Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, Professor Moshe Vardi of Rice University suggested that, within 30 years, the rise of the robots will result in unemployment rates in excess of 50%.
Predictions of mass unemployment may seem wide of the mark when HR is faced with more evidence of skills shortages constricting the growth of UK businesses this week. The World Economic Forum suggests otherwise. It predicts that the 'fourth industrial revolution' could lead to as many as five million jobs being lost by 2020 in 15 major developed and emerging economies. In the UK, it’s estimated that around a third of all jobs will be lost within 20 years, with administrative and routine office jobs at risk of being ‘decimated’.
With rising automation, algorithms, big data and HR analytics in talent acquisition, is it all over for HR? Far from it, but in order to survive, HR must embrace what it seems to fear the most. Technology.
Traditionally, the rise of robots in the working environment has affected low skilled jobs but that is swiftly changing. Today’s technological advances affect ‘middle-income, medium skilled jobs’ across industries as diverse as construction, accounts, transport, retail and sales. Technology takes care of mundane tasks, leading to greater efficiencies, reduced potential for human error, greater revenues and less dependence on workers. For HR, this begins with the automation of the hiring process.
While HR remains resistant to the benefits of technology, the irony is that embracing it is the only way for it to survive inescapable change. No geographical region or industry sector is immune to the skills and jobs displacement. Predicted losses can be offset but action need to be taken now and decisions made at the highest level.
The problem is that UK business leaders are ‘unaware’ when it comes to technology. Recent research revealed that 47% of UK business leaders have yet to examine the impact of automation on employment levels in their businesses – and 58% don’t possess the skills they need to get to grips with technology.
To compete in a rapidly changing environment, employers must reconsider their strategies and fully embrace the impact of technology. HR has a key role to play in this by delivering talent acquisition strategies supported by HR analytics but this cannot happen when the majority rely on manual systems and most regret their investment decisions.
Taking on the robots
Deloitte suggests that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed in the last 144 years but concedes that society (and HR) must prepare for higher levels of unemployment as a result of technological advances and understand where new skills will be created. The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane’ has called upon businesses to respond to the changing nature of the workforce now.
How is this achieved? The following steps are an essential:-
Anticipate and adapt to demand : The demand for skills will surge in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) sectors. PwC has already announced its intention to double the number of its data scientists by hiring 500 in the next 18 months to 2 years. This is a direct response to increasing demand for more data driven insight from its customers and suppliers. By anticipating changes, HR can implement effective strategies and talent communities to meet its evolving workforce needs.
Identify weak areas in talent acquisition : A broken candidate experience deters young people from applying to vacancies. Similarly, women are put off from participating in male dominated sectors such as science and technology. HR needs to anticipate skills gaps and implement long-term strategies to resolve these issues. HR analytics is vital to achieve that.
Focus on upskilling workers : The World Economic Forum urged businesses not to wait for future generations to ‘become better prepared’ but tackle the potential threat of mass unemployment and inequality by reskilling and upskilling today’s workforce. It highlights the pressing need for employers to build workforces with ‘futureproof skills’.
Embrace technology : Companies which embrace big data and people analytics will be better placed to benefit from the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Investment in recruitment software to automate and streamline hiring process allows HR to prepare for a changing workforce. Critics suggest that rising automation leads to higher inequality. It is HR’s responsibility to ensure that it leads to more productivity. Without technology, this is impossible.
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