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Automation nation - how can HR prepare?

 

February 8, 2018

Automation has risen very quickly as an issue in the employment space, with technology making huge leaps forward in recent years. Now, faced with the very real prospect of artificial intelligence, bots and drones infiltrating the workplace, understanding and preparing for the impact this change will have on jobs and talent, has become a matter of some urgency for employers.

We took the opportunity to look more deeply into the issue as part of The Workforce View in Europe 2018, to find out how employees are feeling about the prospect of automation. We discovered that nearly a third (28%) of the workforce is indeed worried that their job will be automated in the future, with 15% believing it will happen in five years, and over a quarter (28%) estimating around ten.

With these relatively short timescales to consider, HR has the task of planning for a world where a significant portion of jobs are no longer done by people. This raises important questions around whether these employees will take on other roles elsewhere, how skillsets will evolve and what new talent will be needed.

The Workforce View found that over a third of respondents (37%) say their organisation is already upskilling employees, however almost half (48%) say this isn’t happening. So, what can HR be doing now to make sure they’re ready for what lies ahead?

  • Swot up on the technology: You don’t need to be able to build it, but it’s becoming more and more important for HR professionals to be up to speed on the tools that could revolutionise their industry. That means reading up on how it works, what it can do, and being able to communicate about it to peers and employees.
  • Be central to the discussion: There are board discussions happening about these issues right now, and HR needs to be central to those. Automation is a massive change management challenge, that must be orchestrated carefully from the outset if it is to be successful.
  • Open and transparent communication: With employees feeling uncertain about the future, good internal communication is more important than ever. That means keeping staff informed about future plans for the organisation, to ensure there are no nasty surprises.
  • Implement in phases: While a lot of the reports about automation paint an extreme picture, in reality change will be a gradual process. So, start small and work up, giving staff the opportunity to get used to new technologies one step at a time.
  • Upskilling and reskilling staff: AI and robotics don’t automatically mean fewer human workers, but the skillsets required are likely to shift. In some cases, workers will need more technology expertise, while in others there will be more of a focus on interpersonal skills. Try to plan in advance for these changes, and ensure staff receive the necessary training and development.

Automation is happening now and is only going to accelerate in the years ahead. So, make sure your organisation – and your people – don’t get left behind.

 

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