Why the Tech Giant is Pushing Out so Many Recruiters May be Explained by a Memo That Amazon Leaked

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Amazon has been quietly creating AI software to evaluate job candidates.

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As part of what is anticipated to be a months-long cycle of layoffs, Amazon extended a buyout offer to hundreds of its recruiters last week, offending and unsettling corporate employees across the company. Recode has now seen a private internal document that makes it seem possible that some of these workers will eventually be replaced by new artificial intelligence technology the business started testing last year.

According to an internal paper from October 2021 marked “Amazon confidential,” the tech giant has been working for at least the past year to transition some of its recruiters’ tasks to an AI system that can predict which job applicants for specific corporate and warehouse jobs will be successful in a given role and fast-track them to an interview — without the involvement of a human recruiter. The technology, in part, operates by comparing the resumes of job applicants and those of current, productive Amazon employees.

The Artificial Intelligence Recruitment team at Amazon’s HR division developed the technology, also known as Automated Applicant Evaluation, or AAE, which was first trialed last year. Amazon first built AI hiring technology in the mid-2010s but discontinued its system after demonstrating a bias against women.

According to the internal document, in an initial test, Amazon’s HR division thought that new machine learning models successfully protected against biases based on race and gender. Recent years have seen an increase in the use of artificial intelligence in hiring across industries. There are still concerns about its part in introducing or enhancing potential biases in hiring procedures.

Before publication, a spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment.

Amazon has spent a lot of money over the years trying to automate various types of work. In 2012, the business bought Kiva, a warehouse robotics firm whose robots spared warehouse workers from walking for miles each day while also quickening and monotonizing their work.

Because the company frequently fears running out of front-line workers to hire in some US regions due to the rapid turnover of its front-line staff, Amazon has continued to look into new ways to automate its warehouses and introduce new robots. Amazon’s corporate wing previously implemented a “hands off the wheel” initiative that transferred inventory ordering and other duties from employees of the retail division to technology.

Now that AAE technology has been developed and used more widely, the roles of recruiters at the second-largest private sector employer in the US may be permanently changed, potentially lowering the number of workers Amazon needs to hire.

That is when the company starts hiring again.

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Earlier in the fall, Amazon put in place a corporate hiring freeze. The New York Times reported that Amazon would make the largest corporate job cuts in its nearly three-decade history, eliminating 10,000 employees, or 3% of its corporate workforce. The company also sent buyout offers to a sizable portion of its HR division, including all low- and mid-level recruiters in the US and India, and layoffs in the Alexa and Amazon gadgets divisions. Imagine that workers leave positions of their own volition. In that case, for every six months of employment with the company, Amazon offers three months’ pay plus one week’s salary. By November 29, these employees must decide whether to accept the offer.

According to the leaders of the division, involuntary layoffs may still occur in the coming year, depending in part on how many workers decide to leave the company voluntarily. Additionally, 2023 would see layoffs in Amazon’s primary retail division, according to CEO Andy Jassy.

One important function that some recruiters at Amazon perform—evaluating job applicants and selecting which should proceed to job interviews—is eliminated by the AAE technology. The program evaluates current job applicants for comparable roles using the performance reviews of current employees, information from their resumes, and any online job assessments they completed during the hiring process.

The model is achieving accuracy comparable to that of the manual process and is not showing any negative effects, according to the internal paper for 2021.

The technology was originally tested on candidates for Amazon medical representative positions within the company’s network of warehouses. But since then, it has been used to choose job candidates for positions ranging from technical program managers to software development engineers, opening up the possibility of future widespread use throughout the organization.

The Big Tech boom may be coming to an end, according to the technology sector. Business successes brought on by pandemics have frequently reversed or plateaued. Currently, tech giants like Amazon are reportedly trying to cut costs, partly by making long-term bets that technology, and AI, can do what humans do—and possibly more affordable.

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