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Can AI solve the Covid jobs crisis?
by Maura Diamond

Usually when there’s a discussion involving the words ‘AI’ and ‘jobs’ it’s in the context of the former destroying the latter. A common enemy of tabloids and talk shows alike, AI has been predicted to axe 40% of the world’s workers by 2035 according to ‘experts’, though there is rarely any evidence provided how, why or even what type of AI will be responsible.

These predictions took place pre-Covid-19, before 25% of UK workers were furloughed in June[1] and more than 14 million Americans lost their jobs[2] without an algorithm in sight. Now, against a shifting jobs market could AI be responsible for helping people back into work?

The opportunity is unique to this particular financial upheaval as usually in an economic downturn, the vast majority of industries take a hit. Where Covid-19 lockdown has been devastating for sectors such as hospitality, travel and the car industry, other areas such as grocery retail, logistics and cloud software have benefited greatly. The result is that instead of what happened in 2008, where people left the workforce and had nowhere else to go, we instead have a situation now where bar staff are becoming shop workers, airline pilots are becoming van drivers, and so on.

And while many thought this would be only temporary, with predictions that 30,000 UK pubs and restaurants will remain closed post-Covid[3] and global air travel will not recover until 2024[4], it looks like professionals in certain areas are going to have to look way beyond their usual horizons for employment. But how will job seekers and employers match up? How do you persuade a pilot to swap international flights and sunny skies for the motorway?

Enter AI. There are some fantastic companies out there who are already using artificial intelligence to write the perfect job description. Co-founded by a former Microsoft executive, Seattle-based Textio is shaping the way HR professionals write job ads.

“No one actually built software to do what is potentially the most valuable and important thing that software could do, which is actually tell you which words to use to get the result you wanted,” co-founder Jensen Harris told CNBC last year[5].

Textio enables employers to choose an industry and city from a dropdown menu to provide the context for the professionals that they need to appeal to. Harris emphasises that the point isn’t to remove humans from the process, but instead enable them to draw on a database of more than half a billion documents that are tied to outcomes. This allows humans to produce more effective documents that directly appeal to the demographic they are looking to hire. HR professionals could write different job ads to appeal to both its usual pool and people from new industries to widen their search while using the most-effective language for both.

Textio is already helping make the job hunt more diverse - one client saw 11% more women in its interview pools since using the software. According to the company, job postings that use gender-neutral language are filled 14 days faster than posts with an inherent gender bias either way[6]. More recently, Textio has added features related to ageism and ableism to continue diversifying its appeal.

Elsewhere, hiring platform Unitive discovered that adverts with problematic terms such as ‘ambitious’, ‘dominate’, ‘strong’ and ‘takes risks’ were also likely to deter women from applying. Textio can now take these into account.

Removing gender bias is clearly the first but an incredibly important step in using AI to refine job descriptions. But AI also has the potential to go further and help companies attract talent from different sectors all together. It’ll be an incredible irony if AI plays a major role in helping rebuild the jobs market, but after this upside-down year, it’s certainly a possibility. I wonder how many tabloids will shout about the number of job seekers helped by AI?

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[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52977098

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/

[2] https://www.theweek.co.uk/107061/pub-restaurant-permanently-closed-coronavirus

[3] https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/air-travel-recovery-2024/index.html

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/24/job-postings-you-want-most-will-be-written-by-artificial-intelligence.html

[5] https://techwireasia.com/2018/03/ai-helping-recruiters-write-perfect-job-advert/

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