A narrative that seems to have gained pace and popularity recently across the recruitment sector is ‘disruption’ by digitisation and new wave business methodologies leading to traditional agency models becoming obsolete. My view is that there is an element of truth in this, which needs qualifying, but the storyline itself is becoming tired and over-recycled. I also often look at the background of the author of such posts and rarely am I convinced that the background would warrant such crystal clear ability to predict the future within this sector!


We operate in an age where news stories have become fads and industry oracles are looking to position themselves as one step ahead of the game. I recall attending a Tech conference on the advent of the cloud 10 years ago, where the rather evangelistic presenter was talking about wholesale replacement of conventional IT models within a 2-year time frame. 10 years later and granted there are huge transformational changes in IT deployment, but not in the way that was predicted and certainly not within the timeframe presented either! You get my gist - headline grabbing is something we all need to take with a pinch of salt.


The basic premise to the idea that agency models with be replaced seem to be based on 2 ideas:


Digital platforms will be able to match and deliver candidates to employers and vice versa using ever-advancing algorithmic capability;


The human component will be replaced by in-house recruitment teams.


And it seems to the industry commentators referred to above that by pairing these 2 themes neatly together, you have a wholesale alternative to outsourcing your recruitment needs to a third party agency. It fits together like Lego and perfection is achieved. Furthermore, gone will be the days of the fee chasing cowboy agencies demanding money for old rope and offering no value in return.


Does this storyline sound familiar? Do you see any flaws in it?


Agency bashing is nothing new and has been in the industry for over 15 years now, I can safely say that at times, it has been its own worst enemy and the backlash is inevitable. That said, I would say that the role of the ‘trusted advisor’ in a world of white noise and transformation is probably more relevant now than it ever has been. Anyone that dismisses objective, third party human engagement and brokerage is really just demonstrating a failure to appreciate the psychological roller-coaster that a standard recruitment process actually is. Since when did we actually believe that AI, machine learning or the most advanced algorithms could replace the powerful influence a face to face candidate coaching session on how to handle a particularly challenging interviewer for example? And how effective can a machine learning platform be at comforting post interview or post placement calls to clients and candidates to ensure everything is in line with expectations? As long as we have a cerebral cortex, we will respond most positively to human interaction that, by definition, no piece of software can ever replace - as long as it’s done professionally!


To this extent, my view is that software innovation, as long as it is trying to replace human engagement will fail. The premise they should strive for is to compliment such processes. Consider how Linkedin has now switched its business model to support agencies in their activities, or how Google is releasing such products as Hire, which seeks to help HR departments sift out suitable candidates from an influx of applicants - not a face to face interview replacing platform in sight!


My view is that this more common sense approach will prevail and certainly recruitment agencies will need to evolve to incorporate such technologies into their model to stay competitive. Recruitment agencies will also need to stay true to their model and not cut corners to ensure they add value to the process through proper qualitative assessment and recruitment best practice. If anything, I see a huge opportunity arising for the old school recruiter in this age of data white noise. The recruiter that wants to take a face to face job brief, understand the client’s culture and values, and evaluate a candidate on a face to face basis are standing out more and more as the agency of choice, provided clients are not opting for a commoditised approach to volume hiring.


So therein lies the opportunity - here at Salt, we fully embrace the digital journey, but we believe in one way to do the job and that’s the right way...