Work, business & professional services

The new science of recruitment: a good algorithm

Recruiters commonly sort through candidates for a job on the basis of their qualifications, previous jobs, or recommendations. But these shortcuts may shortchange talented people. Wouldn’t it be better to ask what the person can do and how well they do it? A new technology, by start-up Gild in the US, eliminates human bias and says the most illuminating answers come from Big Data.

Big Data is where computers work together to crunch huge amounts of data and spit out usable information. Big Data has now spawned new offspring, workforce science, which measures how well candidates might perform in a new job (or do perform in a current job). Gild’s technology searches the internet for clues, such as how other people regard a programmer candidate, whether their work is reused, how they pass on ideas, how they relate to social media sites. It then gathers about 300 variables on each individual, such as sites they visit, types of language, self-reported skills on Linked-in, types of projects worked on.

Technology can also be used to dispel workforce myths. Some employers avoid hiring people who move quickly from job to job but it appears work history is not a good predictor of the future. Using workforce science, it is possible to measure every email, instant message and mouse click to assess a person’s performance. To privacy advocates, it sounds like workforce surveillance. To companies, workforce data are a valuable asset.

Another example of a workforce myth is that successful sales people have to be outgoing. It appears the best quality is emotional courage or persistence. Google has found the happiest, innovative workers are those who have a sense of mission and personal autonomy.

Gild expects to earn $US2-3 million this year and is already being tested by Facebook, Amazon and Wal-Mart, for example. Other US start-ups, TalentBin and RemarkableHire, look at people’s talents by scouring online data. It seems highly likely that recruitment is going to become increasingly quantified, as much directed by Big Data as human judgment. If this continues, it would be viable for a robot to do the recruiting.

Ref: The New York Times (US), 12 May 2013, The Interactive Office: Algorithms now make matches in hiring, M Richtel, and Employers mine the data to evaluate their workers. S Lohr.
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Search words: recruitment, talent, Gild, Big Data, workforce science, programmers, Silicon Valley, human bias, variables, Talent Bin, judgment, candidates, work history, measurement, persistence, emotional courage, mission, autonomy.
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The global elite of professional women

We typically hear how women are subject to the immovable glass ceiling, or earning less than men in the same job, but a new book claims there is a global elite of 70 million women who are at the top of their game. Alison Wolf’s book, The XX factor…, explores women with ‘the XX factor’ and claims that the biggest gap is not between women and men, but between the female global elite and their less educated sisters. For the female elite, this is brand new territory and they have to find their own way.

Wolf claims women are paid the same as men in the highest earning quintile and accumulate wealth at the same rate. She notes, for example, that elite working women tend to have only one or two children and tend to do it later in life. Most elite women marry elite men, so there is no question of having a house husband to support them in the domestic sphere. They also try to spend as much time with their children as possible, because this is the only way to nurture offspring who can also crack the elite labour market. Wolf notes it can seem patronising to pay other women to cook their food or look after their children and smacks of the ‘servant classes’.

Another new book, The Athena doctrine…, by John Gerzeme and Michael D’Antonio, claims feminine values are becoming uppermost in business life and the old masculine structures are breaking down. Female traits, like loyalty and empathy, are becoming more prominent in today’s leaders than masculine ones, like aggression and decisiveness. They believe femininity is the new modus operandi.

One disturbing truth, cited by Wolf, is that women in politics cannot age naturally. Of 16 female US senators in 2010 aged 56-74, not one had visible grey hair and nor did 90% of women in the House of Representatives. Strangely, men are allowed to be as grey as they like. We remain skeptical about the prominence of feminine values in public life and look forward to the Athena doctrine being acted out throughout society, and benefiting more than the 70 million global elite.

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 4-5 May 2013, Make room at the top, L Gratton.
The XX factor: How working women are creating a new society, A Wolf.
The Athena Doctrine: how women (and the men who think like them) will rule the future. J Gerzema and M D’Antonio.
The shift: The future of work is already here, L Gratton.
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Search words: women, ‘lean-in’, Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, Alison Wolf, elite, work, women, education, pay, ‘social segregation’, children, marriage, ‘servant class’, US House of Representatives, femininity, masculinity, empathy, Athena doctrine.
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How can different generations work together?

This is considered one of the “least welcoming labour markets in history” but that depends on who you are. With youth unemployment at distressing levels and many mature workers (over 45) unable to find regular work, it may be. Meanwhile, employers have to deal with the different working styles of each generation. Clashes between them, such as older workers resenting the way Generation y walks into management jobs, need to be managed well.

According to an Ernst & Young (US) survey, Generation y (or millenials, born since 1980) are welcome, especially for their tech ability, and are often swiftly promoted, though somewhat truculent and workshy. Baby boomers (born between 1946 and mid-1960s) are seen as hardworking and productive. And Generation x (born in the mid-1960s-early 1980s) are the best team players though, according to a Havas PR consultant, caught between favoured Gen y and the Baby boomers “who refuse to retire”. It doesn’t sound good for boomers.

Ernst & Young, like most large companies, has young staff – 62% from Gen y, 29% from Gen x and only 9% Baby boomers. It commissioned the study, in part to deal with the generation gaps in its own workplace. One solution was to have them do voluntary work in cross-generational teams. Hmm.

Today’s employers demand many of the natural qualities of Gen y: treatment on merit, appetite for responsibility and getting what they want – or they leave. It is hard for older workers to work for younger managers and be reminded they haven’t kept pace, with social media for example. A Gen Y using her phone in the middle of a meeting may be multitasking rather than copping out. Still, the implication is that everyone must work as Gen y does.

Dan Schawbel, an expert on Gen y and workplace trends, claims Gen y actually asks for what everyone else wants. He also says they constantly ask for feedback, so Gen x and Baby boomers may benefit from mentoring them.

In 2014, 36% of US employees will be Gen y. Meanwhile, 18% of boomers will retire within 5 years, which will reshape the workforce considerably. By then, there will be another generation ready to go to work – and the circle starts all over again. And what will the boomers do, we wonder, with all that spare time? Retirement is not what it used to be – and it’s long.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 28 September 2013, Winning the generation game. Anon.
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Search words: labour market, employers, meritocracy, Generation Y, baby boomers, Generation X, Ernst & Young, productive, team players, workshy, promotion, management, digital natives, responsibility, India, Knome, millenials, feedback, Google.
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Crowdsourcing gets physical

Computer games often go beyond being just a game, as they mimic real life, teach real-life skills, and offer opportunities to solve physical world problems in a virtual manner. One new game in development in America is Swarm!, for use with Google Glass, the new wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). The point of Swarm! is that players act in the same way as ants in an ant colony.

To explain, just as ants leave pheromone trails that fade away if no other ants follow, players of Swarm! leave virtual trails on a map, which also fade unless people follow them. Players are looking for resources, such as food, and must avoid crossing the trails of others. They can also carry out physical world tasks, for prizes, within the game. For example, players could create a map of every power outlet in an airport and be rewarded with virtual food each time they take a photo of a socket. Glass could then record their photos and location data to generate a useful, physical map.

Any physical task can be turned into a game like this. For example, a listing service like Yelp! has to verify addresses each year. Players could walk around a city, glance at a shopfront and the computer could check it against GPS data – easier than making all those phone calls. Another application is to map hiking trails in a national park so the ranger knows where to go for maintenance, or monitor in-depth a transport system to see how and where people go with it.

Swarm! is similar to the idea behind crowdsourcing, but takes players out into the real world to solve problems. It is all part of Google’s idea of ubiquitous and wearable computing, which will further blur the line between the real and the virtual world and, hopefully, will try to marry the best of both. At the moment, walking around with a computer on your head may not be the most desirable of looks, unless wearers are doing something cooler than finding power points.

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 3 August 2013, Power from the people. M Campbell.
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Search words: Google Glass, ant colony, crowdsourcing, Wikipedia, Swarm!, virtual trails, virtual resources, group intelligence, hiking trails, transport, Yelp!.
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Working solo together

The working world is full of paradox. On the one hand, there are 17 million freelancers, consultants and artists, who work alone in the US, sometimes in their pyjamas. On the other hand, it can be lonely being solo and potentially more dynamic to be near the creativity of others (‘ambient learning’). In 1989, Ray Oldenburg came up with the concept of the third place, referring to social areas separate from the two usual ones of home and the workplace. For many, these were simply cafes and the explosion in coffee shops has something to do with solo workers.

Now there are 800 commercial co-working facilities, run by organisations, such as Grind, Fueled Collective and NeueHouse, which offer comfortable, practical, friendly sites for professionals to work. There is a similar trend in England, of which one example is Club Workspace in London. In Australia, co-working places operate in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. The Hub, a 700-strong professional community in Melbourne, includes around 20% of people who also have desks at large corporations.

One media consultant suggests the workplace is “gameified, with points and obstacles, rewards, pitfalls and allies”. When alone, you have to make up your own rules. Perhaps the dream of working at home is over.

One third of Americans (17 million people), work solo (some as ‘solopreneurs’) and the number working only from home has grown from 1997 to 2010 to 6.6% of the workforce. A 2007 study found that telecommuters who work from home more than 3 days a week and full-time freelancers, can suffer alienation. All of which suggest that people like working together, even if they are solo.

Many advantages of home working seem a bit overrated, like working in your pyjamas. Or setting your own hours and being able to work at any time. Home is no longer the only place you can find comfy lounges and cushions. At home, you may have no choice but to be alone; in a third place, or a co-working facility, you can benefit from the company there or go home.

Ref: The New York Times (US), 12 May 2013, The Interactive Office: New spaces let solo workers labor together, A Williams, and Tinkerers of the world unite. T Brady.
The Australian, 7 May 2013, New-style hub is a workplace bargain, B Howarth.
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Search words: globe trotters, professionals, NeueHouse, commercial co-working, club, ‘solopreneurs’, Grind, Fueled Collective, collaboration, work from home, telecommute, London, gameification, alienation, choice, MakerBar, tinkering, garage, Heavy Metal camp.
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