Surely, it’s scary to think that sometime in the future a robot will manage all your recruiting and HR tasks. It’s equally scary to think that your job as a recruiter will become obsolete once all workers are replaced by machines. But if we think about the future and instantly envision a robot revolution or self-driving cars on every single road, then we probably fall into the trap of being too broad and abstract with our assumptions.
The robot takeover is not happening yet
While we’re already seeing tech replacing or improving parts of the jobs that we (humans) used to be doing, full automation is not a very likely scenario. David D’Souza, Membership Director at CIPD and HR expert, shares a macroeconomics point of view about the future of work:
“If you were to automate an entire workforce, no one is taking home money, and that money isn’t flowing into the economy. That money is not creating demand for other goods and services. So, [automation] may benefit that one organization but there’s a cost elsewhere.”
But even if we choose to rely more heavily on technology, could we actually automate everything? And do we want to do that? David gives an example of how we risk turning our brains off in being so tech-reliant:
“Tom Chatfield, British author and tech philosopher, talks about how you’ll occasionally read in papers that someone has driven into a river because their navigation system told them to, or they’ve driven into a bridge in a lorry because their navigation system told them to go that way.”
The same could happen into organizations if we don’t use our critical thinking and remain unaware of the consequences of our actions. We could replace humans with technology and do more in less time. For example, we could hire and fire people automatically. But this raises some ethical concerns, too.
It’s an efficient use of technology, but I’m not sure it’s a kind or a humane use of technology.
But tech is changing the workplace
We can’t be blindfolded, though, when it comes to tech advancements. And we shouldn’t. Inevitably, technology is changing how people work; certain tasks are being automated, new jobs are created and others are lost, while entire industries are also being disrupted.
Imagine a recruiter working in the transportation industry. Ten years ago, their job was probably very different compared with now, with new business models (see Uber and Lyft) re-shaping the industry. Or, think about an in-house recruiter for a news organization that has evolved from traditional print media to a digital news platform. The ideal skills that those recruiters are looking for in candidates are different than they were a decade ago. The places where they search for candidates have also changed. Recruiters need to introduce new assessment methods or even move to entirely new sectors, if those recruiters want to keep up with changes in their industry.
Tech is also changing the recruiter’s job internally. In fact, David notices that “recruitment is one of the areas that has really adopted technology quite rapidly, certainly more rapidly than other bits of the employee lifecycle.” For example, think of automated emails to candidates or chatbots that respond to employees’ HR queries.
These are solutions that boost productivity and reduce time spent on manual tasks. But we can go further than that with AI, says David:
“What I’m seeing increasingly, which is brilliant, is conversations about how technology can help solve either problems in terms of candidate experience or problems in terms of diversity and inclusion. And that’s where I think there’s an opportunity for technology to solve some of the inherent problems that we’ve had, rather than just create new ones.”
An opportunity to build a better workplace
Let’s take the example of using technology in recruiting to increase diversity. We often fail to assess candidates fairly, because, as human beings, we are biased. So, if we can build systems that’ll remove those biases, then we can make great progress in creating an equal hiring process.
What happens in reality, though, is that often systems embed our biases. David explains why we shouldn’t use that an argument against AI:
“It doesn’t mean the technology is wrong; I’ve seen people use the same tech and get completely different outcomes. What we need to do is start asking questions before we implement the technology.”
David adds an important caveat as a rule of thumb:
It’s tempting to use something simply because it exists; but if you don’t use it mindfully, you just repeat the mistakes of the past.
In other words, we need to stop seeing technology as something that helps organizations simply save costs. Instead, as David puts it:
“We should start using technology to augment people’s capabilities, to give them better experiences, to help them be more productive, to help them develop more effectively, to help them find opportunities that are better suited to their talents.
“For example, in recruitment, whether it’s the speed of candidate contact, the quality of candidate contact or whether it’s simply ensuring that people have an equal opportunity to go for a role, there’s a really positive role technology can play.”
The role of recruiters in the future of HR
To seize that opportunity, recruiters themselves need to develop tech awareness and be on the alert for industry and market changes, as David explains: “if people remain isolated experts in one field, then it becomes very challenging to drop their skills into another space.”
He adds a piece of advice for those worried about their careers in the future of HR: “Stay connected enough with what’s happening outside your organization. As long as you remain flexible enough to shift to different opportunities, you’re actually really well positioned to catch the upsurge rather than be challenged by the diminishing of one sector.”
This means that, as a recruiter, you should be ready to learn and relearn different skills throughout your career. And you can do this if you keep a broader mindset – instead of asking “Am I going to lose my job from a robot?”, ask what is it that you can bring in the table that no system can achieve – no matter how intelligent it is.
Instead of focusing on questions such as “How do I get the people that I need in the door now?”, start thinking about how you can use technology in recruitment, not just to cut costs or save time, but also to increase equality and help people feel happy and fulfilled at work.
And finally, instead of looking to fill immediate needs in a piecemeal sort of process, think long-term and identify the needs of your organization in three, six, or 12 months from now – you can do this through regular consultations with executives, aligning your hiring plan with upcoming product releases or expansion plans for instance. That’s something robots can’t do (yet).
As David puts it, “If we turn to technology to help solve those problems, there’s an absolutely chance that businesses can win, but individuals that work within businesses can win, too.”
Want to read more from David D’Souza? Check out his blog for interesting HR-related articles.