Here is HR’s Chance to Build the Workforce of the Future

The impact of technology on work will be huge, and HR execs will play a strategic role.
By: | August 1, 2019 • 2 min read

Artificial intelligence and other technologies will have a huge impact on the way work will be done. Although they will boost productivity and economic growth, they also will force millions of workers to change careers or upgrade their skills. Consider that at least one-third of job tasks in 60 percent of occupations could be automated, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s Dec. 2017 report Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation.

This finding coincides with the results of other reports. By 2020, for example, the 2018 World Economic Forum report projects that 54 percent of employees across all industries will require significant retraining. Despite such widespread predictions, many global tech CEOs are sitting still. Only 42 percent plan to upskill the majority of their workforce, reveals a 2019 KPMG report – The future of HR in the technology sector.

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Perhaps just as surprising is that almost 70 percent of HR tech executives recognize the need for workforce transformation but only half have a work plan in place, says Rebecca George, director of people and change practice at KPMG, a global professional services network in San Diego.

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Unfortunately, not many – 35 percent – feel very confident about HR’s actual ability to transform the workforce. Likewise, HR tech leaders disagree with three generations of technology professionals about AI’s impact on jobs. Only 47 percent of HR executives believe AI will create more jobs than it eliminates compared to 65 percent of millennials in technology, 88 percent of Generation X tech leaders and 96 percent of Baby Boomer tech leaders.

“The alarm that goes off for me is are we thinking too narrowly about technology and workforce transformation?” George asks. “This is a huge opportunity for HR executives to influence and facilitate a whole different strategic conversation.”

She says HR professionals must build a more strategic mindset across the entire workforce; embrace upskilling and new technologies; redefine employee roles that integrate human and digital labor and remove employee barriers to accessing technology.

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They can kick-start this process by helping senior leadership re-imagine the type of workforce needed to achieve company goals, she says. Their challenge will be persuading some leaders to hire new skills before achieving certain growth targets.

“HR needs to be a change leader, not just a change agent,” George says, adding that HR executives who overcome “C-suite hesitancy” can elevate their status to a strategic business adviser or partner. “Re-translate what workforce means. Ask how you can do even more because of the workforce you are able to build and command.”

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Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected]