Australia issues myth-busting guidance on AI recruitment in government

By on 07/12/2022 | Updated on 07/12/2022

The office of Australia’s merit protection commissioner has released guidance to public service agencies on the benefits, risks and myths around using artificial intelligence-assisted recruitment tools.

Faced with a tightening labour market, government agencies have increasingly leant on AI-assisted and automated recruitment tools, defined in the guidance as “tools that aim to minimise or remove direct human input”. These include resume scanners, video interviews and online psychometric tests.

The guidance warned public servants of ‘AI-assisted recruitment myths’, including claims that all AI-assisted and automated tools have been fully tested, are reliably unbiased, and that agencies are not accountable for mistakes made by AI.

Addressing how bias in the design of AI tools can affect recruitment, the guidance stated: “Developers may only test the AI on certain population demographics, meaning that the tool may disadvantage diversity cohorts.”

Read more: Australian government urged to produce long-awaited digital capability review

It added that AI tools can contain algorithmic bias that “does not reflect the true suitability” of a candidate for the role.

“If an AI is based on a dataset of interviews where all successful candidates cough during the interview, the AI may determine that coughing makes a candidate suitable for the position,” it explained.

On merit, on message

Emphasising the importance of the Australia Public Service (APS) merit principle last month, then-merit protection commissioner Linda Waugh said that “merit should not only be viewed as applying to recruitment”, and that it should underpin “all government decision-making, including decisions relating to our most valuable asset: our APS employees”.

The guidance urged agency heads to ensure that AI tools assess candidates according to criteria relevant to the position description and “reflect the work-related qualities genuinely required to perform the relevant duties of the role to meet the merit principle”.

To ensure that they do not fall prey to the myths around AI in recruitment, agencies were also encouraged to compare providers of AI tools before procurement.

The guidance said that by doing so agencies were less likely to acquire untested or unsuited technology. It pointed out that “much of the immediately accessible research on AI-assisted tools is sponsored by the provider themselves”. As such, it asked agencies to scrutinise information on technologies closely and only source research from independent sources, such as “peer-reviewed academic articles or independent reviews from government”.

Global Government Forum understands that Waugh stepped down from the role of commissioner in November. At the time of publication, the Australian federal government had not responded to our reporter about whether or not a successor had been appointed.

Read more: Australian AI plan promises new money and standards overhaul

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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