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How automated hiring systems could be contributing to the worker shortage

Labor shortage, worker needed not enough skill staff to fill in job vacancy, help wanted or employment demand concept, office chair with sign vacant covered by spider web metaphor of labor shortage.
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Many factors play into this “Great Resignation,” but one thing you may not be considering is the use of automated hiring systems.

It’s no secret that there’s a worker shortage in the United States right now. As we’ve gone through and are trying to recover from the pandemic, some employees are returning to the office while others are staying at home or perhaps quitting.

Many factors play into this “Great Resignation,” but one thing you may not be considering is the use of automated hiring systems. Think Indeed, Zip Recruiter, or Monster. These platforms use algorithms and screening tools to sort and match job seekers with employers automatically — but how effective are these platforms?

Noelle Chesley is an associate professor of sociology at UW-Milwaukee, and her research looks into the intersection of technology, work, and family. She explains how automated hiring systems can potentially contribute to the worker shortage.

“Just as bias is introduced into hiring through humans, the use of human beings and human decision-makers, we also know we can build bias into automated systems,” says Chelsey.

Chelsey elaborates that job hiring systems can match candidates to job ads, select individuals from applicant pools, and even rank candidates. In addition, the customized algorithms for these systems curates bias in these processes.

“There's actually some research out there that has found that women are seeing certain types of job ads less than men... And you can imagine that if we're automatically filtering out women from even seeing a job ad, you know, that that's going to impact an organization's access to potentially qualified applicants," says Chelsey.

Chelsey clarifies that employers use a wide variety of systems and automation tools to seek out candidates. Due to this variety, it proves nearly impossible to see how they’re using it. However, researchers can understand the scale to which they are being utilized. With the number of organizations adopting these automated hiring processes, when biased or problematic algorithms are created, they spread across the economy instantly.

“You might be someone who has a gap in your employment of more than six months. Something like 48% of employers are automatically filtering out those people from the applicant pool before a human will ever even look at them," says Chelsey.

Chelsey says public opinion research has proven that two-thirds of Americans find automated hiring processes unacceptable. However, there is a population that favors online applications to human interactions.

“So, if a job seeker has had an experience with discrimination in the past, maybe with a human agent, some of those job seekers appear to want automation in that kind of a situation," she notes.

Chelsey advises those navigating the job market to learn how to utilize these systems to get applications through the algorithms. She suggests using the language written in the job posting in the application, as many organizations use filter systems that seek out that specific phrasing.

“I think everybody, especially now with a pandemic, is having to learn how to present themselves more on video, how to be super succinct and clear in online communications, and all of those kinds of skills are going to translate across to some of the hiring tools that we're talking about,” says Chelsey.

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Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Cait Flynn was an assistant producer for Lake Effect 2022 to 2023.
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