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Return of the Slave Trade?

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by Mark Smith

over 3 years ago

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Having invested many hours over the holiday period watching movies and television based around ancient Rome, I was reminded last week of a Roman market (where slaves, available for sale, were paraded at market) when I visited the online temp site OneShift. In recent years, we have witnessed the slow slide of the recruitment industry into commoditisation. Niche and executive recruiters would argue otherwise, but the industry as a whole, including the behemoth recruiters in the blue and pink collar markets, has been competing on price and has offered little in terms of differentiation. 

Wikipedia defines commoditisation as,'occur[ing] as a goods or services market loses differentiation across its supply base, often by the diffusion of the intellectual capital necessary to acquire or produce it efficiently.' With the rise of social media and cloud computing, some newcomers to the recruitment industry believe that it is now so easy to acquire staff that you can recruit as if you were purchasing some new shoes online. On an intellectual level, you can see the merits in thinking this way. 

However, I believe it is fatally flawed because of one simple fact: we are all human beings with healthy egos and a dislike of being considered a commodity. Sites such as Freelancer and oDesk provide platforms for an individual to provide services on a 'statement of work' basis. The new raft of recruitment sites are selling applicants' time, which they have available for work.

Return of the slave trader? Commoditsation of temps in recruitment

In the time of slavery, slaves were paraded naked to ensure there were no surprises for the purchaser (and also to provide another act of humiliation), and a six-month guarantee was offered to the purchaser. Those with no guarantee were presented at market with a special hat! Is the insistence of these new sites to provide a photograph designed to avoid any surprises? For most people, their working life is a career and not just a job. 

The selection of employees by employers is more than a quick review of a background and a picture. Traditional recruitment for either temporary or permanent staff through an in-house or third party recruiter involves locating and finding the best talent and matching the attributes of this talent to the unique environment of the employer. I suggest that the best available talent will not be paraded in an online market, and, even if they were, it would be remarkably difficult to match someone to your environment based on a rotating wheel of photographs and an unauthenticated profile. 

Can you imagine using an online site to find an immediately available analyst with FMCG experience to commence work tomorrow? Something entirely possible by calling people2people! The recruitment industry is changing, and it's changing fast. It is, however, my prediction that the rise of these modern-day online markets for staff will be short-lived, as people simply do not want to be considered a commodity.

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