Numerous technological tools are promising to automate recruiting with the added bonus of helping to eliminate bias from the candidate sourcing and hiring process by using artificial rather than human intelligence to make hiring decisions. AI projects like the Mya chatbot or Project Manager Tara, along with more established companies like Atlassian, SAP, and Hirevue are optimistic that their technology can remove bias, but, as Simon Chandler of Wired points out, “AI is only as good as the data that powers it,” and right now that data is filled with flaws.
There is a great risk in training algorithms with human-generated data because it could program them with the same biases they are hoping to correct. If an algorithm screens applicants based on the traits and characteristics of a company’s current high-performers, the end result will simply be an automated version of the existing biases in the recruiting process. The Atlantic profiled an illustrative example of this where tech startup Gild created a software that helped companies find programming talent. The software collected a lot of publicly-available information to determine a candidate’s likelihood for success, but some of the variables, such as an affinity for a specific website frequented by men, instilled a bias into their rankings. Though it was an indicator of success, using fans of that website as a predictive measure unfairly penalized women.
Our Diversity and Inclusion research team at CEB (now Gartner) has been looking into this challenge of algorithmic bias. Our position, which CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can read in full here, is that the burden of removing this bias is on the people developing the technology, not the end users on the recruiting team.
Erin Griffith at Wired profiles ExecThread, a site where executives can share and find job opportunities within an exclusive network of their peers. The site is the brainchild of entrepreneur Joe Meyer, who realized the potential for disruption in executive recruiting when he sold his startup HopStop to Apple in 2013 and was approached by dozens of recruiters bearing job offers he didn’t want:
He quickly realized that C-level job opportunities weren’t listed on job boards—they came through friends or colleagues. So he decided to share the 99 job opportunities he didn’t take with his network, building an informal online community of high-level professionals. The hope was that his professional contacts would share their unwanted “hidden” job opportunities, too. …
Over the past two years, the site has grown by word-of-mouth to 15,000 self-described “high-caliber” members. Of those members, 80 percent are vice president-level or higher. Cumulatively, they’ve discussed more than 7,000 jobs. Beginning Thursday, anyone can apply—but you may not get in. ExecThread vets applicants based on recommendations from existing members, how networked applicants are, how willing they are to share job postings, where they’ve worked, and what titles they’ve held. Existing members vote on incoming applicants.
Meyer tells Griffith that he hopes for ExecThread to “democratize” high-level job searches by allowing executive candidates to compete for opportunities that are not pitched directly to them by recruiters. He believes the site can do a better job of sourcing talent than executive recruiting firms, but also envisions eventually monetizing ExecThread by selling users’ data profiles to those firms.
The influx of foreign students to US universities is slowing down and many are opting to study in Canada instead, Laura Krantz reports for the Boston Globe, in a trend driven partly by perceptions of growing hostility toward immigrants in the US since the election of President Donald Trump:
At the University of Toronto, the number of foreign students who accepted admissions offers rose 21 percent over last year, especially from the United States, India, the Middle East, and Turkey. Other universities across the country also saw record increases in the last year. … The increase is not all because of Trump. Canada has made international student recruitment a national goal to spur economic growth. It now has 353,000 international students and wants 450,000 by 2022. But the political uncertainty in the United States — as well as in the United Kingdom — has given Canada’s effort an unexpected boost.
Overall, the number of international students in Canada has grown 92 percent since 2008. They now make up 1 percent of the country’s population. By comparison, the United States has about 1 million foreign students and a population ten times that of Canada. The number of foreign students in the United States has been growing for years, but last year it grew at the slowest rate since 2009.
Seeing a potential advantage over the US and UK, Canada has been making a significant push to lure international talent away from competitor countries, advertising itself as a more welcoming destination for immigrants, and expressing a full-throated defense of diversity and multiculturalism. The campaign is beginning to show results, with some tech startups and talent choosing to set up shop or look for work in Canada rather than the US.
Faced with a large number of women in STEM fields who exit the workforce mid-career, many employers in the tech sector have been looking for ways to bring these women back, both to address overall skills shortages and to improve diversity and inclusion. These women are typically mothers who leave their jobs either to devote their time exclusively to raising children or in response to workplace cultures that don’t allow them to balance family and career; though they may not intend to drop out of the job market permanently, in their fast-changing fields, a career gap of just few years can make it very hard to re-enter—and some of these women have gaps of a decade or more.
To help them get back on their professional feet, some companies have launched re-entry initiatives or “returnships”: internship or mentorship programs for mid-career employees that enable them to rapidly update their skills and re-establish their professional networks. Erin Carson at CNET profiles IBM’s re-entry program, a 12-week internship that places mid-career women with STEM backgrounds in one of the company’s various business lines:
Participants get a mentor and work on an actual project, whether it’s in data analytics or programming. The idea is that the program can create a smooth transition for its interns, get them up to speed and give managers a chance to see the interns’ work before hiring them.
US President Donald Trump’s efforts to curb the number of both documented and undocumented immigrants coming into the US has done little to stifle demand for foreign talent among US employers, particularly in industries where qualified or willing candidates with US citizenship are harder to find. Trump’s “Hire American” policy is meant to boost wages and employment among Americans by reducing competition from foreign workers, though critics have insisted this would stifle growth and lead to labor shortages.
One industry that has been heavily reliant on foreign talent in recent years is the travel and tourism sector. While the government ended up expanding the number of H-2B guest worker visas by 15,000 in July, the expansion may have been too small and come too late and was too small to help some employers, while other critics said it was unjustified. Now that the first summer season of the Trump administration is drawing to a close, Politico’s Ted Hesson looks at how the sector coped with the new environment, whether by “hiring American,” raising wages, or scaling back their operations:
North American Midway Entertainment, a large traveling-amusement-park company headquartered in Indiana, requested roughly 400 H-2B workers this year, a quarter of its total seasonal workforce. But the Department of Homeland Security reached its 66,000-visa cap before the company could secure the guest workers. Company President Danny Huston said he had to skip three fairs and contract out some ride operations because of the visa shortage. In total, he estimates that North American Midway may have lost as much as $800,000. …
Dennis Yip/Flickr/Public Domain
In a paper last year on the disappearance of many prime-age men from the US workforce, Princeton economist Alan Krueger presented the unsettling finding that 44 percent of working-age men who were not in the labor force reported taking pain medication on a regular basis, and two-thirds of these men were taking prescription pain medication. While improvements in video game technology may be contributing to these men’s lower workforce participation by making long-term unemployment more bearable, Krueger wrote, their high rates of poor health and use of narcotic painkillers are much more disconcerting.
In the Fall 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Krueger publishes an update of that research with new data, homing in on the impact of opioid epidemic on the labor market. That impact, he finds, is even more significant than previously thought, accounting for some 20 percent of the decrease in men’s labor force participation between 1999 and 2015, and 25 percent of the decrease among women, Brookings editor Fred Dews explains:
Krueger’s paper suggests that, though much of the decline can be attributed to an aging population and other trends that pre-date the Great Recession (for example, increased school enrollment of younger workers), an increase in opioid prescription rates might also play an important role in the decline, and undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication.
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Amazon announced on Thursday that it would begin soliciting bids from North American cities to become the site of its second headquarters, a campus that could draw over $5 billion in investment and create as many as 50,000 jobs, the Wall Street Journal reported. CEO Jeff Bezos said “HQ2” would be equal in stature to the e-tail giant’s home base in Seattle, and with so many jobs at stake, cities are already lining up to submit their bids, which are due by October 19. Mark Sweeney, partner at McCallum Sweeney Consulting, told the Journal he expected interest in the opportunity to be “unmatched and unrestrained by every location”:
In addition to tax breaks on property, state and city income tax, Mr. Sweeney says states could offer to pay Amazon cash through tax rebates. Other incentives such as grants for training employees, adding public transportation or expedited permit approvals could also be part of a deal, consultants said.
Amazon says it is looking for a metro area with at least one million people, a strong university system in the area (and a strong pool of tech talent), within close proximity of an international airport.
The announcement comes just weeks after Amazon held a massive one-day hiring event in which it aimed to fill 50,000 warehouse jobs as part of its plan to expand its US workforce by 100,000 employees by mid-2018. It also comes on the heels of its acquisition of Whole Foods along with its 87,000 employees. Between the Whole Foods acquisition and the plans for HQ2, GeekWire’s Taylor Soper notes, Amazon is well on its way to having a workforce half a million people strong: