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Will Robots Replace Recruiters?

2 months ago by Andrew Fitzmaurice

​The Terminator franchise turns 40 this year! Where does the time go? In case you’re not familiar with the original: disguised as a human, a cyborg assassin, known as a Terminator, travels from 2029 to target the unborn John Connor who will lead the fight against the machines in the future.

With 2029 only five years away, are we headed towards this Skynet/Cyberdyne future, or do our prospects look a little less bleak? Depends on who you talk to, I guess. Plenty of the billionaire tech savants have their opinions on the future, and there’s no shortage of commentators on podcasts and YouTube channels – some of it is well worth the watch.

Each new generation has its villain – perhaps we always need something to blame. Or fear. Or just to misunderstand, instead of longing for a nostalgic past which was somehow better, less frightening, or maybe just less confusing.

In the past, it would have been the radio, the TV, rock music, the internet, the mobile phone. Choose your poison. None of these things have so far brought about the Armageddon that John Connor had to live through, so how do we all feel about AI or Chat GPT or robots?

Every new technology creates opportunity. That’s why someone came up with it in the first place. A desire to solve a problem. Faster. Cheaper. Easier.

The role of robots and automation in the food manufacturing, fresh produce and growing space is on the rise. Eventually, we’ll get to a point where picking even the softest and most tender products can happen efficiently (and cheaply) enough to become the option of choice.

The Luddites will become converts and, in the face of wage increases and the overall shortage of talent, the robot option should have no real opposition. Plus, there’ll be loads of new job roles that we haven’t even yet begun to imagine. The UK needs to stay at the forefront – of that, I am sure.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of worthier commentators on automation and robot tech than me. My prime concern as CEO of a recruitment business is: ‘in an increasingly technical and automated world, how do we maintain equity and utility to our customers.’

The recruitment market is awash with commentators who express concern over the role of AI, but you may be surprised to hear that almost everyone I talk to backs themselves and their businesses to always remain relevant and necessary.

I am not the most evangelical of recruiters, but I am proud of our sector and our company. I know there are plenty of people out there who’ve had a negative experience of recruiters at some point, or who don’t see the value. I get it. If you can fill a role or find a job on your own, then go for it. What I do know is that we add masses of value, and we work really hard. There will be parts of our job that could and should be automated. If AI makes our lives easier, then we’ll take it. We can free up time for the parts of the process which benefit most from a human touch.

The recurrent theme in recruitment seems to be: ‘If all of your job can be done by a machine, then you’re not going to have one in the future’. Too right. We’ve seen lots of consolidation in the produce sector over the years. Retailers have questioned – often rightly – whether some service providers are adding value. If not, then they get cut out as people go direct to source, or they’re amalgamated or simply get run over.

Recruitment will be the same. I back my team and the many excellent recruiters who’ve made it their life’s work to understand motivations, culture fit, and personal circumstances, and can use their intuition and market knowledge to bring about some wonderful synergies. They negotiate on your behalf. They seek compromise and unlock new ideas and creative ways of solving problems. Connected, as we are, to thousands of candidates and hundreds of companies, our reference points and opinions do hold weight.

Great recruiters think about their clients and candidates constantly. You might be settling into an evening meal, a glass of wine, or perhaps another Schwarzenegger classic, whilst we’re thinking about how to find the perfect ‘fit’ or ‘win-win’ for your career or company’s goals.

I believe that machines, while valuable, can’t do the vital parts of our job, so I know that we’re going to be around for a long time. The recruitment industry has a market value of about £150 billion for a reason. Sure, like fresh produce, food, agriculture and commercial horticulture, there’ll be consolidation and winners and losers. Still, we intend to be the former by investing our time in the right places and working with lots of exceptional recruitment superstars.

Will I be proven right by 2029? We’ll see. Fingers crossed we’ll avoid the end of the world. Our thoughts are with those currently engaged in truly appalling circumstances in the wider world – hopefully, their fortunes will improve soon, and we can all flourish in the sector that we love being a part of.

I’ll be back.

Piece written for and published by Fresh Produce Journal