Won't someone think of the 86%?

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

Yeah, I know. You’ve heard some of this already. AI and Big Data are growing exponentially, and we’re all going to replaced by machines. Ask any tabloid newspaper. It’s the latest thing to scare their readers with.

It’s nonsense. Sort of.

I am always wary of anyone who tries to present “THE TRUTH”, as if they are the anointed purveyor of reality, so I am not about to fall into that trap. You make your own mind up.

I have discussed this before – you’ll find references to the latest incarnation of the industrial revolution here and here - and I am not about to pretend that I am the only one with the insight to point it out. A raison d’etre of technology is that it constantly looks to improve and render current inventions obsolete. Who has a fax machine these days?

And this is why AI and Big Data (they go hand in hand) are the next big thing (cliche alert).

And yes, in some cases, they will replace the need for human labour. But it has always been thus, ever since John Kay and his flying shuttle. If someone can use technology to do something more efficiently and more cost-effectively, well, then they are probably going to use that technology. It’s possible to form a cogent argument that it shouldn’t be like this, and I am sympathetic to this perspective, but this is all about the bottom line. This is business, for better or for worse.

Something missed by the less cerebral media is that whilst these burgeoning technologies will mean less jobs in certain areas, they are creating more in others. A lot more.

Companies that embrace the AI revolution and stay ahead of the curve are companies that will succeed. Those that don’t will be left behind, and will also be left to explain this to their shareholders.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with millions of jobs to be created in the next decade and beyond. Way beyond.

And where are these people going to come from?

These are technical and highly specialised positions. With all due respect to most blue and white collar jobs (I have worn both colours in my time) companies can’t stick up a job in the local job centre and expect to fill these jobs with suitable applicants, knowing that a training course or two will bring them up to speed and ready to perform.

Of course, this is not unique to AI and Big Data jobs. Or even IT. There are many complex professions that require years of education and training in order to be up to speed and ready to contribute.

The difference here though is growth.

It will be a while before education providers and governments can effectively play catch up. My time within this sector tells me that there is an awful lot of talent in Asia, and I would be fascinated to understand why countries that are not considered as “developed” as the west seem to be ahead of the curve when Europe and America clearly have much to do. That's a blog for another day.

This report from Bloomberg is concerned with the top talent in AI, but I think it is reasonable to apply it more broadly. It says that only about one in seven AI professionals are actively looking for work. Even if they were all looking, there still wouldn’t be enough to go around!

What this means to me, as a recruiter, is that putting a job on a job board is going to providing an ever-diminishing return. Six out of seven qualified people (that’s about 86%) are not going to be looking at these adverts.

We have a perfect storm:

· Exponential job growth

· Lack of qualified candidates

· Education still playing catch up

· Lack of jobseekers

And this storm has the conditions it needs to be raging for the foreseeable future.

If you are an HR professional trying to find IT, AI and Big Data talent, I would be willing to bet that you are finding it more and more difficult.

We may be forecasting a storm – and trust me, we’re right – and now the task is to work out how to effectively ride it.

First of all, we have a classic supply and demand scenario. The Bloomberg report touches on this much better than I can. Employers are going to have to look at what they are willing to pay, and will have to look at rewriting wage structures. This is nothing to do with me, as a recruiter. I can’t start telling clients what they have to pay, but it seems clear that in market as squeezed as IT, AI and Big Data is becoming, something will have to change.

And offering more money is only a part of it. I have read various articles about the expectations of so-called millennials (I don’t like these labels, we’re all just people, people), but it seems that we expect to feel valued and respected within our chosen careers these days. Working cultures are changing, and I can’t say that’s a bad thing.

Next, employers will have to look to emerging superpowers like India and Pakistan. Immigration is a political hot potato right now, but the amount of talent in these countries means that it will be an absolute necessity to look to Asia to help plug the skills gap. Countries with a progressive attitude will reap the rewards.

And finally…this is where a progressive recruitment agency comes in. Job boards will continue to work to some degree, but the vast majority of skilled IT, AI and Big Data employees aren’t looking at them. And these people aren’t daft. They will know that they are a prized asset. I have already written a blog about how the recruitment industry can be, and I don’t think that this is sustainable within this sector. I hope that it isn’t sustainable across all sectors, if I am being frank.

Agencies will need to go back to basics. They will need to be more pro-active, and rely less and less on applicants doing a lot of their work for them. They’ll need to be agents in a more traditional sense. They’ll need to engage with the talent, whether they are actively seeking work or not. They’ll need to listen and gauge what it is the talent wants. And whilst money is hardly irrelevant, it isn’t the be all and end all. A part of my job is to try and get people to consider alternative positions, but my years of experience tell me that chasing the money is often a mistake. It’s no good taking home a bit more at the end of the month if you are unhappy.

Agencies will need to do their jobs better, for their clients’ and their candidates’ sake.

Agencies will need to engage with the 86%, as well as the remaining 14.

And it just so happens I know of such an agency