21st Century Staffing: a two-part perspective on AI, the future, threats and opportunities

Part One: The 21st Century Competitive Edge

In today’s hyper-competitive staffing world, it’s essential for organizations to differentiate themselves. Many will speak about their competitive edge, but what exactly does or should that mean in the context of the 21st century?

Consider the following: exactly 40 years ago the first commercially successful PC was just released; 25 years ago, there was no Google, e-commerce, job boards, or internet; 15 years ago, no smartphones or LinkedIn. It’s impossible to imagine staffing today without these tools at our disposal, but at the time of their emergence many business leaders found themselves uneasy and unsure about what role they would play, and how (or if) they should leverage them, organizationally and individually. 

Technology operates under the law of accelerating returns; that is to say that technological innovations build upon themselves exponentially – each new advancement accelerating the next stage of growth. We’ve come a long way since the first PC’s hit the market and disrupted every aspect of our lives. As game changing as the digital revolution was; the AI revolution is poised to be even more disruptive, with new innovations hitting the market at a perpetually accelerating rate.

In this rapidly evolving environment, the competitive edge isn’t any individual tool or process. It’s contextual to market conditions and constantly in flux; it’s rooted in a state of mind. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and organizations that thrive in disruptive times are consistently ones that demonstrate curiosity, imagination, and openness to researching, testing, and implementing completely new tools, processes, and partners.

The Machines Come Marching One by One, Hurrah! Hurrah!

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of maintaining the competitive edge in today’s marketplace.  With the emergence of AI and Automation, technologies of the 21st century have the potential to be the most disruptive ever. That is saying quite a bit given the enormous strides already made.  As an example, consider the trajectory of Blockbuster and Netflix at the turn of the 21st century:


Blockbuster: 15 years old, globally recognized with approximately 9,000 locations, 60,000 employees, and a $5 billion dollar net-worth.

Netflix: 3 years old, fewer than 100 employees, offered to Blockbuster for sale at price tag of $50 million (Blockbuster declined. Oops!)


Blockbuster: Bankrupt

Netflix:  Net-worth of $4 billion and thriving.  2017 market value over $60 billion.

History is rife with examples like this. What happened? In one word: broadband. The onset of residentially available high-speed Internet, replacing dial-up, created an opportunity for streaming media content directly into consumer’s homes. Is broadband responsible for 60,000 lost jobs and a once thriving household name tarnished? Of course not, quite the contrary; broadband presented a tremendous opportunity for both organizations concurrently, the only differentiator being their openness and flexibility to identifying its advantages and leveraging it effectively based on market demands.

The lesson here is more relevant today than ever.  Many see AI and Automation as a threat to their businesses or themselves personally. Although some concerns are certainly legitimate, the reality is that the AI revolution is inevitable. Questions such as “Will I be replaced by AI?” are, albeit interesting, the wrong questions. A more appropriate line of questioning would be “How will my role change once this is implemented?” and “What skills will be redundant / what skills will be more valuable / how do I effectively hone those skills today to ensure I remain relevant tomorrow?” The business leaders of the 21st century are the ones thinking pragmatically today about the limitations and advantages of implementing a wide array of new and groundbreaking technology to address their own shortcomings, and the needs of their clients. Check back next week for Part Two: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Machines.  Of course, if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you!  Contact me at [email protected].


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