Our minds habituate remarkably quickly to new technologies, and so we easily lose perspective on the magic that is enveloping us, lengthening our lifespans, and markedly improving quality of life around the globe. Humanity is in the midst of an ongoing, dramatic revolution enabled by data and automation, and the recruitment industry is playing a leading role. To restore your perspective on the astounding progress that society has made within a few short decades, we survey the history of the recruitment profession in this piece.
A History of Recruitment
The recruitment profession has existed for millennia. Ancient Egyptians and the classical Greek and Roman cultures employed recruiters to find soldiers for military service.
The modern recruitment industry was also seeded by conflict, though from the opposite side of the coin. During the Second World War, employment agencies boomed in the West to staff the workplaces left vacant by those conscripted to take up arms. Upon the surrender of Axis forces, servicepeople returned to their home nations. Recruiters were again inundated with opportunity, this time to fill public and private sector roles with veterans. Many of whom – thanks to the technology boom powered by vast public R&D investment during the war – were equipped with novel and valuable skills, e.g., in plastics, computing, aerospace, and energy.
Recruitment Tools over Time
Ancient civilizations invented numbers and, later, writing systems to track resources, including to conduct censuses and recruit a sensible quota of soldiers from a given territory. In the twentieth century, recruitment efforts during and after the Second World War involved advertisements in newspapers, bulletin boards, and canvassing in high-traffic public spaces like train stations. Applications could be made by mail, Rolodexes stored contact details, and business cards. Simultaneously, typewriters were used to track recruitment and employment records on paper in vast storehouses.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the wide dissemination of telephones enabled candidate sourcing and interviews to proceed more rapidly than by travel or mail. By the 1990s, mainframe computers permitted employment records to be stored in a more compact digital format relative to paper, and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) emerged for storing candidate information. Meanwhile, household desktop computers and the Internet enabled early adopters to seek candidates and job openings on company websites, online job boards, and via targeted digital advertisements. Recruiters, clients, and candidates began to interact via electronic mail (e-mail) alongside traditional mail, phone calls, and in-person meetings.
The Artificial Intelligence Revolution
Since the turn of the millennium, digital technologies of the 1990s have spread from early adopters to the majority of working-age inhabitants of developed nations and much of the rest of the planet. This spread sparked the dawn of an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution that today is in its infancy. In Part 2, we’ll examine the impact exponential technologies like AI, machine learning, and deep learning have in the present day. Later, in Part 3, we’ll explore how these technologies will further evolve recruitment services in the coming decades, thereby reshaping all aspects of life, including work and the workplace.