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Southwest Airlines Automates Some Job Recruiting Tasks as Air Travel Takes Off

Southwest Airlines Co. is leaning more on digital job placement tools, including chatbots, to speed up the hiring process amid resurging demand and a competitive labor market, a senior recruiting official said.

“The labor market is probably as tough as I’ve ever seen it, and so we’ve got to be able to move with speed, and that’s where all these tools come into play,” said Greg Muccio, the airline’s director of talent acquisition.

Southwest has about 2,000 open positions, ranging from flight attendants to gate agents, Mr. Muccio said. It historically has taken between 35 and 45 days for the company to make a contingent offer after posting a job, he said, but he wants to cut that in half with the help of tools that can automate routine recruiting tasks.

The airline uses a software platform from Phenom People Inc. to help manage its recruiting. The software powers the Southwest careers site, and it uses artificial intelligence to tailor job postings and messaging to potential candidates.

The platform’s jobs chatbot has had 1.2 million interactions since Southwest began using it last year, answering job-related questions that would have taken his staff anywhere between 18,000 and 92,000 hours to answer. Mr. Muccio said.

The chatbot is expected to play a vital role in the recent hiring push, including asking basic screening questions on topics such as work eligibility or comfort with pay rates.

Southwest has been conducting some video interviews via Zoom and Microsoft Teams. But in the coming months, it expects to switch to a videoconferencing tool that is part of Phenom for its potential archiving capabilities and by a desire to keep all its recruiting tools on one platform.

The platform also features deep-learning algorithms that can score job candidates based on their skills and experiences and help recruiters decide which candidates should be prioritized, said Phenom Chief Executive Mahe Bayireddi.

Mr. Muccio said he isn’t using any of those capabilities because he prefers that humans control that part of the process.

Airlines are racing to bring back workers furloughed over the past year and onboard new hires as the U.S. vaccine rollout is propelling travel to pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.98 million passengers on Sunday, a 15-month high.

The labor market, so far, has struggled to keep pace with the rebound.

As a result, enterprises are embracing AI, chatbots and other recruiting tools to speed up the pace at which they can identify the best job prospects before another potential employer swoops in, said Brian Kropp, chief of research at Gartner Inc.’s human resources practice.

The research and advisory firm found that 46% of HR leaders were using chatbots for recruiting in 2019, according to a survey published last fall, up from 38% in 2018. And 96% of respondents using them said they provide medium to high levels of value.

The airline industry faces a few challenges with hiring efforts as passenger traffic picks up, said Bob Mann, an industry analyst with R.W. Mann & Co., an aviation sector consulting firm.

The industry laid off or furloughed thousands of workers, many of whom may have joined other sectors or are still sitting on the sidelines. And revenue from business and international travel is still tepid.

Mr. Muccio said Southwest didn’t furlough or lay off any employees during the pandemic. And unlike many carriers, its business is primarily domestic leisure travel.

“The planes get full, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re highly profitable,” Mr. Muccio said. “But because the planes are so full, you still need the people to serve customers.”

This article originally appeared on Wall Street Journal

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