COVID-19 has been – amongst a world of other things – an accelerant for the staffing industry, forcing firms to figure out how to operate successfully in challenging and remote circumstances - almost overnight.
This has led to somewhat of a paradigm shift within the industry. Firms are reassessing how much physical real estate they need. They are pondering their approach to internal staffing into the future. And, most importantly, they’re far more open than they once were to new technologies.
As a whole, the staffing mindset has historically been less about innovation than of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. But the fact that staffing was forever five to ten years behind other industries indicated that things were in fact broken. Through the beginning of the pandemic, however, there was a real awakening within the industry. And no technologies have better exemplified this altered state than automation and mobile.
Excited by this first (and somewhat forced) dip of the toe, many firms are keen to dive in. So let’s take a closer look at both automation and mobile – and the areas of crossover – to understand exactly how these technologies could shape your firm’s future.
Staffing firms generally have a lot of people performing mundane, routine work. It’s transactional, it's low value, and they don't particularly enjoy it. When you automate tasks, saving a recruiter 30 minutes here and 15 minutes there, they become more productive and feel a greater sense of job satisfaction. Not only are you making your organization more efficient and profitable, you're also creating an environment where people enjoy their work more.
“When I started in the staffing industry everything was done manually. It was, however, surprisingly efficient,” says Maurice Fuller, Founder of StaffingTec. “It's astonishing that we're not much more productive than we were back then, with all the tools and support now at our disposal. There are opportunities for automation everywhere - not just one or two automations here and there, we're talking dozens or hundreds. By the end of this decade, it wouldn't surprise me if large staffing firms have thousands of bots more or less running their business.”
Currently 30% of a recruiter’s day is devoted to the high value, highly skilled, human work that recruiters enjoy. The other 70% is tied up in admin and other drudgery. These tasks are undoubtedly critical… but they’re also largely automatable. They don’t require high level thought or reasoning, so by applying some very simple rules, automation could more than likely take the recruiter’s place, or free them up to do more important things, like creating relationships with candidates. Duplicate manual entry is a classic example.
The tools for this type of automation are not only available, they’re incredibly cost-effective. The time is therefore ripe for a robotic process automation investment to be made; one that will streamline operations, deliver services more consistently, and generally make your company more competitive.
The sales pitch is enticing. But how do you turn the potential of robotic process automation into reality?
While the first hurdle is always the largest, getting started with automation isn’t about tackling everything at once. You need to be strategic in how and where you automate, because not all automations are created equal.
As you analyze workflows within your organization, the 80/20 rule comes up – a small number of automations will have a huge impact on your operations. “When I'm working with staffing firms, we will quickly come up with hundreds of opportunities for automation,” Fuller explains. “We then boil that down to about 20 and focus on those first, because those are the ones that are going to have the greatest impact. If you do that, you’ll be astonished at the results you achieve.”
This process forms the beginning of your automation journey, which will go on for the rest of your existence as a staffing firm. You need to understand your processes and workflows and what automations can and can’t do, and then carefully analyze time savings and ROI to strategically select what to focus on. Deprioritize less impactful automations, while understanding that you will get to them eventually.
It’s also important to highlight the fact that this isn’t a cookie cutter operation. You can’t just buy a package of bots. You have to build automations out yourself, based on your own internal processes. This only increases the importance of starting as soon as possible – putting off automation will create ‘technical debt’, and it will take time to catch up, if it’s possible at all.
You also won’t be able to quickly buy your way in – this process is time-consuming, requiring reviews, analysis, the identification of opportunities, and finally the building of automations. No amount of money can substitute the necessary hard work.
As our reliance on automation increases, the importance of data quality and integrity will follow the same upward curve. Imagine a future where we're tracking a hundred or a thousand times more data, using it to help us with every facet of the recruiting and staffing process. With the pace of technological innovation increasing exponentially, that future may not be as far away as you might imagine. But no answer can be valid if the input is erroneous. This is what the IT world refers to as GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.
Robotic process automation is heavily reliant on quality data. A staffing firm can't put automations in place unless their data is clean. But there is a flipside. Once you have ensured the initial integrity of your data, you can automate its ongoing auditing and cleaning.
As firms add automation after automation, there is an obvious next step: autonomous staffing. Imagine a world, perhaps a decade from now, where a third of all positions are filled autonomously. Recruiters still pre-qualify candidates, but then when the job order comes in, the process of taking the order, preparing it, alerting candidates, engaging with them, and filling the position is all done by bots.
It might sound to some like science fiction, but the necessary technologies already exist. Imagine becoming a data integrity success story yourself. Speaking of which…
Automation is already proving to be a game-changer, but there’s another technology, which intertwines with automation, that has the potential to be even more earth-shaking.
“I’ve worked in staffing technology for the last two decades, and I’ve never seen anything come along that has had such a high impact on staffing firm operations as mobile,” declares Fuller. And he has a point.
Historically, and to this day, firms have been able to fill low-level, hourly positions within a few hours. But now, using mobile solutions and the aforementioned autonomous staffing technology, you’ll hear firms boasting about filling roles in less than a minute. ‘We pushed that order out and alerted our candidates via mobile. Different people looked at it, and one accepted it. We filled the order, beginning to end, in 40 seconds.’
That is now the new goal, and soon to be the new standard; one that is orders of magnitude quicker than traditional ways of hiring. “If going from filling in hours to filling in 40 seconds isn’t a gigantic wake up call for staffing firm leaders, I don't know what is,” continues Fuller. “It's the sort of opportunity that comes along once every couple of decades.”
With Bullhorn acquiring TempBuddy last year, and with on-demand software like WorkN, TimeSaved, GigRonin, and Shiftgig all doing similarly great work in the space, the industry is pumping vast sums of money into mobile. Not to ignore the fact that these solutions are partnering with onboarding solutions like Able, that is also mobile-first, to assist in completing the hiring process. A bit like the rise of ATSs years ago, it’s almost like a whole new category of productivity technology, but one that arguably has even greater potential.
Recently a company that develops websites for the staffing industry told us that pre-COVID, approximately 40% of candidates were coming to career sites on mobile devices. A few months later that figure is up to 60%.
This demands a similarly dramatic shift in perspective. Staffing firms shouldn’t imagine a person accessing their site from a desktop or laptop – but the factory setting should be mobile, because that’s increasingly the case. Everything from a process and engagement standpoint should be optimized around that idea.
Another thing that should be considered is that within three or so years the majority of the audience will be on 5G, and using incredibly powerful cell phones. Your tech stack roadmap should be developed around that fact as well. You should be thinking about providing things like 4K video, AR walkthroughs of workplaces, or VR experiences, that give candidates a taste of the role that they’re targeting.
The typically conservative mindset of the staffing industry has been forever changed by a volatile, challenging, and in many ways revolutionary year. Happily, the fact that the technologies described above have already been proven means that the path ahead is surprisingly clear.
All a staffing organization needs to do is take meaningful steps in that direction.
As founder of StaffingTec, an event and conference company focused on promoting staffing industry technologies, Fuller offers incredible levels of insight on these topics. To hear more about what he sees as the technological future of the industry, check out Episode 16 of the You Own the Experience Podcast.