Woolworths, Qantas and Big W's 'innovative' step in search for new staff

Woolworths is among a growing number of companies that is changing how it hires thousands of Aussie each year.

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to infiltrate the everyday lives of Australians it probably comes as no surprise to learn some of our biggest brands have been exploring its capabilities, but the extent to which it is being used is startling.

Woolworths, Qantas, Big W and other big chains are all using AI and pre-recorded videos to hire staff in an effort to speed up the process, cut down on costs, and reduce hiring bias.

"Woolworths has been using AI to hire new staff since 2020 — with more than 600,000 potential team members going through the process," a Woolworths Group spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

Artificial Intelligence is being used to hire new staff at big chains like Woolworths. Source: Getty
Artificial Intelligence is being used to hire new staff at big chains like Woolworths. Source: Getty

By using AI, Woolworths "aims to create a level playing field and provide candidates an equal footing that reduces bias".

Barb Hyman, CEO and founder of Sapia.ai, the company that provides the AI and recruitment tools to Woolworths and other big brands, told Yahoo News their technology is "used by high-volume recruiters to address the biases that exist in traditional recruitment" and "to improve candidate experience".

She said in Woolworths' case, the staff you see in their stores will have been hired via AI. Woolworths reportedly receives 1 million applications for 40,000 positions in a year — 87 per cent of these roles are casual.

Director of the Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi), Carly Dober, told Yahoo News "taking away identifying information like a person's name, gender, location, or age [in the initial recruitment process] is really powerful".

"It shows their experiences and skills first," she said.

No phone calls, no interviews

Previously, to get a job, a person would often send a CV, have an initial phone interview with a recruiter or manager, and then attend a formal interview, either face-to-face or online. AI and automation changes this process drastically.

People applying for jobs at companies that use Sapia.ai or similar, in their hiring process, will instead:

  • after their initial application, be directed to complete a five question, text-based interview over chat — which they can complete on their phone, and

  • will typically, if they have progressed to the next stage, record video responses in their own time instead of attending a live interview — managers then review and rate the video responses.

Qantas uses the text-based interview chat from Sapia in their process. Michael Eizenberg, Head of Qantas Group Talent, Digital & Analytics, said in a statement online that Qantas aims to, "give everyone a true Aussie ‘fair go’ by removing bias from applications. Sapia is an innovative, Australian text interview talent intelligence platform. Every applicant now receives a first interview via text chat".

Ms Hyman told Yahoo that while AI manages the text-based question stage of the process, the automated video portion, "has no AI component. It is simply a way to save time for candidates and hiring managers."

Barb Hyman, CEO and founder of Sapia.ai. Source: Supplied
Barb Hyman, CEO and founder of Sapia.ai. Source: Supplied

Biases are seen in traditional hiring

The University of California Office of Diversity and Outreach describes unconscious biases (also known as implicit biases) as social stereotypes about certain groups of people that an individual will form outside their own conscious awareness.

"Unconscious biases start forming in our childhoods and continue evolving as we age. They are based on experiences and don't always match with a person's conscious thoughts," Ms Dober told Yahoo.

She said there's a lot of debate in the scientific community on whether unconscious bias can be reduced one hundred per cent.

"Currently, research suggests that it can't," Ms Dober said. "An example of unconscious bias is gender bias, for example, often women at childbearing ages or women re-entering the workforce after motherhood are passed over for jobs."

Other examples of unconscious bias include biases towards people with disabilities, or people of certain races or ages.

Reduced wait times

Sapia.ai shared online that using automated and AI-led hiring saves an average of 1,600 hours per month — and can get a person hired within 24 hours of seeing the job ad.

"Candidates appreciate the ability to go through the process in their own time and at their own pace", the Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo.

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