Can robots replace HR?

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ANGELO ARBOLEDA

Ask any recruiter what could be considered the usual challenges of his or her job, and this is bound to come up: managing large volumes of applications and responding to every job seeker. While it is best practice to provide feedback to all applicants, the task can be overwhelming when there are hundreds of interested people per posting and with only a handful of recruitment officers available.

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Eyal Grayevsky and James Maddox came face to face with this problem when they founded FirstJob, a San Francisco-based online marketplace for early-career job seekers. Putting recruiters from Fortune 500 companies in touch with applicants, Grayevsky and Maddox realized that an overwhelming proportion of applications “went dark”—that is, job seekers never heard back from would-be employers. The situation was not only frustrating for applicants but also potentially damaging to the reputation of the companies.

This prompted the creation of Mya, an artificial intelligence chat bot (short for robot) that makes sure no applicants fall through the cracks.

Mya can start a conversation with a candidate the moment an application is submitted, asking questions based on qualifications to facilitate the initial screening. The chat bot can also answer applicants’ questions in real time about the culture of the company they’re interested in or about the post they’re applying for, for example. For employers, Mya can help sort through résumés to find the most qualified candidates.

This is just one of the ways automation and artificial intelligence are disrupting the world of human resources (HR).

In the article, “Can robots replace HR?,” Deloitte HR specialists Michael Gretczko and Rajesh Attra look at the circumstances that are driving the appeal of robotic process automation (RPA) and other cognitive technologies from the HR perspective.

For starters, organizations are expecting more from their HR teams without necessarily increasing their budgets. RPA can help increase capacity by taking over repetitive, administrative activities, thereby allowing HR professionals to focus on higher-level tasks, such as coaching or developing employee engagement plans.

Cisco, for example, developed a voice command app that can answer a new hire’s basic HR questions about vacation policies or health benefits, among other things.

In line with this expectation for HR to do more, organizations also want to see more efficient, more responsive HR teams. When it comes to accuracy and speed, RPA can do a better job than humans, reducing backlogs and processing errors in, say, contract management or regulatory reporting, thereby making for more satisfied customers.

These developments don’t necessarily mean robots will replace HR completely, but HR has to evolve and explore ways of harnessing this technology. Gretczko and Attra see basic RPA as just the beginning of “a massive wave of digital technological advancement,” meaning bots will just get smarter, capable of taking on more complex tasks. Early adopters will have the advantage of establishing a solid foundation from which they can consider more advanced uses and become innovation leaders.

Last year, a Danish robotics firm opened shop here in the Philippines, buoyed by strong growth in the country’s manufacturing sector. As an immediate plan, the company set out to introduce industrial robots to the local market – robot arms, for example, that can handle screw driving or labeling. But the company’s tagline suggests a more ambitious future: “Automate almost anything.”

With this kind of spirit driving technological developments nowadays, should firms start deploying mechanical interviewers, training automatons and robotic HR counselors? Maybe not yet.

Robots will have a seat at the table, but they should coexist with their flesh-and-bone counterparts. After all, the most successful and best-loved organizations are still those that, through constant human interaction, make their people feel all fired up and genuinely valued. And to a promising recruit, a star employee, or a team member that needs help, perhaps nothing says, “you’re not that important” more loudly than having to open up to a cold, faceless machine.

The writer is a senior manager for Human Resources at Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd.—a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited—comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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