Move over HR – here come the robots

Lessons from HR Technology Conference & Expo ’14, from Paul Burrin

Since the mid-1960s, we’ve witnessed a steady decline of blue-collar workers as manufacturing jobs went the way of outsourcing or to automated machines. At #HRTechConf last week, I witnessed unease as the fate of the human workforce was called into question.

One report cited showed that due to the growth of robot and automated and computerised services, 47% of all U.S. jobs will be at risk during the next 20 years. Over the next 20 years, anything that can be automated will be, as humans are swapped out of workflows or tasks in favor of more cost effective smart machines. This has profound implications as jobs disappear across all sectors – employees will need to focus on retraining, developing new skills, continuous learning and constant adaptation; all of which will become the norm.

So with the doom and gloom covered, what else did I learn at #HRTechConf last week – the future is different. The modern workforce is changing. It is global, mobile, social, tech-savvy and even replaceable (see previous paragraph). Here are three takeaways and you can also read a few more in my article on HRZone:

  1. Talent Acquisition is Harder as Employees Want More

As consumers, we want the companies we purchase from to give us the tools we need to make a purchase – on whatever platform, device or location (remote or in person) we want. Now consider that your employees are your consumers as well. You need to support them in the way they want to work. Good quality candidates are located wherever they want these days (the benefits of the Internet), but are still social. They are using video, social media, and collaboration platforms to communicate and they are tech-savvy. These candidates are the ones you want. Your HR team needs to manage talent acquisition by fostering a culture to support these modern workers. Plus, HR needs to consider the well-being of staff – a major selling point when targeting talent.

  1. Digital Frontier Races Forward

If you’ve flown into London Heathrow Terminal 5 and parked in the business lot, you might be pleasantly surprised by your individual pod that will take you to the car park. The first time I experienced it, I called a family member to tell them I was in the future! Driverless transportation is just one area where the technologies of the future are emerging. There are also robots working in homes, farms, factories, and a wide range of other facilities.

Smart machines are pushing this digital frontier ahead as they undertake tasks that were once thought to be the competitive advantage of humans (such as pattern matching and complex communications). What’s also evident is these smart machines can continuously learn as their algorithms are refined, and do so at rates much faster than humans.

This has far reaching implications for tomorrow’s workforce, both positive (as in efficiencies in the workforce) and negative (as in the potential disappearance of job roles.)

  1. Workforce Resource Management (WRM) Now in Charge

Whereas many HR professionals are responsible for human resource management (HRM) – that is all set to change. As teams comprise themselves of humans and machines, HR professionals will be responsible for managing how this combination of talent and resources work together (think iRobot anyone?!).

HR teams will focus more on data driven decisions for talent acquisition, management and development, but also the demand for people with marketing and communications backgrounds will be required to help improve the ability of brands to attract, recruit, engage and retain talent. HR teams will therefore need to create an employee centric culture that engages and encourages (and exemplifies) positive work experiences.

My key takeaway from #HRTechConf is that managing the modern workforce had just become a whole lot more interesting. By 2034, there will be some changes we will all inevitably dislike, but there will also be changes that truly change HR and even bigger, our world.

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