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AI: the impact on workforce management roles

A PwC report predicts that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will eradicate between 20 and 40% of current jobs(1).  And those who work in HR and workforce management aren’t immune. But how exactly will this new technology impact them?

Let’s start by understanding what AI is. The term describes an area of computer science that is developing machines that can think, work and react like humans, often with capabilities for:

  • Speech recognition
  • Learning
  • Perception
  • Planning
  • Problem-solving
  • Reasoning
  • And an ability to manipulate and move objects

It also includes machine learning, where computers use algorithms to analyse data and patterns to predict outcomes and perform actions, for example, facial verification.

A fair proportion of the workforce management tasks handled by recruiters (or talent managers as they are often now known), HR managers, line managers, payroll officers, and learning and development staff can now be completed by cloud-based, automation technology – a pre-curser to AI.

From pre-screening CVs to digital timeclocks, rostering, automatically calculated payroll and online learning courses, most transactional workforce management tasks can be taken care of using workforce management software. This isn’t a bad thing as it’s freeing up time for important face-to-face interactions and more subjective human decisions that computers can’t handle.

But with the rapid progression of Artificial Intelligence (AI), even some tasks that require a human touch will soon be able to be handed over to a computer. The movie ‘Mother’ terrifyingly brought to life a world where a robot powered by AI could raise a child. Thankfully, the reality of AI for business is far less scary, and still in its infancy. Even so, where does that leave the people whose jobs are comprised of these tasks?

Below, we’ve looked at four roles which will be, to some extent, changed by AI.

  1. Recruitment

Software is already available that can help recruiters with pre-screening and job matching by analyzing applicant data to make recommendations on how to sort candidates, calculate compatibility scores, and advise recruiters who they should talk to. Furthermore, some organisations are already testing interview chatbots!

In general, these AI tools have been designed to help recruiters with high volumes of applicants and may be used to help reduce bias in the recruitment process. Ultimately, however, recruitment is all about humans and qualifications and pre-screening questions can’t be relied on when assessing true cultural fit and personal motivations – only a human with real emotions can do that.

The verdict? There may be fewer recruitment jobs in the future, but they will require a higher level of emotional intelligence and people skills.

  1. Payroll Officer

You’d be hard-pressed to find a business who isn’t using some form of payroll software. With increasing legislative and reporting requirements, it’s almost impossible to run compliant payroll without specialized software.

Giant leaps in technology have allowed organisations to automate their payroll, run calculations instantly based on timeclock data and meet compliance requirements. One payroll officer can manage more staff than ever before.

AI will take payroll automation to another level, giving businesses greater insights and understanding into their workforce. For example, AI software will be able to notice when staff are working overtime regularly and could suggest rostering changes or that more staff be employed.

It may also help in curbing payroll and time theft, like a worker claiming they worked time they didn’t, by tracking and analyzing data in real-time.

The verdict? While AI will certainly cover the transactional tasks involved in payroll, when it comes to processing exceptions to the rules, and the strategic realms of compensation and benefits, we feel payroll specialists will still definitely be required. Not everyone will be comfortable with allowing a computer to determine who deserves a raise or a bonus. And with such a variety of complex factors to consider when developing compensation and benefits strategies, we feel that human incumbents in these roles will be fairly safe.

Furthermore, while AI Chatbots can answer simple payroll queries or direct the enquirer to the correct person, payroll is an incredibly emotionally charged area. One where people will always want to talk to a human.

  1. Line Manager

Automation and low-level AI technology are already handling many of the administrative tasks that line managers face – rostering, budgeting, timesheets, payroll, ordering, business intelligence, labour efficiency and productivity statistics. And sophistication is set to increase in terms of performance management and evaluation systems for individuals. However, management and leadership inherently require a human type of perception, judgement and decision making.

The verdict? managers will always be needed on the shop floor to motivate, reassure, direct and supervise employees, providing personal in-the-moment guidance on how best to serve customer’s needs. This job, however, will rely far more on real-time information provided by AI systems and become a role of interpretation and execution, rather than data collection and synthesis.

“Data is nothing more than a set of answers waiting for managers to ask the right questions. Algorithms can find patterns in the data, but they can’t interpret their significance. Induction, deduction and abduction will remain at the heart of managerial decision-making.”

Lee Schlenker, Professor of Business Analytics and Community Management, in Towards Data Science

  1. Learning & Development Trainers

E-learning is now commonplace. But the humble learning portal will soon be supported by AI, taking personalization on a scale that current L&D providers just can’t handle. AI could be used to modify learning plans and mentor learners as they progress.

According to an article in HR Technologist, AI will be able to gather and analyse vast amounts of data from across the business from performance monitoring and scores to previous training undertaken and productivity levels. It will be able to synthesize data on such a granular level that customized learning programs can be developed for individual employees. By combining chatbots and geolocation and tracking data, it may also be possible to offer employees access to tips and learning to support their activity before they’ve even thought about it accessing any help.

Advanced analytics that is produced in real-time will better allow L&D departments to budget for and plan initiatives.

The verdict? AI will certainly take on the lion’s share of planning and analysis, however, despite the sophistication of technology, it can’t replace real face-to-face training. Expensive as it may be, being able to offer training that suits all styles of learning, and giving staff the opportunity to ask tricky questions like “I still don’t understand, can you explain it another way” is still crucial if businesses want to be sure their L&D efforts are effective.

We’ve only just scratched the very surface of this topic. Entire research studies and articles have been dedicated to how AI will affect different job types and we recommend you look them up to see how your career and business may be affected.

We believe that AI will mean some jobs become obsolete or their numbers will be reduced, but it opens up a whole new world for those able to interpret and use the data AI provides, are able to monitor and improve AI processes, and are willing to work alongside AI for the benefit of the workplace, and the success of their careers.

[1] PwC, (2018), What will be the net impact of AI and related technologies on jobs

Andrew Northcott
Andrew Northcott created Roubler as a true all-in-one workforce management solution, and as the CEO he has steadily grown the business around the globe. No stranger to the workforce management field, Andrew previously founded and built one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing workforce businesses, which was recognised five times as one of Australia’s Fastest Growing Companies by Business Review Magazine, before being sold in 2013. Andrew is a Harvard Business School and QUT Alumni.
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