[LI] Back to the job-market-of-the-future

Cover of Brown's Job Market of the Future & image from Hired.com publicity email
Cover of Brown’s Job Market of the Future & image from Hired.com publicity email

The other day I received a sponsored email via Digg from something called Hired.com with the taglines “What If Companies Applied To Hire You?” and “Hired flips job hunting on its head.” The concept so expressed isn’t entirely new. In a little-known book published in 2001 – The Job Market of the Future – Dr. James Cooke Brown proposed flipping the job market so that “it is the worker who chooses the job, and the employer who must make the job attractive.” And the inspiration for that idea goes back to the 19th century utopianist writer Edward Bellamy.

A marketing theme vs. a utopian vision?

So what is Hired.com proposing and how does it compare with what Dr. Brown wrote about? In a way it is an unfair comparison. Hire is a startup seeking to address needs of recruiters and job seekers mainly in the tech sector, while Brown was trying to sketch out a solution to problems he saw in the labor market going back to his return to the US as a WWII veteran. Yet what they both have in common is the premise that the system – the job market as it functions – could be changed in some fundamental way to work better.

Hired.com’s pitch begins with recognition that job-seeking itself is an uncertain investment of time that has opportunity costs:

“We’re operating in a system where finding a good job is a full time job. You’ve got to search for the right position at the right company and hope that the right timeline works out”

… and offers this solution:

“a thoughtful and low-touch process that lets you keep doing your thing while they search for top-tier opportunities. Fill out one application, and they [people at Hired] take it from there.”

So what Hired is offering is a service that saves the job seeker time, and connects recruiters with them.

Dr. Brown’s schema on the other hand is much more involved, given its aspiration to revolutionize the entire job market to assure full employment. The system he envisaged involves the creation of jobs based on defining or dividing out pieces of work needing to be done (so that for instance increases in productivity might decrease hours rather than jobs). Employers then would seek employees on this basis, and less popular work would pay more. Although the book is out of print and not available online there are good overviews on a dedicated website and one review in particular (the latter is a political site, but the review includes a useful précis).

The role of technology

An essential piece in Brown’s system is the role of a computer programmed to configure jobs and connect them with seekers – note the subtitle of the book, Using Computers to Humanize Economies. This vision of technology might seem at once quaint by today’s standards, and scary to the extent it involves concentrating economic and job information in a single place. However as far as I can tell (not being an expert in the field), this is the the most ambitious, if not the only, effort to conceptualize a paradigm-changing role for information technology in the job market. (As opposed to applying technology to improving the functioning of parts of the current system, which is ongoing.)

Hired.com on the other hand, despite focusing on the tech sector (and obviously using IT tools in their work), appears to be fairly traditional in their use of staff to vet applicants to the system and make connections between them and employers. With their service they are tweaking the paradigm, if you will, by taking the headhunter / direct hire specialist function to a broader market (shoulderhunter?) within their control. Or at least that’s how it appears to me as an non-specialist observer.

Keeping both of these efforts in mind, what might they tell us about the future of job-seeking and recruiting?

What’s next?

Any fundamental change in how the job market works probably will not be effectuated by implementing a central plan such as what Dr. Brown proposed. It is more likely, in my opinion, to involve an accumulation of smaller efforts such as that by Hired.com. However, new applications of new technologies will likely be fundamental, as Brown envisioned, and not limited as appears to be the case with most initiatives like Hire.com.

That technological dimension is also likely to be more decentralized than that in The Job Market of the Future. Personally I am curious to see how artificial intelligence (AI) could be used by both recruiters and job seekers. That’s not AI as sophisticated chat-bots, but rather in the form of intelligent agents (IAs), which from the job-seeker’s point of view would “take it from there” with “low touch” management like Hired’s current system, and from the recruiter’s point of view would perform various intelligent search and screening tasks.

It turns out that AI is already edging into recruitment practice, since at least a couple of years, although apparently from the the angle of improving searches of mass databases of potential employees – again aimed at improving functioning of the current system. The question I have is whether the logic of AI will lead to a very different paradigm where, in effect, the previously passive data is also searching based on its own criteria – which I think would mean IAs.

Such use of many IAs would be decentralized in the extreme, except that some serious thought would have to be given to the system and protocols for interaction of the IAs. We probably need alternative models sketched out as to how this would work – presumably someone is already working on this.

In any event, one imagines that when AI gets introduced into the job market in a serious way, there will be major changes of (not just in) the system – as revolutionary as what Dr. Brown envisioned, but in a form that he probably would not recognize.


This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 2 June 2016

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