Last week, Amazon issued buyout offers to hundreds of its recruiters as part of an expected multi-month layoff cycle that has angered corporate employees across the company. Now, Recode has seen a confidential internal document that raises the question of whether the new AI technology the company began experimenting with last year will one day replace some of those employees.
According to an October 2021 internal document labeled “Amazon Confidential,” the tech giant has been working for at least the past year to outsource some of its recruiters’ tasks to AI technology, which aims to predict which job candidates at certain corporate and warehouse jobs will successful in a given role and speed them up to an interview – without the involvement of a human recruiter. The technology works in part by finding similarities between the resumes of current, well-performing Amazon employees and those of job seekers applying for similar jobs.
The technology, known internally as Automated Applicant Evaluation, or AAE, was developed by a group in Amazon’s HR team known as the AI Recruitment Team and was first tested last year. Amazon first developed AI hiring technology in the mid-2010s, but stopped using his system after it showed bias against women..
According to an internal document, during initial testing, Amazon Human Resources believed that the new machine learning models were successful in protecting against biases based on race and gender. In recent years, artificial intelligence has become more widely used in hiring across industries, but questions remain about its role in creating or reinforcing biases that can arise in hiring processes.
An Amazon spokesperson did not comment ahead of publication.
Amazon has been investing heavily in attempts to automate various types of work for years. In 2012, the company acquired a warehouse robotics company called Kiva, whose robots reduced the need for warehouse workers to travel miles on the job, but at the same time increased the pace and repetition of their work.
Amazon continues to explore other ways to automate its warehouses and introduce new robots, in part because the company is hiring so many front-line workers that it has at times feared that parts of the US won’t have enough people to hire. In its corporate wing, Amazon previously implemented an initiative called “Hands Off the Wheel” that shifted ordering and other responsibilities out of the hands of retail employees and outsourced them to technology.
Now, with the creation and expanded use of AAE technology, the roles of recruiters in the US’s second-largest private sector employer could be changed forever, which could reduce the number of people Amazon needs to hire.
That is, when the company starts hiring again.
Earlier in the fall, Amazon imposed a moratorium on hiring, and just last week The New York Times reported that Amazon will lay off about 10,000 employees., or 3 percent of corporate staff, in what would be the largest series of corporate layoffs in the company’s nearly 30-year history. Along with layoffs at gadget company Alexa and Amazon, the company has submitted buyout offers to a large number of employees in the company’s human resources department, including all junior and middle-level recruiters in the US and India. If employees voluntarily leave their jobs, Amazon offers three months’ salary plus one week’s salary for every six months they’ve been with the company. These employees must decide on the offer by November 29th.
Divisional executives said involuntary layoffs could still occur in the new year, depending in part on how many employees agree to voluntarily leave the company. Amazon CEO Andy Jassi also said that layoffs in the company’s main retail division would occur in 2023.
AAE technology eliminates one key role some recruiters play at Amazon, which is evaluating job applicants and choosing who should move on to interviews. The program uses performance reviews of current employees, as well as information about their resumes and any online job evaluations they have completed during the hiring process, to evaluate current candidates for similar positions.
“[T]“The model provides accuracy comparable to that of a manual process and has no adverse impact,” the 2021 internal paper says.
For the first time, the technology has been tested on Amazon medical rep aspirants who work outside of the company’s warehouse network. But since then, it has been used to screen applicants for positions ranging from software engineers to technical program managers, opening up opportunities for widespread use in the company in the future.
There is an understanding in the tech industry that the big tech boom may be over. In many cases, business success caused by the pandemic has faltered or stalled. Now, tech titans like Amazon are looking to tighten their belts, apparently partly on long-term bets that technology, and AI in particular, can do what humans can do, and possibly cheaper.