Hiring Challenges Due to COVID-19: How AI Can Help

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, human-resource organizations such as SHRM were raising concerns about the widening skill gap in the American workforce. During the period of full employment hiring managers had increasing difficulties finding qualified talent. Now that COVID-19 has resulted in massive unemployment, hiring managers have many more candidates to choose from. Yet COVID-19 makes it harder to find candidates with the right skills. How will this affect hiring managers, and how can artificial intelligence help them overcome these new challenges?

The skill gap has been particularly acute for soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. A Wall Street Journal survey of 900 executives in 2016 found that 89% had a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite soft skills. Such skills are very difficult to discern by examining resumes.

COVID-19 has made this challenge even harder. In-person interviews are less common now, and hiring managers must resort to video interviewing platforms instead. A study by McMaster University showed that this can cause both interviewers and interviewees to give a bad impression.  Moreover, candidates may have good interviewing skills yet lack the necessary skills to succeed on the job. Internships, practica, and field placements have been discontinued, which denies job candidates opportunities to demonstrate that they have the requisite skills in practice.

Artificial intelligence can help solve this problem, through automated assessments that objectively measure soft skills. For example, Alelo’s AI simulations put users in simulations of realistic workplace situations, in which they must communicate with customers and co-workers played by avatars. This provides a better way to assess the candidate’s competencies and job-relevant communication skills than a job interview can. The underlying software platform automatically recognizes then the candidate applies key competencies, and measure the speed and accuracy of applying those competencies. This can make hiring managers’ tasks easier, and can also provide feedback to candidates about how they can improve their skills and increase their chances of success. The same technology can help employers to reskill their incumbent workforce and prepare them for the challenges of the post-COVID economy.

As Mike Buttry of Cherry Tree & Associates has argued in his report on the Shaping the Future of Post-Secondary Education, COVID-19 may present a unique opportunity to adopt such new technologies. Employers who find better ways to identify promising candidates, and who are able to process large numbers of applications efficiently, will have a competitive talent advantage.

Some may be concerned that AI might substitute for human judgment, and might introduce bias into hiring decisions. But if applied appropriately it will do just the opposite. It will introduce fair and objective measurement standards into hiring decisions. We can make the job applicant data used by the AI subject to inspection, to guard against bias and help hiring managers make better informed decisions.

In future blogs I will talk about how AI can help automate the hiring process in particular areas of need, such as retail and financial services.

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