Here’s Why Artificial Intelligence Raises Hopes, and Fears, Among HR Leaders

In the face of a changing work world and a scarcity of talent, a new study sheds light on the state of AI technology, how it is impacting jobs and its effect on talent management.
Here’s Why Artificial Intelligence Raises Hopes, and Fears, Among HR Leaders

November 28, 2017 – As artificial intelligence continues to make inroads into the working world, hiring managers are showing a combination of excitement for its potential and angst about its effects, according to a new study by the Allegis Group.

Twenty-one percent of the HR professionals surveyed by the Hanover, MD staffing and recruitment services firm said they were excited by AI and its impact on the future of work. But 17 percent said they see AI as both disrupting and enabling. And though 20 percent feel machines will replace only tasks, as opposed to jobs, another nine percent said it will displace most jobs within the next decade.

Perhaps not to be taken lightly, considering recent comments by physicist Stephen Hawking about the potential dangers of computers performing tasks that typically require human intelligence, eight percent of the respondents agreed that “AI will dominate and obliterate mankind.”

Beyond eliminating some jobs and creating others, AI is reshaping how companies compete for talent and get work done, said Allegis Group. The report, “AI and the World of Work: Embracing the Promises and Realities,” delves into the state of the technology, its effect on jobs, and its impact on talent management.

“We’re still in the early stages of understanding how AI will displace old jobs and create new ones,” said Andy Hilger, president of Allegis Group. “Without question, though, it will have a major impact on how companies compete for talent and get work done.”

A Disruptive Force

“Innovations in AI will become more and more integral to business success, impacting strategic priorities, technology adoption, and, maybe most important, the overall evolution of the workforce,” he said. “Our industry, as well as the clients and talent with whom we partner, needs to understand the implications and have a plan to capitalize on what will be a disruptive force.”

For the study, Allegis Group surveyed more than 300 human resources professionals, senior level and above, earlier this year. When asked to identify areas of talent management that will benefit from AI, top responses from those surveyed included training talent (26 percent), screening talent (24 percent) and workforce planning (22 percent).

Regarding the skill types most susceptible to automation, HR professionals pointed to data collection/processing (36 percent), predictable/ physical work (27 percent), analytical/quantitative skills (23 percent) and customer services/administration (22 percent).

Roadblocks Ahead

The top obstacles to companies adopting AI, according to the report, include budgets needed to upgrade or maintain AI (32 percent), a lack of people to build or manage AI (26 percent) and training AI workers (24 percent).

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Overall, findings indicate AI will not replace the need for talent professionals, said the report. Instead, it will change the nature of what they need to do to succeed. “When you speak with a person, you trust that she is listening to you, learning from you, and sharing with you out of some level of genuine interest,” said Tanya Axenson, global head of human resources for Allegis Group. “But will you fully trust a machine designed to calculate everything you say toward making a decision? Probably not. That’s why people will remain essential to the high-trust aspects of HR — closing deals, solving tough employee issues, building relationships and creating the organizational strategy.”

Rachel Russell, head of corporate strategy for Allegis Group, said a variety of AI niche solutions are emerging in the talent tech market. “Competitive advantage will come from adopting the right set of solutions to automate, augment and enhance the experience,” she said.

Baby Boomers are retiring. The Millennial and Gen Z generations are bringing new values and expectations to the workforce. What’s more, talent is growing scarce. “As a result, companies are embracing innovations that use data to improve how they identify, attract, and retain workers,” said the Allegis Group report. “That push began with early advances in enterprise HR systems and applicant tracking solutions. It then gave way to advances in recruitment marketing, social applications, mobile technologies, and big data and analytics. Now, there’s a new force driving talent innovation. Enter AI — a natural, next step in the evolution of talent strategy and technology.”

Expanding the Market

AI will do more than provide tools to support HR and talent management processes, said the report. Indeed, it is likely to change the processes themselves. “Will AI drive the same level of change that web-based solutions did 20 years ago to move HR away from Rolodexes, bulletin boards, and want ads?” said the report. “The answer is, ‘very likely,’ but change will take time. An understanding of tomorrow’s AI-enabled HR begins with a view of AI today and a look at the potential future impact across talent acquisition and HR of tomorrow.”

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The report cited additional trends regarding the adoption of AI that expand to the market as a whole. These include:

  • Expect Increased Demand for AI Skills:  While AI is taking on many skills formerly attributed to humans, new jobs will emerge. Likely candidates include AI ethicists to manage the risks and liabilities associated with AI, as well as transparency requirements. Needs will also emerge for AI trainers, and individuals to support data science, the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as capabilities related to modeling, computational intelligence, machine learning, mathematics, psychology, linguistics and neuroscience.
  • Constraints Will Influence the Pace of Innovation: Machine learning-driven AI systems require human guidance and programming, and a shortage of skills to provide this guidance may hinder progress. Also, today’s AI systems require deep sets of data and information. While data is abundant, it is not always available in pools that can be used to support an AI application. Other constraints include cost, the need for buy-in and adoption, and regulation.
  • New Challenges Will Influence AI’s Effectiveness: Can AI be prevented from exploiting vulnerabilities in existing data systems or stopped from acting on low-quality data? While these issues, coupled with the impact of failure, product liability, perpetual obsolescence and malicious use are concerns, the research holds that most of these near-term issues will be solved or mitigated over time.

As AI solutions begin to reach the talent technology marketplace, innovation is likely to continue at a rapid pace, said the report. Shaping it will be the tough challenges that talent organizations face and how they meet them. Some of those challenges involve the need to balance a large volume of repetitive tasks, such as screening applicants and reviewing résumés, with a need to apply human skills, such as interacting with candidates and employees, solving issues and creating strategies.

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“Ultimately, the goal of every HR and talent function is to rise above the fray of tactical day-to-day activity and gain a proverbial ‘seat at the table’ in developing the core business strategy,” said the report. “AI will contribute to HR’s voice in the business, not only by taking on much of the human burden associated with planning, talent acquisition, and talent management but also by facilitating more consistent processes and informed strategies along the way.”

Here to Stay

Artificial intelligence is no longer simply a concept or an academic exercise. It is part of our daily life, especially in the workplace. “AI is here,” said the report. “Machines can think on their own. They can win at chess, and they can change the way companies engage with people who drive their success. No confluence of innovative forces in history has come so close to replicating the capabilities of the human worker in both thought and action. Machines are still a long way from making people obsolete, but the technology is making its way into all parts of life. At some point, every individual and every business will encounter an AI-related choice.”

As a result, any organization that is involved in planning for workforce needs, establishing strategies, considering technologies, or simply having a conversation about the future, must make AI part of the discussion.

“Business leaders need to consider the workforce tasks that make up their processes today,” said the report. “Is there a possibility that those activities will be automated? If so, how will the business benefit, how will it re-focus, and how quickly can the company make changes happen? Organizations would do well to engage with partners who are using or exploring AI technologies today, and they must keep an eye on the competition.”

“Above all, talent leaders can no longer afford to ignore the trends or wait to be told what to do because regardless of the pace of change, success, or setbacks, the technologies of AI are now real-world forces, and they are here to stay.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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