REC Blog

Grasping the AI opportunity – Five things recruiters should have in mind
Grasping the AI opportunity – Five things recruiters should have in mind
Business Advice 05th Mar 2019

At the recent Recruitment Agency Expo in London, I was able to lift my eyes from the immediate challenges of the industry – whether that is changing client demand, the effects of Brexit or huge policy challenges like the application of IR35 changes in the private sector – and talk a bit more about the future of the recruitment industry.

This is a fun part of the job. And, unlike many speakers on tech transformation in the sector, I don’t have a particular product to sell, so I can talk about it from a place close to the REC’s purpose, helping brilliant recruiters to grow and succeed.

We all know digital disruption of the industry is an ongoing process – and that the next big thing will be how we use Artificial Intelligence. If we look backwards to technology like robots, we can see a path. In my presentation, I used a page of the Daily Mirror from 1963 that declares “Go, Go, Go for Robot Age Britain”. Back then, a robot in popular culture was something akin to a humanoid, like Marvin from the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

In fact, the truth of robotification has been rather different. Adoption has happened – data from the US Federal Reserve shows the rate of growth in routine jobs pretty much stopping from the 1990s – but the labour market has reshaped itself around the technology, and focussed human efforts on human strengths, with non-cognitive jobs growing strongly.

The lesson here is that the labour market changes steadily over time, and jobs reshape around the technology. REC members tend to agree - over 70% of them see more opportunities than threats in the technology - that will come on stream steadily over the next few years. And the pace of change will increase – data from the German Federation of Engineers (VDI) show that the leading areas of AI use, like assistance systems or data analysis, are minority sports now but could be reaching close to 50% penetration in five years’ time.

So forward-thinking recruiters have time to adapt but need a plan. Here are five things that recruiters should have in mind when approaching this:

  1. The agency model will still work. Clients will want specialists to identify the technology that works for them, and individual firms will be subscale in using recruiting AI, especially as they will have their own sectoral AI challenges to meet.
  2. The faster pace of change in the labour market will make workforce planning all the more important for clients, and they will need trusted advisers. This is where recruiters could add high-value services for clients at a cost lower than the client turning to a consultancy.
  3. If firms get their own technology investment right, there is a chance to de-task consultants from admin and get them focussed on adding value via client understanding, candidate attraction and candidate journey.
  4. AI adoption doesn’t have to be expensive – even for smaller firms, a lot of the benefits of technology can be harnessed by looking to buy generic, well-tested products.
  5. And finally, just because you can – doesn’t mean you should. Social and political expectations will catch up with business models that rely on technology in ways which don’t work effectively for clients or workers. We must always consult our moral compass when thinking about change driven by technology.

AI-driven change is coming to our sector. But if we get it right, we may well journey through it as an even more highly-respected professional services sector. The REC will be by your side, and ready to help. I would be keen to know what you think. Drop me a line at, or on Twitter @RECNeil


Neil Carberry
Neil Carberry - chief executive, REC

Neil Carberry was appointed as chief executive of the REC in March 2018. He was previously managing director at the CBI, where he led the work of the UK’s leading business organisation on employment, the labour market, skills, energy, climate and infrastructure. He is a member of the Council of Acas and the Low Pay Commission and a Fellow of the CIPD.

View More articles by Neil Carberry >

Post a comment

Recruitment Industry Trends 2017/2018
Back to top
Award winning services AEA award logo