Could your job be done by artificial intelligence (AI)? For years, there have been worries whether robots might steal our jobs but reality has never really matched the concern. Well publicised reports of faulty algorithms and AI not being quite as intelligent as we thought proved that we are a long way off from being replaced by computer overlords.
But is this all about to change? According to research by economists at Goldman Sachs, the latest wave of AI that has generated the new breed of chatbots such as ChatGPT could automate as many as 300 million full-time jobs globally, with office workers being most at risk.
In the US and Europe, approximately two-thirds of current jobs are “exposed to some degree of AI automation,” and up to a quarter of all work could be done by AI completely, the economists estimate.
Even Twitter chief Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak have warned that we need to rein in AI before it outsmarts us all.
While these Orwellian workforce predictions are yet to occur, events such as a global pandemic, people taking early retirement and an overall shortage of workers have already created a powerful incentive for organisations to invest in automation.
With technology now becoming more widespread in most sectors, HR practitioners need to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of AI as well as how it can help to reshape both our own profession and the businesses in which we work.
In this latest blog from Reed Learning, we look at the impact artificial intelligence has on HR both now and in the future.
What is artificial intelligence?
AI means so many things depending on who’s talking. There is science fiction AI where robots are a recurrent theme, self-driving cars, Google maps, face detection and speech recognition technology, chatbots, and translation apps, to name but a few.
In simple words, AI is the simulation of human intelligence by machines, especially computers. The term AI was coined by a group of academics in the 1950s who set out to build a machine that could perform like a human brain. In fact, machine learning is what most computer programmers mean when they refer to AI.
Neural networks, also known as artificial neural networks, are a subset of machine learning and are at the heart of deep learning algorithms. Inspired by the human brain, they mimic the way that biological neurons signal to one another. Neural networks can, for example, translate languages, interpret patterns, identify people in Google photos and enable Siri or Alexa to interpret speech.
From the use of agribots in farming to robots in distribution centres, AI is shaking up industries across the board and new technologies are rapidly being immersed into mainstream business operations.
The relationship between people and machines is undergoing major transformation. So, what does AI mean for the HR industry?
How is AI being used in HR?
Artificial intelligence has been a presence in many HR areas for some years. Here’s just some of the ways the technology is being used by HR teams today.
Leading the way is recruitment and hiring where AI and algorithms have already conquered the field. Experts believe that at least three-quarters of all applications submitted for positions in the US are read by algorithms. A 2021 survey of recruiters by Gartner found that almost all used AI for at least one part of the selection process.
Recruitment processes can be time-consuming. On average, it takes 42 days to fill a position but this can take much longer depending on the sector. The use of automated screening tools can greatly improve an organisation’s ability to recruit talent quickly, assisting HR teams to identify candidates with the necessary experience and skills.
AI can also generate customised sequences of communications for each candidate to improve engagement and response rates. In addition, job conversion rates can be analysed so the most successful recruiting methods are identified.
However, a word of warning. The reliability of AI, particularly around the initial selection process is not always guaranteed.
A survey of HR executives in the UK, US and Germany by Harvard Business School found that 88% knew their algorithmic tools rejected qualified candidates. This can be because job descriptions include too many criteria and skills. Algorithms end up rejecting many qualified applicants simply because they are missing just one or two skills from the list.
Algorithms too, can be biased in terms of race and gender particularly if systems are developed on historically biased recruiting practices. A few years ago, it was found that Google ads steered prestigious job ads towards men but not to women. Amazon too, discovered that its application screener tool was biased against women and the tool was discontinued in 2018.
On a positive note, algorithm-based tools will analyse all job applications received and assess every candidate in the same way while recruiters may only read a fraction when large numbers are involved. AI can also help hirers to hone in on applicants’ potential rather than just educational achievements.
Onboarding is an essential part of HR. Research shows that organisations that do onboarding well achieve higher productivity and employee retention rates among their new recruits. AI can make the whole settling in process smoother and more personalised in several ways. For example, chatbots can support new employees by answering questions and providing information so they won’t feel ‘ghosted’. This is particularly important for remote workers.
AI can also help with verifying employee documents, handling administrative tasks such as providing company IDs, and even carrying out induction training, all of which frees up time for HR teams.
Artificial intelligence applications can reduce the hours HR professionals spend on repetitive, lengthy tasks in real time. Common questions from employees about their annual holiday allowance or general information about training and development can be answered by chatbots and virtual assistants. AI software can handle absences or expense reports and other routine duties.
Following the rise in working from home, more organisations are using AI to monitor the productivity of their workers and this looks likely to increase. Research by the CIPD, showed that more than half of employers (55%) agree with collecting information on home workers, including the amount of daily time spent on laptops.
But, using AI to manage employee performance can be a contentious area. The same CIPD report warned that “when it comes to the sphere of people management, it’s important to consider what uses are acceptable”, and to safeguard against misuse.
The survey found that employers were uncomfortable allowing AI to do tasks that might disadvantage people’s job prospects and risk the organisation’s reputation. 87% of senior decision makers felt extremely uncomfortable about using AI to identify underperformers where performance criteria was unclear. In contrast, just under a third of employers (32%) were uncomfortable with using AI to schedule work shifts.
AI’s strength is that it can do the same job as humans just much faster. Collecting information and storing it in a single place, extracting insights from real-time analysis and eliminating personal bias are three important benefits of using machines to assess your employees effectively.
Personalised learning and development
Instead of the traditional general focus to help employees gain in-demand business skills, AI can create personalised training programmes based on data for all workers. In the same way, data and analytics can be used to show the impact the training has had both for the individual and the business. Furthermore, AI tools can create career paths for internal talent by matching current employees with different areas of the business rather than recruiting for positions externally.
Advantages of using AI in HR
If the workforce is on board and risks can be contained there are many benefits of using AI within the people profession including:
Data driven decision-making.
Reduced time and costs spent on recruitment.
Bias in recruitment could be reduced if systems are monitored.
More agile ways of working.
But there are disadvantages too:
Pitfalls of using AI in HR
Ethical dilemmas, for example, around GDPR or profiling candidates from their personal data.
Lack of understanding among workers who may feel that computers are making critical decisions in unknown ways.
Confusion - sometime even the creators of AI systems cannot explain how they work.
Data privacy and cybersecurity risks – employers must be able to reassure workers that their personal information is being stored safely.
Looking to the future
People professionals see AI as having a major impact on the industry but skills gaps in HR are creating a barrier to adoption. The latest HR Insights survey of around 5,000 senior HR professionals from 22 industry sectors, found that a third (32%) of HR teams reported to have significant gaps in digital adoption, technology, people analytics and data skills analysis.
David Collings, professor of sustainable business at Trinity College Dublin told People Management that while the HR function had suffered in the past from being behind the curve on digital adoption, there is increasing recognition of the importance of these skills and HR teams are increasing their expertise in this area.
Artificial intelligence on its own cannot provide a complete picture and it doesn’t replace the ‘human’ in HR. As more companies adopt AI tools as a matter of course, it is important to understand and interpret the data correctly. With new UK regulation of AI on the way, HR professionals should stay abreast of the latest guidance and strike a balance between people and technology to gain the best results.