demands. This doesn’t mean that an existing recruiter won’t come up with something to revolutionise the industry, just that history shows it to be less likely.

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that any innovation in the higher end of tech recruitment will be a more retro idea: that of more human involvement, rather than less. Recruiters who know their candidates’ and clients’ needs, and can match them perfectly: a skill no AI can contest. Yet.