Peak Jobs and HR Automation

by Shane Granger

During a recent recruitment discussion on #NZLEAD I brought up the concept that not only could most of the recruitment process be automated but there was a body of evidence that was proving this methodology was now successfully competing with traditional (human) practices.

What quickly became apparent was that the HR and recruitment crowd partaking in the conversation were very uncomfortable with the idea of any sort of replacement but especially by robots. A follow-up review of the #NZLEAD Recap Recruitment Processes ignored any discussion on automated process and concentrated on human inputs only.

It’s not just the recruitment process that is susceptible to an augmentation and automation overhaul. Many components of the Human Resources role could and can be downsized via augmentation or replaced by automation. It might even be argued that after automating most of the payroll function away in the 1980’s that HR itself has reached its next ‘peak job’ phase as its functions get outsourced or further automated.

So here is my ‘Good Read Guide’ on the subject of HR automation in recent times. Got one you think I have missed? Shoot me a comment with a link as I’d love to include more HR automation stories.

HR Automation – Good Read Guide

Laurie Ruettimann: Cold Reading: Sylvia Browne, Amanda Berry & Recruiters

I thought I would get kicked off with an article that sums up the topic without realms of detail and given that it’s written by the Cynical Girl it’s also a very punchy start to my reading guide. Laurie suggests that the methodology of recruitment is little better than an “unsophisticated psychic trick”: and “that technology can solve for bias and discrimination in the hiring process”.

Naomi Bloom: HRM Analytics – Dashboards, Cockpits And Mission Control

1 - NaomiBloom_1992

One item that keeps coming up in my ongoing conversation with HR is that I believe all things can be measured (but not all things should be as you should look for value against effort). There is always lots of discussion about this in the HR space. Naomi Bloom believes that all things HR should be measured. In an earlier 2009 piece she stated:

“If the real purpose, the only purpose, of HRM is to achieve organizational outcomes, then we’d better be able to measure the effects of specific investments in HRM on those organizational outcomes. Otherwise, why would anyone trust us with a budget?”

I reached out via Twitter to Naomi Bloom, given that she has spanned the entire modern HR journey between old and new (the picture is a copy of her 1992 opus on the subject which she kindly sent me). She suggested the above recent analytics article as a primer. It’s worth a read given that analytics is a key augmentation step and who does robots better than NASA!

The Ladders: Keeping an eye on recruiting behavior

Here is a resume service provider using eye tracking technology to highlight where recruiters spend their “four to five minutes per resume”. Don’t think resume writing or reviewing can be automated…. Think about it as a series of transactions and then ask yourself, can each of these transactions become automated?

Fiona Smith (via the Australian Financial Review): Driven by data: moneyball recruitment takes away all the guesswork

On the subject of recruitment Carol Howard suggested this piece by Fiona Smith on using data and analytics to take the guess work out of the hiring process. The case study utilised is Sears Holdings Corporation which put all of its applicant data against its employee data and found that their “best employees did not come from their previous talent pool”. If robots aren’t in the process of taking over the job of recruiters, big data is certainly going to assist in the downsizing of that role.

John Sumser: The perils of Automation

Before I leave you with links to a HR future that might not need (much less) humans in it I came across this thoughtful 2012 piece by John Sumser. Very wisely John suggests that “Automation strips the fuzzy stuff out of relationships to turn them into transactions. In that process, things get much more efficient. It’s less clear that we understand what we’re leaving behind.

David Creelman (via Unending Automation

Maybe the role of HR won’t be in looking after your current employee’s but assisting those who are technologically displaced prior to their own exit. David Creelman suggests:

“Many countries do not require organizations to protect workers from technological change. If self-driving vehicles can replace your truckers then perhaps you can just send them a note wishing them luck finding another job. However, ethically we have a responsibility to at least inform workers about their longer-term prospects and preferably find ways to help. Ways to help could include early retirement, job-sharing, or retraining. HR should explore all those options.”

Steve Boese: Virtual HR, or, ‘Did you ask the HR chatbot’

2 - Ivy

My final link (and my favourite) is from Steve Boese, not only a HR technology professional but also someone with a keen interest in how technology is transforming work. In this blog Steve looks at Intel’s incorporation of Ivy, the virtual HR agent who at the time of publishing could respond in 4,331 ways to staff interactions. On the subject of HR automation Steve states:

“Most of us, (admittedly me too), say of think things like ‘My job is just too complex and ever-changing for it to even be outsourced to a less-expensive human (much less a robot).’

The criticism of this potential HR future was summed up nicely by David Gordon, a recruiter, who replied to my original tweet/link with “@gmggranger it is a good read – still not fit for purpose for recruitment (yet?!), Ivy answers factual questions, recruitment is subjective”.

I’ll agree with you David (at the moment). Yet, a journey starts with a single step…

Final Thoughts

Human Resources are being asked to assist in the transition of human workforces to augmented or automated workplaces. From automated trucks in the mines, DIY checkouts at the supermarket or robotics augmenting people on the factory floor every industry is under increasing competitive pressure.

Yet HR itself seems totally against a conversation about HR automation.

I get it. You’re a knowledge worker and the things that you do for the organisation are just too complex to be replaced by SkyNet.

But maybe its time for HR to review this thinking. As Steve Boese states:

But it also seems likely that given enough time, access to ever-improving technologies, and the right economic incentives, there are enterprising people and organizations that even if they couldn’t completely automate or robot-icize everything you do, chances are a fair amount of even what we creative types do is already routine enough that the robots could do a passable, if not better (and cheaper and will less of a bad attitude), than we do.”

The kind of hollowing out of HR, last seen when payroll was automated from the 1980’s is already starting to impact on the HR function and recruitment seems to be the current automation focal point.

Better start getting involved in the conversation people!

It’s going to happen with or without you.


Acknowledgements: In an effort to shine some light on this subject I started tweeting HR automation stories from various writers. My twitter-sphere colleague Michael Carty of XpertHR suggested it might be good to compile these into a single resource. Great idea Michael and I hope you like the post!

Special Note: For those who have not read any of my previous articles on peak jobs and need a little background. ‘Peak Jobs’ is the idea that technology is replacing jobs faster than it’s creating them. For those more technically inclined it can also be attributed to the finalisation of the increased growth in average output (and income) per labour unit due to technological change since the 1820’s as put forward by Robert Solow (1956) or the commencement of technological unemployment as put forward by John Maynard Keynes (in the 1930’s) without the opportunity to transition into new roles as productivity increases but global employment declines.