Blog post

The future of HR: human or robot?

Hans Janse
Hans Janse 04 May 2018

Things are changing really fast, and the HR sector is no exception. If you’re up for it, why not join us and jump aboard the express train to the future? I’m Hans Janse, head of innovation and market analysis at Raet. Using this series of blogs to forecast the shape of things to come, I’ll be making some general predictions about HR in 2020. What sort of challenges will organisations be facing, and how will they adapt? Where will the current trends lead, and how can we prepare for these scenarios? In this blog, the latest in the series, I’ll be exploring the future of work. The hot issues here are developments in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotisation. How are these going to impact HR?

Artificial intelligence and robotisation – the media are having a field day! For many people, such talk conjures up images of futuristic robots, but nothing could be less true. The technology has already found its way into today’s products and services, and we didn’t even notice! Take Apple’s ‘Siri’, for example. If you ask Siri about the journey time from Amsterdam to Eindhoven, it will link updated travel data to your question and immediately inform you that the trip currently takes 1 hour 45 minutes. 

Here to stay

AI and robotisation are also triggering changes in the workplace. Indeed, these trends are absolutely going to impact the job market. This technology can be used to automate complex human activities. A range of devices running smart software can now take independent decisions based on their responses to data or stimuli from the surroundings. These devices can sense, learn, plan and solve problems. They are replacing human labour. The ballooning scale of AI and robotisation is expected to impact everyone in the organisation. Sooner or later, any human work that can be carried out by robots will disappear from the job market. Some studies suggest that forty percent of today’s jobs will have been taken over by robots by 2025. Some may find this threatening; after all, this technology is here to stay. But do we really need to panic? No, not in my opinion.

Our jobs have always been evolving and changing. Don’t forget that, in the Middle Ages, monks wrote books by hand. The arrival of the printing press changed all that, enabling the monks to focus on other duties. The same sort of thing is happening now. Yes, AI and robots are taking over some of our tasks but, at the same time, this process is generating plenty of new opportunities for us. So there’s no doubt about it: jobs will definitely disappear. In fact, this has been happening for some time now, to jobs involving repetitive and predictable work. Many believe robots will be flooding into more complex professions, too, in the future. The future of recruitment is a hot topic in the media, because robots make decisions more quickly and precisely than people. This demands a review of labour, so it is certainly a key theme in the field of HR. 

The role of HR

Amid fiery debates about the impact of robotisation, the HR sector seems determined to remain aloof. Such an attitude is completely unjustified. More than most other professions, HR really needs to explore the future of work. Our workforce will soon be a mixed bag of people and robots. This immediately raises questions like: What can HR do to prepare organisations for this new reality? In terms of competencies, how will this affect people in organisations? Will there actually be anything left for people to do? And in tomorrow’s world, who will the robots report to within their organisations? Will some people have robots as managers, and what are the legal ramifications?

Turning to HR departments themselves, will the administrative side of HR soon be fully digitised? Chatbots will be dealing with employees’ questions, while they process leave requests and sick reports. Automatic data analysis will be used to verify proposed salaries. In the area of recruitment, AI will analyse thousands of profiles per day, producing more reliable results than any human could. HR must master these technologies if it is to play a meaningful part in these developments and shape its vision of the future of work (including the future of HR itself). 

When a door closes, a window opens

Some people fear there will soon be no more jobs left. Could they be right? I don’t think so. In the past, successive waves of technology caused some professions to change and others to disappear. Yet these events have since created more jobs (especially new ones) than they destroyed.

However, it is vital for HR to get involved rather than just watching from the sidelines. In fact, HR can be a force for good, by exploring the ways in which technological change is driving the evolution of work. So I’d like to ask all employees, managers, board members and HR staff the following question: Are you content to be overtaken by events? Or are you, like everyone else, planning to ride the waves of AI and robotisation?

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Hans Janse

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