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

It’s a fairly good bet that Minnesota won’t see a blizzard or snow squall the rest of this spring, but should a freak storm arise, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is ready to alert drivers quickly.

The agency has automated the process in which it takes warnings from the National Weather Service and relays them to motorists by posting messages on electronic sign boards across the state.

For the past couple of winters, MnDOT has used its 400 digital signs to broadcast blizzard warnings. And until this year, that job of updating signs fell primarily to Garrett Schreiner, a freeway operations engineer. Each time a blizzard struck, Schreiner headed to his computer to determine which areas of the state were being impacted and which signs were in the affected areas. Then he crafted and posted a message.

“I have to monitor every winter storm,” he said. “Thankfully there are not a ton of blizzards, so it’s doable.”

But all those steps take time and manpower, which ultimately delays how quickly messages get out to the public. Schreiner and others wondered if they could automate the process.

MnDOT collaborated with SRF Consulting to develop traffic management software capable of parsing feeds from the weather service. When the software comes across a blizzard warning, it determines the location and time of the warning and composes the appropriate message. A MnDOT staff member in the Regional Transportation Management Center in Roseville can review and manually post the message to signs in the impacted area, or turn on a feature that allows the software to do it automatically. The software can also update messages as weather conditions change, Schreiner said.

“We cut the time it takes to get messages out to travelers,” he said.

MnDOT tested the software during an early January blizzard that socked much of the state and found that it worked well. The plan is to use it statewide this winter, Schreiner said.

MnDOT generally uses the signs only to announce real-time information about crashes, closures, road hazards or how long it will take drivers to reach a specific destination. Agency officials wondered if drivers would take weather messages seriously if it posted too many of them.

A survey to determine how effective digital messages were during blizzards drew 406 responses from drivers from the Twin Cities, across Minnesota and other states. More than half of respondents said they had seen a blizzard warning on a digital sign and reported seeing it two to three times. Three-quarters of those who were not aware of a blizzard before they set out said they found the messages to be “helpful” or “very helpful.” Half of those who knew about a blizzard before traveling reported messages were helpful or very helpful. Most respondents said the messages were more effective than alerts broadcast by other media, a MnDOT report said.

“The survey results helped MnDOT determine the best way to display winter weather conditions … and that messages are displayed accurately and on time,”