Technology is evolving at a breath-taking pace and the HR profession role has, until recently, tended to focus on sourcing talent to support digital products and services.
Emerging technologies have the potential to truly reshape the world in which we live and work, as AI and machine learning afford enormous potential, for the future. The hope must be that the workforce will be able to focus on more creative and interesting work facilitated by interaction with technology, predicated on a changed relationship with work and the workplace.
All areas of the organisation will be affected as sophisticated automation changes the emphasis at work; robotics and AI will replace repetitive work and there will be a greater need for creativity and social skills as well as a focus on design and customer service. As automation increases people will take on high-value roles requiring data analysis and problem-solving skills.
In the HR department, new technology has the potential to mechanise many tasks and probably roles but also offers the potential to enable smarter ways of working. I hope this means that as suggested by MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee new categories of jobs will evolve that will in the broader perspective compensate for those replaced by new technology.
Automation at work
The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey, which tracks the trends shaping the agenda for HR and business leaders, only 16 percent say they are ready to manage a workforce with people, robots and AI working side by side. In contrast, Bersin by Deloitte says that 33 per cent of employees expect their jobs will be augmented by AI in the near future. The McKinsey Global Institute estimated that roughly half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055, give or take 20 years2. McKinsey are unequivocal on the subject: “Automation will change the daily work activities of everyone, from miners and landscapers to commercial bankers, fashion designers, welders, and CEOs”.
I posted recently on the value of well-designed onboarding tools and this is a perfect example of where we might choose to use new technologies. Automated and onboarding can be used to engage with new hires, during the period before their start date and onwards. AI will be able to organise the transactional tasks and will act as a virtual HR assistant in the process, securing and filing the documentation employee profiles and dealing with query resolution.
Back in 2016 the FT reported on Matilda, a 30cm tall robot designed to shortlist job applicants and interview them. What makes her different from human counterparts is her ability to form decisions free of whim or prejudice, says Professor Rajiv Khosla, director of the Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation at Australia’s La Trobe University, who developed her.
Security and privacy
While such robot technology is not in general use, yet, it is normal to use computers to collect large volumes of publicly available information about candidates during the interview process. The implications are clear.
One of the major challenges posed by these new technologies is security. As professionals, we understand why this is crucial, but the tracking and sharing of information is an integral part of the new connectivity. The debate around issues such as the control over data will intensify and we will need to clearly demarcate our moral and ethical boundaries to protect individuals and corporations, designing policies and processes that respect all parties.
There is an exciting future ahead for HR as the use of state-of-the-art technology in the recruitment and retention of the managers and innovators will drive superior performance in organisations. Technologies sometimes referred to as ‘disruptive’ will actually afford opportunities to the way in which we attract and engage talent in the workplace.