In Conversation With Deloitte: How Will the ‘Robot Revolution’ Affect the Graduate Job Market?

The first half of 2016 has seen the topic of artificial intelligence dominate headlines in the worlds of technology and business. Many industry leaders are heralding a new age of rapid change.

At the 2016 Code Conference, which took place in California from 31st May – 2nd June, some of the biggest names in technology – including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bazos – described their visions of how AI will reshape the world in the next 20 years. In fact Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, announced that ‘In five years, there’s no doubt in my mind that cognitive AI will impact every decision made’.

However, as Rometty noted, hopes for the future of AI are entwined with fears about what its impact could be, especially on jobs. It is predicted that new digital technology and automated systems could replace many humans across a range of sectors, from the legal sector to service industries, and cause job losses.

In a 2013 paper titled ‘The Future of Employment’, Oxford scholars Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne estimated that 47% of jobs in the US could be considered ‘at risk’, meaning they could be automated within 20 years.

Far from being deemed safe from the advance of technology, it is possible that many graduate jobs will be affected. Some entry-level work typically done by graduates – such as legal research and data analysis – is already being taken over by digital systems; in May 2016, US law firm Baker and Hostetler announced that it was ‘hiring’ ROSS, the ‘world’s first artificially intelligent attorney’ to assist in its bankruptcy department.

It has been suggested that AI could also have an impact on the Big Four professional services firms. Together, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC account for one of the biggest graduate recruiters in the UK, and were they to shift hiring practices, this could have a significant impact on the graduate jobs market in the UK.

However, if there were to be a shift in graduate recruitment, would this in fact be a loss of jobs, as some fear? Or could it simply mean a change in the skill set expected from graduates, and in the types of job on offer? And how can technology reshape the recruitment process itself?

Inspiring Interns reached out to Laura Lucas, Student Recruitment Engagement Manager at Deloitte UK, to find out the firm’s take on the issue.

Are you expecting to see a drop in graduate recruitment because of technological advancements?

The number of young people Deloitte hires each year remains significant, and we don’t foresee that changing significantly in the coming year.

There has, however, been a partial shift in the skillset that Deloitte is looking for in graduates over recent years. This shift has been towards a more advisory skillset, as well as the ability to develop technical expertise, which we’ve always looked for in our graduates.

There is also more emphasis on looking for tech-savvy graduates: those looking to work with technology and seeking a career utilising technology and their digital skills.

 Why is the graduate scheme so important to the firm?

Graduate talent is of key importance to the firm. Every year, we look to attract the top student talent to Deloitte from a wide range of backgrounds, skillsets and subject disciplines to enrich the work we do, and the impact we can make, for our clients.

From day one, graduates receive training and development opportunities to help them succeed in their careers. We offer a wide range of on-the-job training, formal learning and development opportunities, as well as the opportunity to study towards professional qualifications, such as ACA or CIMA.

When we are recruiting graduates, the firm is not just looking at what they can do now, but also at their future potential. We have developed some innovative, technology enabled, strategies to understand future potential and lower barriers to accessing the widest range of graduate talent for the firm.

 Can you please tell me more about these strategies?

There have been two particularly significant new strategies introduced over the last year.

Working in conjunction with Arctic Shores, a games based psychometric assessment company, we now use a game in the early part of our selection process which graduates and apprentices can play. It’s a more engaging way to discover a candidate’s strengths and the feedback we have received so far has been excellent. Many students saying they are more enthusiastic about joining the firm as a result of this innovative approach.

The game measures over 3,000 data points from a 20-30 minutes session. The game assesses personality traits such as potential to innovate, persistence and their tolerance of ambiguity.

Secondly, our use of academic contextualisation in our assessment processes is another highly innovative strategy we now employ to improve access to our schemes, particularly for those from socially deprived backgrounds.

This work was undertaken in conjunction with Rare, a specialist graduate diversity recruitment company. In the past year, Rare has helped change the way that companies recruit through the pioneering use of contextual data, and widening the talent pool. Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) enables companies to find the best, and most diverse, hires, by setting candidates’ achievements in context.

CRS combines publicly available information with candidates’ responses to questions asked as part of the application process, to produce real-time contextual information.  For example, it will allow recruiters to view an individual’s academic performance within the context of the broader performance of their school, but also consider other factors such as whether applicants were the first in their family to go to university or were eligible for free school meals.

Just to return quickly to the issue of robotics, do you foresee a change to the skills demanded by the firm as a whole? Does every graduate need to learn how to code?

 For us, it’s about having a diverse range of skills and backgrounds across our graduates. We have graduates from a wide variety of subject disciplines, everything from accountancy to zoology, and the firm thrives on hiring people who bring different things to the mix.

So, while we have seen an increase in interest to hire tech savvy graduates, we don’t foresee technical skills, like coding, overshadowing all the other skills we look for, and certainly not everyone needs to make it their focus.

Could AI actually allow graduates to perform more fulfilling roles, and free them from data-crunching and more administrative duties? Is this already reflected in the decision to make every service line scheme more ‘consultant-like’?

It’s true that parts of our audit process, for example, are becoming more automated as we start to embrace AI. The result of this is that much of the traditional administrative work we would have done in the past is now being automated. This in turn means that our graduates will have more time to focus on other aspects of their work, such as providing advice and consultation services to our clients.

 Are predictions of a significant change in the overall job landscape valid?

The introduction of AI presents some exciting opportunities and changes to the way professional services approach the work we do with our clients.

Our current approach is to use advancements in AI as an opportunity to ensure our graduates are presented with more diverse roles when they join us, and can develop a wider range of skills and experiences in their first few years with us.

As mentioned previously, we are also seeing an increased emphasis on recruiting tech-savvy graduates, and graduates who want to develop a career in technology and use their technology skills to help us continue to innovate the ways we work with our clients.