If it can be routinized, it will be: the charter for HR

Automation at work
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The Plainspeak Analyst is Katherine Jones, Partner and Director of Talent Research at Mercer, the world's largest human resources consulting firm. Her job is to design and deliver insight research and services to Mercer's global clients. She was previously VP, Human Capital Management Technology Research at Bersin by Deloitte. She has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Cornell University.

Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends research indicates that 93% of chief executives are planning organizational redesign in the year ahead—making changes in the interest of efficiency and agility, many of which will require new technology.

Almost one-third anticipate cutting departments, roles, or jobs as part of this redesign. With the ability to increasingly rely on machine intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the majority of computational tasks and repetitive, reiterative work may be able to be eliminated.

The challenge for HR at this juncture is great: the market will need an increasing number of highly-skilled workers in a period of skill scarcity.

New regulations create barriers for global sourcing such that organizations are losing access to skills when they exist by virtue of immigration policies.

Employers also face a dearth of unskilled laborers willing to fill the jobs vacated by expelled, non-native workers, giving many no choice but to seek improved automation to make up for inexpensive, manual labor.

Today’s charter for HR requires the ability to:

  • Ensure adequate staffing for the immediate future, as non-indigenous or undocumented workers are removed from the labor force. This will prove especially challenging in hospitality, food service, health, and aging-care services, and food production industries. Those currently disenfranchised or long-term unemployed will likely require upskilling or reskilling before they can fill some of these positions.
  • Manage transitions to retain corporate knowledge from the brain drain caused by retiring workers and the exit of skilled non-native professionals from the workforce through visa concerns. This is already affecting banking and financial services in the UK, and the high-tech industries in the US. Organizations cannot afford to lose the institutional knowledge they currently possess.
  • Create long-term training programs—perhaps starting with high school students—to build a skilled workforce for the future given fewer potential workers. Public education, even at the college level, has been cited for failure to produce graduates adequate in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Recent changes in educational policy indicate this deficiency is likely to deepen. Private enterprise is stepping in like Oracle Corporation, a Silicon Valley high-tech firm that is building a high school on its campus to better prepare students for a future requiring more technical and scientific skills.
  • Plan for an increasingly technology-driven workplace. The industrial revolution that spurred automation is officially over as companies enter an age of smarter machines, automated intelligence, and predictive decision-making. HR leaders can begin to ascertain what areas in their organizations may most likely be automated beyond what they are today, what changing skill sets (and employee numbers) will be needed, and what kind of outplacement efforts may be needed for displaced workers.

About Katherine Jones

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