Tech and e-commerce giant Amazon has rarely been considered a worker-friendly business. For years, stories have trickled out from the massive conglomerate’s workforce regarding unreachable quotas, denied bathroom breaks, and anti-union efforts. And now, news has broken over another executive decision that may send shockwaves throughout the hiring world. Last month, it was revealed that Amazon has formally asked thousands of internal recruiters for their resignations. The reason for this surprising move is the imminent rollout of Amazon’s “Automated Applicant Evaluation”; in other words, ‘AI recruiting’.
Is AI Recruiting the Wave of the Future?
Per a leaked confidential document dated last October, Amazon has been working towards sending the bulk of their entry-to-mid-level hiring to artificial intelligence systems. These systems are designed to predict which applicants will be successful in particular roles and send their file straight to the interview stage without recruiter intervention.
This decision has, understandably, left Amazon’s recruiter workforce reeling, with another 10,000 or more job layoffs expected early this year and a reported hiring freeze in place for the company. As helpful as this new automation will potentially be for the company, Amazon’s large recruiter pool has long been necessary to fill the many positions that are constantly cycling open in the gargantuan warehouser.
Replaced by a Robot
Amazon’s announcement comes at a difficult time for its workforce, which began experiencing the tech giant’s largest mass layoffs in its history last November. This push to transition recruiting from man to machine appears to be part of this wider round of belt-tightening. Worse still, the willingness of one of the world’s largest companies to box out human recruiters in favor of AI recruiting software could mean that competitors and even other smaller businesses could quickly begin evaluating if this option is within their reach as well.
This isn’t the first time that Amazon has attempted to cut staff in favor of a cheaper (and more easily managed) tech option. An AI model that was designed in 2014-2015 to take the place of human recruiters had to be scrapped and sent to the drawing board when it was discovered that the ‘unbiased’ system discriminated against female candidates. Amazon attempted to edit the system to remove the unwanted preference, but it reportedly “re-learned” the bias due to financial industries’ typically male-heavy recruiting pools.
Can Predictive Analysis Really Replace Human Intuition?
Whether Amazon’s previous AI bugs have been worked out remains to be seen. But although the decision to bid a huge chunk of its recruiter staff adieu is a smart one from a pure payroll sense, recruiting insiders are understandably leery of its widespread ramifications for the industry. Writing for Venture Beat, AI expert Nathan Esquenazi recently wrote that even contemporary AI models learn and enable biases too easily, that it is not yet advanced enough to mimic and implement human intuition or judgment, and that such technology should only be used with extreme caution.
While it may be true that a recruiter isn’t an absolutely essential component in the process needed to fill low-level warehouse jobs, most experts agree that AI is a long way from replacing recruiters in common practice. No contemporary technology, no matter how advanced, has the ability to mimic human intuition or to gauge the ‘unwritten’ and ‘unspoken’ rules of interviewing or resume building. Although this new venture by Amazon currently only seeks to save the company money by skipping ahead with entry-level role filling, the worry within the recruiting industry is that it is the first foot in the door of replacing professional job placement experts with the unthinking 0s and 1s of a computer program.
More to Recruiting than Filling an Open Role
As many hiring managers have discovered over the years, the perfect candidate on paper could still possibly result in an HR nightmare. A good recruiter’s questions, observations, and evaluations have a far higher likelihood to see the writing on the wall than any AI recruiting model. And a recruiter’s job extends far beyond helping a company land a solid applicant: recruiters negotiate offers, handle counter-offers, and pass useful feedback to both company and candidate. Regardless, the reach and overall effect that Amazon’s ‘Automatic Applicant Evaluation’ tech has on the recruiting industry as a whole will undoubtedly be closely monitored in the months and years to come.