The robots are coming to take your jobs – lots of them!

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A think tank (IPPR) is predicting that a million people could lose their jobs to robots and artificial intelligence (AI) with serious effects on the economy.

Jobs generating almost £300 billion could be lost – almost a third of the UK total.

The North East and Northern Ireland are at risk of losing 50% of all jobs. London is the area least likely to be affected.

Responses to this “threat” are varied. Jeremy Corbyn has called for “common good intervention” by the state so that workers don’t lose out. The government has spoken of creating “jobs for the future”. Such as?

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)  want a co-ordinated response with the establishment of a regulator to oversee the “ethical use of robotics and artificial intelligence“.

It thinks that increasing automation could deliver a boost to the economy but might only benefit investors and small numbers of highly skilled workers while everybody else loses out. (A bit like globalisation then?). It rejects the idea that we are heading for a post-human economy saying most jobs would be re-allocated not eliminated.

One of the authors admits however that “Some people will get a pay rise while others are trapped in low pay, low-productivity sectors. To avoid inequality rising the government should look at ways to spread capital ownership and make sure everyone benefits from increased automation”

  • Industries most likely to be affected are agriculture, transport, food processing, and administrative jobs.
  • The safest jobs are likely to be in education, information, and communication sectors.

There is also the risk that automation could increase gender inequality as jobs held by women are at more risk.


Earlier this year I posted this about how insurance company Aviva had asked its 16,000 staff whether or not robots could do their jobs better than they can.

Now some of you might think you are dealing with a robot when it comes to making an insurance claim but this is serious.

With predictions by Oxford University that robots could take over 35% of jobs within twenty years with insurance under-writers at the top of the list, it’s no laughing matter.

Aviva has promised that any employee who says that their job would be done better if automated will be retrained for another job within the company. What kind of job that would be is not made clear but they will probably be less skilled, less rewarding and lower paid.

The idea, proposed by their American finance chief, is to “remove the robot from the person, not replace people with robots”. Nice soundbite but what does it mean when the company is planning to replace people by robots?

A White House report last year concluded that almost 50% of all American jobs could be automated and 80% of jobs paying less than $20 an hour. And the governor of the Bank of England has warned that 15 million British jobs are at risk (just under  50% of the UK workforce).

There are some jobs robots can’t do – yet. They can do administrative, clerical, and production tasks like building cars. They can make coffee and flip burgers. The former Chief executive of McDonald’s has been quoted as saying it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robot arm than employ someone who is inefficient at $15 an hour. Our local McDonald’s has just introduced touch screen ordering so no queuing to give your order to people.

Robots can even do surgery and may be better than humans with certain procedures but when it comes to selling, developing business ideas, or similar jobs relying on human interaction maybe not.

However online companies manage to sell an awful lot of stuff without any human intervention, and robots are being developed as companions for the elderly.

Originally posted February 28 2017 —————————————

In December an AI-based recruitment manager called Andi developed by Microsoft and Botanic started assessing candidates for three occupations.

It also offers lessons in interview techniques. The cartoon Avatar asks multiple choice questions but also sizes up the applicant’s personality through speech and body language using the video app Skype. 

Mark Meadows, the founder of Botanic says the system could measure 24 aspects of a person’s character or personality through speech patterns and body language.

A manager wanting to hire someone can ask Andi to identify 10 candidates for a particular job and it is able to interview 1,000 candidates within an hour and come up with the best ten and rank the top three of them.

He gave an example of someone who “ums” and ‘ahs”s a lot who wouldn’t be picked for a public speaking job (human interviewers might be able to work that one out Mark).

Botanic’s previous creations include  medical advice bot and a language teacher. He’s keen to develop what are essentially expert seems bots for a variety of applications.

In the meantime Andi looks like it will be doing HR, occupational psychologists and career coaches out of jobs!

updated January 8 2018


Interviews? The computer says No!

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Those traditionalists among you who doubt the use of aptitude and other psychometric tests adding value to a notoriously unreliable interview-based recruitment process now have another problem.

Robots. Yes robots or rather AI is being used by Vodaphone to help recruit callcentre and shop floor staff according to a report in The Times.

So now candidates submit videos of themselves answering a standard questionnaire and that is then assessed by a computer algorithm which assesses their suitability for a role.

The AI examines subtle face cues and voice intonation. Only once they have been given the go-ahead by the robot do they get an interview with a human being. (So still back to the good old unreliable interview).

Vodaphone has processed about 50,000 such applications so far and is so pleased with the results that it plans to extend the system to help it hire senior managers and executives. I’m sure candidates at that level will be looking forward to being rejected at the shortlisting stage by a robot.

Catalina Shveninger, head of resourcing, said “It takes a tremendous amount of time out of the hiring process: it halves the time and allows us to fish in a much bigger pool

We are the first multi-national implementing a programme like this one on a global scale. This is the future of resourcing”.

Wow, not only are robots taking our jobs they’ll be choosing which of us can have any jobs left over!

This is all possible because  of huge leaps in the computing power and storage available. The algorithms “learn” as they process more and more data (just like Amazon’s  learning what you like to shop for to target you).

Of course they need to be programmed by human beings to start with. If Facebook can infer users’ mood swings using its algorithms what other aspects of human communication will such algorithms identify. Posh accents? And are they colour blind? Presumably they will not suffer from implicit bias but how good are they at detecting lies (or sociopaths at senior levels)?

The company that developed it has sold it to more than 50 businesses including airlines (that might explain RyanAir’s robotic approach to passengers) and banks in America.

Some techies are unhappy about these developments. Critics say AI systems like these are the “biggest existential threat to humanity“. Terminator stuff indeed.

Now you might argue Vodaphone needs all the help it can get given its standing with customers (EE and Vodafone generated the most complaints throughout 2015 – both at a volume above the sector average and considerably higher than rivals O2 and Three. For EE, the amount of complaints decreased in the second half of the year, whereas Vodafone’s went up)

Perhaps it’s a bigger threat to HR departments and recruiters. Instead of sending in your CV you upload a video shot on your smartphone and the computer says Yes or No. Might be scope for fancy filters on your camera and off-screen coaching by former recruiters re-purposing themselves . As young people are addicted to selfies they will probably love the idea. And the narcissists among the senior management candidate pool.

And I wonder if the robot/AI has a name? Being a big fan of Arthur C Clarke and the infamous HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer) I think it should have a name. Perhaps TERRY (The End of Real Recruitment)?

So exactly what criteria should we actually use for recruitment now?

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Employers are realising that students with better grades or degrees aren’t necessarily the best performers (and for that I blame the devaluing of degrees and A levels in attempts to attract more students or get more brownie points. You can no longer trust a degree classification).

And in the march to more social diversity it seems you can forget about spells working abroad, being in a sports team, or having a good internship. Now I can see how the latter would disadvantage people from lower socio-economic groups but where do you draw the line?

Do you want token ethnic minority or working class or female employees just to look good? Do you want to be a social engineer or just employ the best people?

I read about a consultancy firm recently that had changed its recruitment process by excluding from CVs the following information:

  • Academic achievements
  • Work experience

They claim such blind CVs led to almost 20% more candidates in its graduate and school leaver intake who would previously have been ineligible. So what are they actually using as criteria?

And this approach has been tried decades ago leaving off the name of the school, the marital status, age etc to try and level the playing field. But then you still have to get through interviews.

We all know interviews are notoriously unreliable partly because of the way candidates present themselves and how attractive they are. But they could be better if interviewers, and candidates for that matter, were trained properly.

Recent research from the US suggests that highly qualified candidates are three times more likely to get a job if they are honest about their shortcomings as they come across as more authentic. Of course whether it works for less qualified or less competent candidates is a different matter.  Candidates often lie about their skills or experience (between 2/3 and 9/10 if research is to be believed).

Psychometrics including aptitude and situational tests are more reliable than interviews – but you need specialist expertise to use them.

Assessment centres are more reliable predictors with multiple tasks for candidates and multiple trained raters. But again you need the expertise to do it and they are expensive to set up when most companies want a quick and easy solution.

Companies are trying a range of things to attract more diverse applicants but diversity isn’t necessarily a good thing for the business in every situation as research shows.

Recruiters influenced by sexual orientation

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893There have been several studies looking at the impact of attractiveness on your chance of being shortlisted, particularly where a photograph was included in the application.

Now a new study by the University of Sussex has found that discrimination occurs when candidates refer to membership of gay associations in their CVs.

But not in the direction you might expect.

400 participants were shown fictitious CVs. One was clearly from a lesbian, one from a gay man and the other two from a straight man and woman. The CVs were identical in terms of qualifications and experience except for a reference to membership of a gay professional association.

The researchers found that female managers were more likely to pick gay and lesbian candidates whereas men were more likely to pick straight candidates.

Benjamin Everly from the university’s School of Management & Economics said the findings suggest employers should consider carefully who was making their recruitment decisions. “These results show that bias against gay men and lesbians is much more nuanced than previous work suggests“. He could have said that there is evidence of bias against heterosexual candidates, by women, but that might not have sounded so PC.

He thought  “Hiring decisions made by teams of both men and women could lead to less biased decisions”.  He though that the findings could influence when and how gay men and lesbians disclosed their sexual orientation in the recruitment process.

The report in the Times doesn’t say what job the fictitious candidates were applying for or from what sectors the 400 participants came from. It’s possible they were students at the Business School but I don’t know that.

However research at Anglia Ruskin University suggested that at graduate entry level gay men received the fewest invitations of interview in traditional male occupations such as accountancy, banking,finance, and management and lesbians received fewer invitations for shortlisting in traditionally female occupations like social care, social services and charity work.

Recruiters are notoriously bad as selecting the right person for the job and the whole process is about discriminating against unsuitable candidates. Many people in recruitment have not been trained appropriately (worryingly the Sussex study refers to managers not HR people) and line managers are often the worst as seen recently in the steakhouse incident.

Leaving sexual orientation aside (and is Sussex going to replicate the research across the whole gender fluid/LGBT spectrum?) men and women have been shown to be discriminated against just on the basis of their looks, with women rejecting attractive female candidates and insecure men rejecting good-looking men.

Interestingly the recruitment process for the new head of the Metropolitan Police included psychometric testing, probably for the first time. (Don’t know what they used but hope it wasn’t the MBTI or DISC).


Charity helps you get on in work and life

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donation_can_hands_1600_wht_5539Saying you are hardworking and a team player seems to influence recruiters, corny as it may sound. More than whether candidates had IT skills or a degree.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) asked 2,000 executives what they looked for in candidates when recruiting.

More than half said they were more likely to employ someone who had done charity work. This was a higher proportion than were impressed by sporting achievements or people being physically fit.

The rationale behind companies liking charity workers was simple. The skills they learned doing voluntary work brought in an extra £36,000 to the companies. They also thought volunteers were more caring, reliable and driven.

And those members of staff who had done voluntary work earned about £1,000 a year more.

Some volunteers said it also made them more attractive to the opposite sex and helped them get dates.

The BHF said “Volunteers are absolutely essential to the success of the charity and play an integral part in fighting coronary get disease. We couldn’t continue our life-saving work without them”


Hey handsome, looking for a job?

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DSCF1550rIf you are just hope your potential boss isn’t insecure.

New research from America suggests that insecure bosses are less likely to employ good-looking men because they fear looking bad by comparison.

Attractive men are generally considered more competent (unlike women of which more later) which is why they do better in life generally.

However if they are being recruited into jobs where they may end up competing with their bosses then their good looks might work against them.

Marko Pitesa, professor of management at the University of Maryland, led the research – which investigated how people would behave in team activities as opposed to competitive scenarios using CVs with fake photos.

In the competitive situations being perceived as good-looking could work against you, Pitesa said “It’s not always an advantage to be pretty . It can backfire if you are perceived as a threat”

He added “The dominant theoretical perspective in the social sciences for several decades has been that biases and discrimination are caused by irrational prejudice. The way we explain it here pretty men just seem more competent so it is actually subjectively rational to discriminate against them” His research was published in the journal Organisation Behaviour and Human Decision Processes.

As I mentioned earlier women don’t get it all their own way either. In experiments involving recruitment using CVs with photographs, attractive women were discriminated against. This was put down to jealousy among the largely female recruiters.

Once you get the job however good looks seem to effect both men and women equally in respect of earnings with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

And the latest investigation into restaurants shows that they give the best tables to the best-looking people (to attract other customers). So if you get tucked away in a corner you know you haven’t got the looks!

Will name-blind hiring work?

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business_people_line_door_1600_wht_9932David Cameron seems keen to introduce it for recruitment to the civil service, the BBC and leading private companies in order to reduce discrimination against candidates with ethnic minority backgrounds.

This is because research suggests that there is bias against non-white names. Cameron cited the example of a graduate called Jorden Berkeley who couldn’t get an interview until she used her middle name Elizabeth. Well for a start all graduates have to make many applications before they get an interview – unless they’re well-connected of course.

Secondly, to me her first name doesn’t seem a non-white name just one of those modern, sometimes made-up, names we see proliferating such as Jadon, Rafferty, Dexter, Barlow, Chase and Galore, to name but a few and not including compound names . In some cases the name doesn’t even give you a clue as to the person’s gender. I wouldn’t have known whether Jorden was male or female for example. (Is there any research into bias against non-traditional names?)

And removing the name alone is only part of the problem with applications. What about the district you live in, the school and college you went to? Your hobbies and interests? All potential clues to your ethnicity. (And we won’t even mention your Facebook page!)

And what about other biases, for example against age?. We’re all living longer yet the research suggests that over-50s get a raw deal applying for jobs.

Cameron’s promise to “finish the fight for real equality” follows moves to get more women on FTSE100 boards – despite evidence that it doesn’t necessarily improve a company’s performance and leads to the “Golden skirt” phenomenon – and more transparency about pay.

It all seems a bit of a PC “tick a box” to me. After all they’re not going to require applications for top jobs to be hired on a name-blind basis. Where does he think the bias starts?

Which would you rather employ – a Psychologist or a Psychic?

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BrainI couldn’t resist reblogging this post as I never cease to wonder at the things rich corporations get up to

When it comes down to it which would you prefer in helping you to make key recruiting decisions? A widely researched scientific approach that business psychologists use or one that is untestable and unproven (despite a $million challenge)?

Some sceptics might say there’s not much difference and that psychological testing is a bit woo-woo as well but there is plenty of evidence to show that using reliable and valid tests can help managers make rational decisions.

So how rational is it that, allegedly, corporations would spend good money on asking self-proclaimed psychics to assist them in making key decisions? According to a story in the Sunday Times Appointments section there are people who claim to use their psychic powers to help companies make appointments and other investment decisions.

One of them, Rachel Willis, calls herself a Corporate Psychic Consultant. On her website, Psychic CEO, she claims that this practice is already embraced in America where one psychic, Laura Day, has been paid $10 million dollars over the last 6 years. Day charges clients $10,000 a month to be on call 24/7 to provide psychic advice and takes on 5 at a time.

She not only does financial work but works with Hollywood stars, advises lawyers on jury selection, and has run management courses for Seagate computing. She prefers to be called an intuitive rather than a psychic as she thinks people associate psychics with tea leaves and crystal balls.

And she’s not the only one over there. There’s someone who uses astrology to predict financial trends. (And they all claim to have foreseen the economic downturn)

Willis wants to bring corporate psychics to the fore in the UK and like Day she prefers to be called an intuitive rather than a psychic. When working on a recruitment assignment she says she tunes in to the job and uses the job specification before she tunes into the candidate but never sees their CV or speaks to them. She says she gets an intuitive sense of whether the person is right for the job (based on what, their name?)

On her website she says her clients are “those who get it and understand the positive power of intuition in business”. It also says “there is no woo-woo, magic or incense burning just a concise insightful information flow“. But click through from that site on her individual readings link and she tells you that she is “a channel for Ascended Masters, Angelic Realms, and Beings of Light” and that she is primarily guided by Archangel Michael. How woo-woo is that?

Day calls herself an intuitive these days and offers Esalen approaches to groups of clients. Maybe the corporate stuff didn’t work out for her.

Willis’s twitter account still refers to her as psychic ceo but most of the stuff on the internet is about her being a food intuitive with “magical powers”

The other psychic mentioned in the Appointments article, Paul Lambillion, works in a similar way in that he asks for a fax containing just a job title (and what do they mean these days) and a list of candidates, again no CVs or personal contact. He then puts coloured blobs against each name as he considers whether they might be loyal, adaptable, intelligent etc.

He says he has a client in Liechtenstein (that’s the country with lots of investment bankers and the highest average per capita income in the world – $140,000) who has been using him for recruiting to senior roles for 15 years. But he’s not just a corporate psychic and on his website he claims to use auras for individual readings, does distance readings, and also channels someone called Heartstar.

I couldn’t find any reference to corporate work on his website today so maybe he’s no longer involved in it.

Now you might think that all of this is just weird. After all the French have been using graphology for years without any scientific proof it works. And you might think “so what” if companies are daft enough (although if that’s how they recruit investment bankers it makes you wonder).

A Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development spokesman said that they disagreed entirely with the practice and an employment lawyer pointed out that if a candidate complained of unfair selection they would be entitled to see all the paperwork and ask for reasons why they were not selected. So there might be a problem there providing evidence.

Judging by their current web presence it looks like the recession might have killed their corporate aspirations.

But was it just a harmless fad? Well Willis also claims to be a food intuitive who can sort out your dietary problems, food intolerances and weight problems and that sounds potentially dangerous to me.

Edited & updated from original post on SGANDA in 2011

Are attractive women discriminated against?

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_DSC0291I’m re-posting this as it came up in the popular press recently (it can take journalists a few years to catch up on academic research).

Some researchers in Canada (a very PC country in my opinion) have replicated the research done in Israel a few years ago.

Men might think that women have the advantage when job-seeking if they are attractive but research from Israel, published by the Royal Economic Society, showed just the opposite in fact. 

Researchers sent out over 5,300 CVs for over 2,500 jobs. Two applications were sent for each vacancy – one with a photograph of either an attractive or plain person and an identical one without a photo.

Attractive women who sent in a photograph with their CVs were less likely to get an interview than plainer women who sent a photo and women who sent no photo at all.

For men it was the other way round. Attractive men who sent photos did better than the attractive women but plain men and those who didn’t send photos fared worse than their female counterparts.

Statistically it means that an attractive male only needs to send out 5 CVs to get an interview compared with the 11 a plain-looking male needs to send. Attractive women would be better off not sending a photo as it reduces their chances of getting an interview by 20 – 30%.

The researchers at Ben-Gurion university said it was a case of “beauty discrimination” which reflected the double standards in company HR departments. They checked and found that 96% of the people who screened the CVs were female, typically 23 and 24 years old , and 70% of them were single.

They theorised that these recruiters were jealous of any potential rivals in their workplace and rejected them instantly. There was less discrimination if the recruitment was being handled by an employment agency. Attractive women were no worse off than plain candidates and only slightly worse off than candidate who didn’t send a picture.

Professor Cary Cooper from Lancaster University Management School was more generous about the recruiters suggesting that unconsciously they might think that the less attractive women is the underdog and want to give her a chance. Nice thought Cary but what about the no-photo applications?

Sending photos with CVs is not common in the UK (unless applying for a job relating specifically to your appearance) but is in other parts of Europe. In Israel where the experiment was carried out it’s up to the individual.

In Lithuania our colleagues who are recruiters tell us that young people often send inappropriate pictures with their CVs eg shots on a beach or other holiday locations.

Of course once you’ve got the job good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

First posted on SGANDA

Empathetic Introverts make the best Carers

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female_nurse_1600_wht_9033According to the MacIntyre charity, cited by Camilla Cavendish, the Times journalist who has just published a review of healthcare support workers.

The charity, which provides services for 1,000 adults and children, has created detailed psychological profiles of care workers.

The best ones, the “naturals”, are:

  • empathetic introverts,
  • good listeners,
  • reflective, and
  • wanting to work within clear rules
  • in structured environments.

Click here for more information and a quiz for you to check out if that kind of work is right for you.

Recruiting people with emotional intelligence and the right values would be a good start. Companies like Nokia have been recruiting for values and attitudes for decades taking the view that they can train people in the technical stuff quite easily.

6c-logoThe Chief Nursing Officer’s vision Compassion in Practice (the 6 Cs) highlights the importance of care and compassion.

One of the 6 Cs is courage and it’s interesting that McIntyre found that the best carers, being introverts, were not very gregarious but would stand up for the people they cared for.

There is also some good research which shows that people with introvert preferences can be more effective leaders than extraverted types.

And you may have heard of Susan Cain, best-selling author of “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” (2012).