HR in the Age of Automation

Machines have saturated every facet of our lives, and they’re faster, better, and smarter than ever. Unlike previous Industrial revolutions, where we meticulously built machines and taught them how to perform tasks, today’s machines can teach themselves. 

McKinsey research has suggested that about 45% of our work activities and tasks can already be automated using available technology. Although fewer than 5% of occupations can actually be done through pure automation, these trends leave individuals performing routine work (such as transport and logistics), in particularly vulnerable positions. According to The Economist, the workplace is effectively cut into two groups doing non-routine work: highly paid, skilled workers (such as senior-level executives), and low paid, unskilled workers (such as fast food workers).

So, what will this mean for HR?

Opportunities

1.     Automation can improve the way HR serves its customers. Automation and new technologies can speed up the process of recruitment and performance management, reduce human errors, foster collaboration and improved workflow, and help HR make more informed decisions.

2.     Less busy work means more strategy work. Automation will streamline the repetitive, operational tasks that plague HR, save time, and increase efficiency. By removing repetitive tasks from the mix, automation frees up opportunities for more meaningful work that prioritizes emotional intelligence, creativity, and decision making.

Challenges

1.     New jobs may be created, but layoffs are inevitable in some industries. Time-saving, cost-cutting technology is historically and anecdotally paired with layoffs. Now is the time to think about how automation can affect your role in HR, and what you can do to establish value and remain relevant. HR will also have to reconcile the tension between employers and employees in times of intense anxiety and job insecurity.

2.     The world of recruiting is going to change very soon, and very quickly. Through automation, about 25% of job tasks can be offloaded to robots, implying radical changes to job descriptions, and thus talent acquisition strategies. What worked before won’t work in the future, and HR professionals must educate themselves on the demands of the modern workplace.

3.     The training challenge is going to be more pertinent than ever. How will we retrain old workers to fit new, unseen capabilities? How do we prepare younger generations to be ready for jobs we’re not even sure will exist in the next 5, 10 years?

Whether you’re an optimist or skeptic, one undeniable fact remains: automation will thoroughly disrupt the labor force. If you want to maintain meaning in this Age of Automation, it’s necessary to embrace the opportunities and prepare for the challenges that machines will bring.