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Changes Afoot in a New Era

South China Morning Post – Classified Post HR Yearbook 2017

20th Dec 2017

Technology such as artificial intelligence and big data is drastically revolutionising the labour landscape, and brings opportunities for companies, not least in the HR function, writes Chris Davis.

From talent acquisition to onboarding, training and employee well-being, employers are increasingly relying on technology, such as big data and artificial intelligence (AI), for organisational analytics and talent management.

But, while some people complain that technology impedes human interaction, many technologies used in the human resources sector actually facilitate it, according to Caleb Baker, meaning director for Asia-Pacific and emerging markets at talent acquisition and management services firm Alexander Mann Solutions.

For example, the use of a chat interface, better known as chatbot, can help early candidate engagement.

Chatbots help to streamline the traditional complicated recruitment procedure through automation, explains Baker,

who is an organisational psychologist by training. He says the process can also give candidates a customised experience by providing them with tips, guidance and reminders. Chatbots personalizse each conversation based on an analysis of the candidate’s application documents and other information provided. Chatbots are also able to interact with candidates via Facebook messenger including sending them details about jobs where they could be a good fit. As part of the personalised recruitment process, chatbots can facilitate interview scheduling and play a part in the onboarding journey.

Although chatbots are big facilitators of these functions, we believe that HR jobs are not being replaced, but rather the technology enables people to perform more meaningful tasks, Baker says.

While new technological applications in the HR field are exciting, the profession should not get too carried away with digital transformation. For example, regarding the use of robots, the focus should be on how to balance the roles of both the robot and human worker, using technology as an enhancement rather than a replacement, to make the most of human ability and robotic capacity. As an example, Baker says an Alexander Mann Solutions robot named Doris conducts repetitive labour-intensive document information transfers that would take a team of humans months to process. Another robot called Ralph takes care of daily activity tracking and automates reports with real-time insights and performance.

According to Wen Wan, a senior consultant with Willis Towers Watson, though employers can draw from a sophisticated toolbox of technology solutions to help them with talent management, they still need to ensure the company’s talent acquisition function properly determines the job competencies for each role and measures a candidate’s potential performance before making a job offer. Frequently, says Wan, there is a mismatch between the job description and the actual job requirements.

“Employers must identify the skills they need for strategic functions and ensure their recruitment is tailored to attract the candidates that offer the best fit,” Wan says.

Online situational judgment tests, which are specifically designed games based on the actual realities and employee would face in the workplace, are one way of identifying a candidate’s strengths and skills. The realistic job preview allows candidates to understand and respond to the job specifics at the early stage of recruitment. The process allows the candidate and potential employer to decide whether to move to the next stage of the recruitment process.

“Situational judgment tests can help employers find talented candidates online, making their recruitment processes more efficient.” says Wan. She also notes that while employers have a raft of technology options to engage and personalise the recruiting experience, jobseekers often complain they are frustrated by a lack of response to applications.

With technology providing options for professionals to offer their skills and knowledge on a self-employed or freelance basis, also known as the “gig economy”, through platforms such as Upwork, Outsourcely and Toptal, it is important for employers to cultivate good working relationships with best-fit service providers, advises Simon Gluyas, employee insights practice leader at Willis Towers Watson.

Employers need to become comfortable with the idea that their service providers can be located anywhere in the world. At the same time, it is also important for them to verify the qualifications, experience and the working practices of the professionals they engage.

“This is an area that platform operators are working on and we are seeing more digital tools that help employers to verify the credentials of the people they are hiring,” Gluyas says.

As technology and its various digitised applications rapidly transform the workplace, international independent consulting firm Sia Partners believes employers have a lot to gain by addressing the social impact of digital transformation in the workplace. For example, they can help employees understand and appreciate the opportunities digital transformation can offer in terms of diversifying their career opportunities.

Julie Lamy, manager, HR and transformation practice at Sia Partners, says it is important that a level of “digital appetite” and acceptance is established to help employees take ownership of the changes they face. Frequently, notes Lamy, the process and impact of digital transformation is both misunderstood and underestimated, especially the social impact that technology transfer processes can have on the workforce. Without a framework to help employees take ownership of the changes they face, organisations may find their digital transformation efforts are less successful than they would have hoped.

According to Lamy, HR can act as the strategic driver to promote a digital culture across all levels of an organisation. “The HR function can help smooth digital transformation by identifying digital champions to stimulate cross-discipline conversations and share insights,” she says. This also opens up a valuable communication channel to gather feedback from employees and transmit it to management.

To stimulate a positive image of digital transformation, Michelle Lam, manager, HR and transformation practice, Sia Partners, suggests that a review for each current job position is a useful way to establish which jobs are likely to disappear and to identify where necessary the steps to take to change or incorporate the job function into the digital transformation business model. In addition, Lam says a workforce planning review can identify the types of training, tutoring and mentoring needed to help organisations and employees work together to recap the benefits digital transformation can achieve.

Ada Choi, senior director at CBRE Research, Hong Kong, believes the city’s agility and the adaptability of its economy means it is favourably positioned to benefit from the rise of new technologies. “From where we stand, the overall impact of technology is a positive development that will increase efficiency and automate many functions that are currently prone to error,” Choi says. By its very nature, the workforce will always be affected by periods of rapid technological advancement, and this cycle will again follow the trend. Choi predicts that, in the meantime, industries will need human skills that evolve around technology, particularly those that have a higher element of tactility or which are less routine and structured.


Brave new world of work

While multiple studies document how artificial intelligence (AI), robots and technologies of different types are going to swallow up jobs, technological advancements are also predicted to reshape existing jobs and create new career opportunities.

Wen Wan, senior consultant with Willis Towers Watson, notes that throughout history, jobs have disappeared and new ones have taken their place or they have undergone a drastic metamorphosis. Wan cites the example of secretaries who were relied on for their typing skills before the arrival of the office computer.

“We still have secretaries, but the job they do is considerably different from the job they did 40 years ago,” notes Wan. However, she cautions that more jobs will inevitably become automated over the coming years, and some a lot more quickly than others.

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that, by 2025, robots could replace between 40 and 75 million jobs worldwide. With jobs in the finance, insurance, legal and even the architectural industries under threat from AI, Wan says the jobs that are less likely to be affected by technology are those which involve skills such as curiosity, creativity, resilience and critical thinking, all of which are hard to replicate.

“Never before has the concept of lifelong learning been so important to enable people to acquire new skills so they can be productive throughout their careers,” says Wan.

As traditional jobs disappear or are reshaped, new job titles will become familiar, including civilian drone controller, shale gas engineer and space tourist pilot. There is already demand for digital image consultants, digital marketers, sustainability consultants and alternative energy developers. AI is also fuelling new jobs in fintech, customer experience design, cybersecurity and e-commerce. Vertical specific roles also address robotics and machine learning in the healthcare, auto, retail and energy sectors.



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