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HR needs to embrace technological change, not shy away from it

28 Nov 2019 By Jessica Marchant

Instead of fearing the advance of AI and other forms of technology, people professionals should embrace them, says Jessica Marchant

The Financial Times recently noted the rise in scepticism among HR managers and recruitment professionals regarding AI and other technological innovation. Global analysis by Deloitte also shows that companies using AI, predictive data analytics and other technology tools are more successful than those who don’t. Its research indicates these companies enjoy 18 per cent higher revenue and 30 per cent greater profitability.

So in the face of such clear evidence, why the counterproductive scepticism?

Fuelled by fears of job insecurity and redundancy, the HR and recruitment industries’ approach has seen slow uptake of new technologies. The professions have been slower than most to adopt transformative, cutting-edge solutions. Perversely, rather than protecting jobs, the net result appears to have been to curb innovation, reduce job creation and restrict industry growth.

Evidence from other professions demonstrates how fears of job insecurity are often misplaced. Rather than replacing humans, technology often augments their role by taking on the menial, repetitive tasks leaving workers to focus on the more creative, flexible and cerebral aspects of their jobs. Change also tends to be less revolutionary and more evolutionary. The gradual technology-driven transition away from typing pools to the modern-day personal assistant illustrates this.

Instead of fearing change, it is time for recruitment and HR professionals to reconceive the relationship between AI and people. Rather than seeing it as a battle between two different approaches, more HR departments should recognise that humans and technology bring different things to the table. It is a symbiotic relationship. AI can deliver speed, efficiency and mass data analysis; humans can add emotional depth, wisdom and nuance. 

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a relatively simple form of automated technology that can be used to take on predictable clerical tasks. Its use by Swiss insurance provider, Zurich, means the organisation’s HR teams no longer have to allocate three days each month to conducting mundane ledger reconciliations of scheduled staff pay packet deductions for the system to make. Instead, the software performs the function itself, only flagging any errors for staff to solve. While RPA technology has reduced the number of staff needed in some areas of the business, Zurich has trained these staff for redeployment elsewhere in the organisation.  

In the US, a limited number of recruiters are employing AI to monitor public data sources, including job sites, chat rooms, analyst ratings and social media platforms to predict the most effective time to approach potential candidates about job opportunities. The technology can be used by recruiters to identify companies likely to make redundancies in the near future and in turn approach those staff with suitable roles elsewhere. This is the kind of function most recruiters would lack the staff capacity to perform and so is made possible only through technology.

Technology can also aid in the selection and sourcing of candidates, which is of particular importance during this period of record low unemployment. For example, we have built AI-driven tailored CV formulation software, in order to reduce the time demanded of recruiters and candidates. This means recruiters are able to field candidates suitable for the role more quickly. 

In addition to helping to source candidates, AI can prevent bias in hiring. The use of data-driven analytics and digital, cognitive tools to better source and assess candidates can help prevent possible misjudgements due to conscious or unconscious biases among selectors.

Scepticism to technological change is not, of course, unique to the HR and recruitment industries. Indeed, resistance to innovation and entrepreneurialism pre-dates the invention of the computer. But the evidence shows this approach is detrimental. In order to ensure the progression and continued necessity of the HR and recruitment industries, we must embrace technological change rather than shy away from it.

Jessica Marchant is founder of Sidekicks

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