The HR department of 2030: What the future holds for the profession
The HR department of the next decade will seem like a series of paradoxes. Data-infused yet still people focused. Immersed in technology in one company site but using legacy HR practices in another company site. Big picture, strategically-focused but operationally adept. A people function that sees technology across the business.
Anyone working in HR over the coming decade will have their work cut out for them.
Before discussing the future of human resources, understanding the differences between technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is important. Automation refers to the replacement of human work by a machine. Most of us are familiar with manufacturing work being done by machines. We all use self-service kiosks to check out at the convenience store. Artificial intelligence refers to machines responding to situations or events in ways that humans would respond. Machine learning takes this a step further. While artificial intelligence requires humans to code the machine responses, machine learning removes all human intervention. The machines learn from their own experiences.
These combined technologies have already transformed HR jobs and how businesses operate. Chatbots like Siri assist us in organizing our days. Algorithms crawl through data on the internet to help us find job applicants. Gamified selection tests yield vast amounts of performance-based data on applicants. Algorithms sift through compensable factors and help create grade and salary scales. Web bots and virtual assistants help employees navigate benefits. Virtual reality simulators assist our learning in a training environment. Wearable technology tracks performance data. Safety and health data feed into computers and produce automated dashboards and reports.
Currently robots and devices associated with automation improve in a generation in as quickly as eight years. Because artificial intelligence and machine learning are newer technologies, those improve more quickly but have a longer timeframe to mature. This technological cycle time has implications for the HR department of the future.
Workforce planning will become more automated in the future. A data scientist and an algorithm will account for myriad variables that factor into an organization’s staffing plan. Similarly scraped data from publicly available data – like LinkedIn and other social media platforms – and data tracked on applicants from grade school through adulthood will create more proactive recruiting opportunities for organizations. Interviews, especially early in the process, once conducted by humans will begin to shift toward automated chatbots, even hologram bots. A constant flow of employee performance data will funnel into databases, as chatbots will provide real time developmental performance feedback to employees. High fidelity virtual training simulators will all but remove human trainers from the training environment. These are not far off technological advances. Some companies already deploy these technologies now.
What the machines cannot replace – and will likely not replace for decades – is the need for humans to make decisions about the deployment of human resources. Thus HR professionals of the future must become better consumers of data to help their business partners make better decisions.
The real challenge for HR professionals of the future will be in those previously alluded to paradoxes. The spread of technologies will not occur evenly across industries or nations. In some cases parts of the same organization will not evenly adopt Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies across the entire business. This will give some a sense that work is happening quickly in some parts of the business but slowly in other parts of the business.
Thus HR professionals will have to become adept at working with business partners who work with different levels of technology. Some of those business units will move quickly and require fewer human resource needs, while other business units will operate slower, more traditional HR practices that require more human resource needs.
For HR professionals operating in multinational settings, they will face challenging strategic and operational realities. In technologically advanced nations HR professionals will work increasingly at the interface between humans and technology. In developing nations HR professionals will work in settings that will seem unchanged from today. This will stress any HR department’s capabilities to coordinate activities across countries that have not just different employment or commerce laws but different laws around the use of technologies.
Outplacement services become more important
By 2030, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be well under way. As technology displaces more jobs HR professionals will begin to dedicate more time to outplacement services for those displaced employees. The volume of that work will likely increase. As technology forces companies to reorganize, HR professionals will likely need to sharpen their change management skills to help companies navigate either a shrinking workforce or a rapidly changing workforce from a skills perspective. Technology, analytics and soft skills will be in high demand.
The mix of employees within an HR department will also change by 2030. Data scientists might join the team to develop algorithms that help in recruiting, compensation and performance management. Technologists might join the team, as chatbots and virtual assistants help with selection, benefits, performance management and training. HR professionals will need stronger strategic planning skills, as companies will need expertise in understanding the technology-human interface at work and how that interface advances companies’ missions.
Those HR departments that understand how technology affects the entire business across the business will provide considerable value to their organization.
Anthony Wheeler, pictured below, is dean of business administration, professor of management at Widener University and co-author of HR without people? Industrial evolution in the age of automation, AI and Machine Learning
HR professionals will have to become adept at working with business partners who work with different levels of technology. Some of those business units will move quickly and require fewer human resource needs, while other business units will operate slower, more traditional HR practices that require more human resource needs