When history repeats itself: Optimizing your workforce for the future

By: Eric Kujala, Director, Product Marketing at Ellie Mae

A friend of mine recently forwarded me the below email from a recruiter who was looking for underwriters to help a mortgage lender scale with this year’s unprecedented loan volume. My first reaction was deja-vu, circa 2005-2007. Amazing when history repeats itself!

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What does this mean? 

On the surface, it draws a picture of the current state of the industry - waves upon waves of unprecedented loan volume and not enough people to go around. Well, there are enough people but maybe not the people with the desired skill sets to move the needle and help a mortgage lender scale. The above email is one approach to source the needed talent, and it’s an approach that we have all seen year in and year out as the industry ebbs and flows. Another approach out there is to “build your own” talent pool. There are several lenders today who are investing in educational programs and “universities” to help individuals develop the necessary skill sets. 

Both approaches have their pros and cons, but the question I ask is, “What happens when rates start to go up?” Although, we have been talking about rates going up for years, so who knows when that will be. I’ll rephrase my question to, “What happens when volumes start to normalize?” There could be a surplus of talent in the marketplace in the coming years. 

Enabling a scalable workforce

Then again, no one knows what the future holds. Let’s turn our attention away from irresponsible speculation about the future and focus on today, which can help us prepare for an unpredictable future. I shared in my last blog that investment in automation technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA), are on the rise but still very early in the maturity cycle for the mortgage industry. This automation technology can be applied to effectively help optimize the workforce. Just take a look outside of our industry at the Ford River Rouge truck plant, where the F-150 is built. 

1929: In the beginning, it took about 12 hours to fully assemble the Model N (Model T’s predecessor). Later, when Ford perfected the assembly line by using a combination of humans and machines, he reduced the time it took to complete the Model T to two hours and 30 minutes (according to MotorBiscuit). In 1929, the River Rouge plant employed ~100,000 Ford employees.

2019: Fast forward to just one year ago… In 2019, the River Rouge plant employed ~6,000 Ford employees. According to Justin Dugan, who hosts American Trucks’ video, Ford now sends a complete F-150 truck down the line every 53 seconds. 

When looking at the above example, many people think robots are putting people out of work. But in reality, they are being diversified across new aspects of the assembly process. 

Evolving with the industry

This article began by describing the importance of balancing technology with your labor force’s ability to handle the exceptions leveraging their skills and experience. If we look into any manufacturing process, we will find similar stories that dig into their ability to scale and weather the ebbs and flows of their market demands. That balance is crucial and relying too heavily on one side or the other makes those market transitions turbulent. 

The labor force is changing, and we need to change with it. Will technology help you recruit new employees with new or different skill sets? Or will it help you retain your seasoned workers by allowing them to apply their brains and time to more fulfilling tasks and strike a work life balance? I think it will be both and finding that balance can be tricky. If you were looking for an answer, sorry about that, I just don’t know… For me personally, I love working for companies that have embraced technology to make my life easier and I have been fortunate enough to work for organizations who support that. 

ICE Mortgage Technology™ is committed to helping lenders find that balance, so they can scale in times of high volumes and weather when the markets aren’t so favorable. 

“Automating everything that can be automated” does not mean automate everything. It means automate the things you can and optimize human interactions to cultivate the relationships that this industry is centered on. Let robots handle the tedious and repetitive tasks and assign your best talent to the harder tasks that require levels of experience or complicated risk. There is a lot of value in that “gut check” feeling that only the experienced workforce can apply. 


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