“What new technology does is create new opportunities to do a job that customers want done.” – Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc.
It was Morpheus from the Matrix who once said, “Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” Yes, it is a little out of context, but it has great relevance to what we are going to be talking about today – automation! Automation is a term that many of us have become familiar with over the years. This was especially true for the past two years when Covid-19 and forced digitization took over the world.
We had to adapt to survive, and yes, as Morpheus says, there is an irony in humans depending on machines for survival. This is especially true given that we created them. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, in fact, quite the opposite. Automation of business processes helped us overcome one of the darkest moments in recent human history. It gave people jobs, kept businesses running and took us one step closer to the future. However, if we are truly going to understand this technological revolution, we need to wind back the clock and start at the beginning.
Like most things finding their footing in the early years of human history, automation too was primitive. It was the 16th century when humanity even had an inkling of automation. A man named William Lee stumbled upon the idea of mechanizing, at least partly, the production of stockings. He went about this by adapting looms that were previously used for manufacturing rugs to make long sheets of stocking materials.
If we jump ahead two centuries to the 19th century when the industrial revolution was gathering steam (literally and figuratively), we see people moving from their rural communities and into cities. Mills, factories and steam-powered machines were taking over the world. A growing population was finding a way to meet its growing needs through mass production.
Technology advancement doesn't necessarily have to look like a robotic revolution; it can be a simple software.
The New Age of Automation
It wasn’t until the 20th century when the car manufacturers of the world started mass producing vehicles that automation was in full swing. In fact, Ford was one of the front-runners in this race that pioneered this mode of manufacturing. Robots were officially taking over! Mind you, this was just the beginning – in a good way.
Fast-forward to 2022 and we find ourselves on the precipice of a new world order. A world where AI, robotics and other forms of smart automation have permeated nearly every industry. A study by PwC showed that by the year 2030, these technologies will be contributing around $15 trillion to the global GDP. This high level of wealth will also drive the demand for jobs.
Defining Automation in the Modern Workplace
Based on historical trends, there is a common misconception about automation. It’s not the towering sea of robots that you might see in a Will Smith movie. Well, it can be that, but it can also be as simple as a set of digital tools housed within common business software programs. At its roots, automation is the usage of an independent system. These systems complete repetitive tasks without the need for human intervention or labour to a great degree.
By this definition, it can take a lot of different forms. Now if we use history as a template for reference, we know that automation used to require expensive machinery. It also need things like servers and teams of experts to tend to them. However, in this modern landscape where digitization is a norm, even small businesses can invest in it. Cloud-based platforms and other such tools have made this technology accessible.
“Technology like art is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.”
- Daniel Bell, American Sociologist
Workplace Automation Examples
The whole point of having repetitive, independent systems in place is to ensure that employees have their hands freed up to do more important tasks. In today’s business markets where competition is at an all-time high, having this freedom and flexibility is crucial. With that said, let’s have a look at a few important ways in which automation has permeated different industries including the recruitment and talent acquisition sectors.
- Email Marketing – A lot of businesses, small and big, use some form of email marketing automation. Many SaaS companies offer tailored-made email marketing platform services as third-party vendors as well. It’s as simple as having an email uploaded to the software, and plugging in the dates and email addresses so that it just keeps sending them out as time goes by.
- Talent Acquisition and HR – Automation comes in handy when tracking down candidates, scheduling interviews and screening resumes. It can even be applied to the payroll system to doll out the cheques at the end of every month. When these tasks are being taken care of, it allows the HR team to focus on more important tasks like the quality of business processes.
- Automated Reference Checking – Sticking to the same line of thought as the previous point, we have automated reference checking. A prime example of this is Credibled, which allows for a seamless, efficient and of course automated process for reference checks. If you have ever done recruiting, you know how time-consuming it can be, especially when you consider the volume of candidates you have to check on.
Advantages of Having Automation is Place
If we were to look at the advantages of automation, we find themes of irony popping up once more. When you think about it, the bottom line of having such a process in place is the bottom line. It saves companies time, money and energy. This means resources can be diverted to more immediate needs. This means that companies can remain smaller and maintain a certain degree of agility.
While higher levels of productivity, efficiency and lower costs all translate to healthier profit margins, it remains to be seen to what extent automation will transform the economy at large. Having said that, it seems like an inevitable future as technology evolves with each passing day. Yes, there will be debates as to how it will affect certain industries, job demands and so on, but if we look at historical trends again, there will be transitional pains, but the result is better for everyone.
There might be transitional pains with technology but it is ultimately worth it.
Dealing with the Transitional Pains
It’s an unavoidable obstacle that the industries of the world have to tackle if they want to see progress. Yes, there are a lot of benefits to automation as a whole in terms of profitability, convenience and efficiency. However, as we said earlier, there are bound to be concerns about job scarcity. There might even be concerns about how people are going to make it in this new world.
There are several suggestions and emerging models that are coming into the spotlight. These pose as a potential solution as to how we might best tackle this uncertain technological future. But ultimately, we think that humans are resilient. We wouldn’t have made it this far if we weren’t willing to take that leap of faith. At the end of the day, people might even drift away from the traditional definition of full-time jobs and transition into specialized roles while the machines do the day-to-day, mundane work for us.
For example, if we look at educational resources like Khan Academy which provides free courses and certifications, it seems like a valid venue to get specialized in a certain trade and build one’s career on that. Who knows, this might be the next big thing.
Outlook for the Future
Many in the talent acquisition and recruitment industry see automation as a few years away. For example, according to a LinkedIn report which quoted a study done by the HR Research Institute, 96 per cent of HR managers believe AI has great potential to help in the right talent acquisition. An additional 55 per cent say AI will become a regular part of the recruitment process within the next decade or so.
If we want to have an objective view on the matter, then yes, automation as we envision it (as the futuristic tool), is a few years away from maturity. At the moment it is in its infancy. Having said that, there are advantages to embracing what is. One of the most important reasons to embrace it is the competition element, especially in this industry.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that you have a pool of passive candidates that you want to be recruited. The fact is most of them will already be employed but you have to capture their attention anyway. The more top-tier candidates you have in the pipeline the better, and automation can help you do that.
From database sourcing to social media algorithms, automation as a concept is all around us. Keeping in mind that it is still young as a concept, we need to maintain a healthy balance between relying on technology as well as people resources. Things that we have tried and tested.
Having said all that, it is the way forward. It is an inevitable certainty given the current trend of industries the world over. While it may not be at a point of perfection yet, it certainly is a good place to start!