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PA OPINION

Why is HR key to benefiting from emerging technology

Why does your organisation invest in emerging technology? To improve efficiency? To do something new? To ensure you’re ahead of the competition? Whatever the reason, do you always consider the impact it’ll have on your people?

If you said ‘no’ to the last question, you’re not alone. Our recent research, carried out with the CIPD, surveyed organisations using artificial intelligence (AI) or automation and found that just over half (55 per cent) bring HR into discussions about investing in these technologies and fewer than half (45 per cent) bring HR into conversations about implementing these technologies, which was surprising given the potential impact they have on working lives.

So, why should HR be central to planning for emerging technology?

Creating the workforce of the future

The classic view of robotics and AI is that these technologies will make people redundant. But in our experience of implementing them for organisations around the world, that’s far from the case. And our research of organisations who have invested in new technologies in the last five years found that 39 per cent of organisations have seen more jobs created in the areas most affected by AI/ automation, compared with 28 per cent who saw fewer jobs (others saw no change) – just think of the engineers and programmers needed to maintain new systems.

We also found that 63 per cent of new jobs require higher skill levels, creating a challenge for HR as they source the right people. Of course, there are sometimes job losses and our research shows that these are often at lower skill levels. This shift could reduce the number of entry-level roles, affecting career paths and the perception of an organisation in the community.

To overcome these challenges, HR will need to create more growth and learning opportunities. Upskilling people will be more important than ever as roles change. And to keep people in the organisation, career advice will need to focus on the evolving skills needed to work with emerging technologies. That’ll be quite a change from traditional mentoring programmes, but will be necessary as linear progression fades and people switch roles and professions to advance.

Employee value proposition benefits

Our research highlighted an interesting difference between the outcomes of investing in technology and its perceived goals.

Almost half of the people in our survey mentioned greater job security (44 per cent), whilst 40 per cent reported having more control over working hours. They also said they spent more time learning new things and doing interesting work. All of which leads to improvements in wellbeing. A quarter of respondents told us their mental health had improved while 18 per cent reported better physical health. This drives real value for employees, both at work and in their personal lives.

This means there’s a crucial role for HR in highlighting the human benefits of emerging technology. HR will need to develop a strong understanding of how these technologies can be used. Our research found that just 28 per cent of respondents felt that AI and automation helped them to do their job better. Could this be a reflection of the fact that HR was not involved in where or how to implement?

HR professionals will need to advise internal customers on AI or automation investments that are most likely to provide positive returns, both in terms of workplace effectiveness and the employee experience. In the future, organisations with more of a ‘consumer’ lens on how they interact with their workforce and those that look to careers as a set of experiences will be those that attract the best talent. HR departments that consider their future employee experience and work with IT teams to enable that experience through technology will outperform others.

People are key to the success of emerging technology

People will need to adapt to maximise the benefits of AI and automation. While the technologies will create new jobs, they’ll also end others, parts of existing roles and many individual tasks.

That means HR will need to set out a people strategy to create meaningful and stimulating work for their workforces, ensuring people can work effectively alongside machines. One key will be a shift in the nature of talent. AI can access conventional knowledge instantly, meaning we’ll value and develop people’s emotional and social intelligence more. This means HR needs to find ways to assess these capabilities and create roles and ways of working that enhance and build on these skills.

Our research creates a call to HR to be at the forefront of strategic decision making about the technology that influences employee’s experience of work. It suggests an opportunity for HR to work with IT to shape and create an employee experience that delivers more interesting work, more flexible working and better wellbeing. The future of work is here and HR has a critical role in making it a positive one.

Find out why HR is the glue between people and machines

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