The Unspoken Concern of Automation in the Workplace

When the topic of automation is brought up in relation to the job market, the arguments tend to repeat themselves. One view is from the doomsayers who suggest robots are going to steal all the jobs away with the contrarian position being somewhere between a robotopia (where machines do all the work and humanity is sustained on a Universal Basic Income) and an Iron Man scenario where tech and humanity operate simpatico. I think to some extent all workers will become Tony Stark with our iPhone or variant wearable technology augmenting our intelligence. If that seems far-fetched, consider the last time you dialed a phone instead of commanding Siri or tapping the name of a desired party. (God help us all if we wander off lost on a roadtrip without the aid of GPS.) As the new status quo of office robots and automation encroaches, it strikes me as odd that no one seems to be voicing the next great worker concern. If automation can eliminate certain tasks for a certain worker by X percent then, should that worker have his compensation reduced accordingly?

I do not have a background in benefits and compensation analysis but, I think that such is an argument that will be made in the near future. Lately, I have been thinking about this from various angles. Pardon my ramblings as I share my thoughts.

IS IT FAIR?

From the employer’s perspective, I consider the amount of money spent on technology designed to make my workforce more efficient. If the tech does as intended and reduces the daily grind by so much, is a reduction in future salary fair? Conversely, if workers are doing less of one type of work, does that mean they will be doing more of another? If so, would it be unfair to reduce their salaries? How would one qualify a percentage of work in order to make a right assessment?

DOES IT AFFECT THE VALUE OF THE EMPLOYEE?

If there are tasks that can be safely delegated to robots then, it stands to reason that the work automation cannot conquer is of higher value. Does that higher value offset the percentage of work done by robots? I wish I knew. What I do speculate though is that the more work is automated, the value of the worker decreases if they do not acquire new skills. This is why I think the most competitive companies are those with the most robust training organizations. In addition to improving your existing labor force, it also improves retention. A quick aside…

According to a recent survey by the career platform The Muse, 58% of its largely millennial user base said they plan to change jobs this year. What they are searching for is learning and growth opportunities, as well as work-life balance, according to Muse co-founder and CEO Kathryn Minshew.

IF AUTOMATION REDUCES SALARIES, WHAT THEN?

I think if automation reduces salaries across the board, there will be an even more significant upswing in gig workers. Said gig workers will become a key option to companies who do not have a robust training program and cannot remain competitive waiting for the upskilling of their workforce. As an example, consider India which is predicted to have a highly significant non-employee workforce for its companies over the next few years. In fact, to quote The Economic Times

The use of non-employee talent, or employees not on the rolls of organisations, is expected to grow dramatically in India over the next three years, according to the findings of a survey by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

At the same time, full-time employees’ share of the total workforce is expected to drop 3.3 percentage points in India and 4.1 percentage points globally over the next three years, stated ‘The 2019 Pathways to Digital Enablement Survey’.

“There are two things increasingly happening in work. First is work is increasingly being pulled out of the organisation and being done elsewhere and then being brought in. The second is the growing plurality of means of getting work done,” Willis Towers Watson managing director Ravin Jesuthasan said. “Today, business leaders have a lot of choices on how they get work done. Automation is just one of the different options for them. The various other options could include sending work to talent marketplace, tapping gig workers, using volunteers, etc.,” he added.

The non-employee workforce in India that is seen growing in the next three years includes free agent workers (15%), parttime reduced hour (32%), worker on loan from other organisation (3%) and free agents on talent platforms (230%), the survey said.

I think that HUGE percentage of free agents being utilized by talent platforms is in response to the demands of worker flexibility and the booming gig economy. As such, I would not be surprised if more talent platforms debuted around HR freelance jobs or some other niche.

Another possibility resulting from automation reducing salaries, is the likely trend of companies tying year-end bonuses and worker performance evaluations to future potential. Traditional models postulate that if you did a good job last year then you will do a good job next year so a raise will reward you and give incentive to remain. But if automation is reducing the need for certain skills and reducing compensation to boot then, wouldn’t it make more sense to rate performance based on future potential? IBM thinks so. Using artificial intelligence (AI), Watson Analytics looks at an employee’s experiences and projects to infer the potential skills and qualities each person might have to serve IBM in the future. Watson also scours IBM’s internal training system to see if an employee has gained new skills. Managers then take Watson’s assessment rating into account as they make bonus, pay and promotion decisions. One more quote from the Economic times…

“Traditional models said if you were a strong performer in your current job that was the singular way that you got a promotion,” said Nickle LaMoreaux, vice president for compensation and benefits at IBM. “Well, we certainly still care about performance,” she said. But that now includes hypothetical future performance, too. IBM claims Watson has a 96 percent accuracy rate, as compared to IBM’s internal analysis with HR experts. The company spot-checks employee performance against its predictions.

Historically, employers used past accomplishments as the sole metric for compensation decisions, premised on the idea that the past is prologue. The method worked when job tasks stayed relatively static over time, but “the half-life of skills is getting shorter and shorter,” said LaMoreaux. What employees could do yesterday matters less than what they can potentially do tomorrow

Okay, just in case I lost you in my verbosity, let me sum things up like this…

  • If automation does X percent of the work, should workers be paid X percent less? I don’t know. I predict it will be a hot debate topic in the near future and within companies worldwide.
  • Workers who do not learn new skills will be less valuable in the workplace. As a result, job-hopping will continue and gig working will increase because people want to retain and/or increase their value.
  • The most competitive companies have robust training programs and will leverage them to retain their staff.
  • Companies will increase their reliance on gig workers in response to demands for worker flexibility and to remain competitive.
  • Worker raises will be tied to the future potential inherent in new skills learned. Welcome to the new normal!

Of course, I could be way off base. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Podcast: Innovative Recruiting Strategies

A low employment rate is great for the USA economy but, extremely challenging for companies on the hunt for talent.  When talent is scarce, companies have to be creative when finding qualified, interested and available candidates. In episode 2 of the “World of Work” series, three case studies of companies who successfully experimented with their recruiting strategies are explored. It is sponsored by ClickIQ, the award winning, automated job advertising platform. Sources cited in this podcast can be found here.

Podcast: Blue Collar Workers are Hard to Find

This is the premiere episode in a series called – “The World of Work,” a new podcast series sharing trends and developments in today’s labor market. The topic in this first episode is “Blue Collar Workers are Hard To Find.” It begins with a discussion of the talent scarcity in the blue collar industry and continues with an exploration of innovative ways companies have filled their open positions by finding talent in atypical places. It is sponsored by ClickIQ, the award winning, automated job advertising platform. Sources cited in this podcast can be found here.

The Evolution of The Recruiter

Welcome to the first in a series of articles under the umbrella – “The World of Work.” The World of Work is a series of articles, podcasts and videos discussing trends and developments in today’s labor market. It is sponsored by ClickIQ – an award winning, automated job advertising platform and co-produced by you, the reader.  So be sure to leave a comment on what topics should be explored, news that should be discussed and anything else that will make “The World of Work” series, something you look forward to consuming every time its published. All that being said, read on. 

THE EVOLUTION OF THE RECRUITER 

If one wanted to witness the evolution of recruiting, all one would have to do is review job descriptions of the past and analyze what parts could be automated and consider what tasks could be added. I was curious so, I did a Google search for recruiter jobs and restricted the results to the year – 2010. I found a classic Monster job description of a Recruiter role and made an analysis. 

I thought the following job duties from the 2010 Recruiter job description could be automated in part or in whole. 

  • Builds applicant sources by researching and contacting community services, colleges, employment agencies, recruiters, media, and internet sites; providing organization information, opportunities, and benefits; making presentations; maintaining rapport.
  • Determine applicant requirements by studying job description and job qualifications.
  • Attracts applicants by placing job advertisements; contacting recruiters, using newsgroups and job sites.
  • Arranges management interviews by coordinating schedules
  • Pre-Screening  applicants on consistent set of qualifications [ie. Chatbots, of course]
  • Comparing qualifications to job requirements [ie. Resume ranking in ATS]

And I would also add to this list of duties that could be automated with the following:

  • Offer Creation  
  • Resume Parsing
  • De-duping Databases
  • ATS Updating
  • Personality and Skills assessments

Some of the duties I thought were out of the purview of the modern recruiter and more likely to be handled by a recruiter coordinator; such as:

  • Arranges travel, lodging, and meals; escorting applicant to interviews; arranging community tours.
  • Manages new employee relocation by determining new employee requirements; negotiating with movers; arranging temporary housing; providing community introductions.

The remainder of the job duties I thought were still in play with today’s recruiter. 

  • Establishes recruiting requirements by studying organization plans and objectives; meeting with managers to discuss needs.
  • Determines applicant qualifications by interviewing applicants; analyzing responses; verifying references
  • Evaluates applicants by discussing job requirements and applicant qualifications with managers; interviewing applicants on consistent set of qualifications.
  • Improves organization attractiveness by recommending new policies and practices; monitoring job offers and compensation practices; emphasizing benefits and perks.
  • Updates job knowledge by participating in educational opportunities; reading professional publications; maintaining personal networks; participating in professional organizations.
  • Avoids legal challenges by understanding current legislation; enforcing regulations with managers; recommending new procedures; conducting training. [i.e. Not asking illegal interview questions; adhering to fair hiring practices]
  • I do not know of any recruiters that managed an intern program.  I would think such would be a duty of a manager. 

When it came to the Recruiter skills and qualifications, all of the items cited were very much in play today: “Phone Skills, Recruiting, Interviewing Skills, People Skills, Supports Diversity, Employment Law, Results Driven, Professionalism, Organization, Project Management and Judgment.”

However, I would not cease the job description after mentioning the requirements from 2010 as so much more is, or should be required of recruiters, in 2019 and beyond. Most notably, the following should be considered:

  • Recruiters are relationship managers, negotiating with hiring managers over candidate requirements and what the talent supply allows. Moreover, persuading candidates to consider opportunities when they are already gainfully employed and/or when they are unfamiliar with the company the recruiter represents. Ultimately, Recruiters are “Closers” being adept at managing a shifting landscape driven by economic realities, company mandates and expectations from all concerns that may or may not be realistic. 
  • Recruiters are brand agents, monitoring what is said about the employer they represent and responding to feedback online and during the interview process. They are also careful to represent themselves as company advocates, showcasing their involvement in company events and community involvement on their social media; for potential candidates to find. 
  • Recruiters have an instinctive eye for talent that can read between the lines of a resume and make reasonable assumptions of cultural fit and unique opportunities for placing someone who might be open to changing careers by utilizing their skillsets in a new industry. 
  • Recruiters are also optimal at time management, being able to discern from hiring manager responses, which jobs should take priority in their efforts. If they can reasonably detect that a requisition is not a hot priority, then they can allocate more efforts in things life community building and developing a referral pipeline from candidates they have interviewed in the past.

All to say, a recruiter in 2019 has somewhat of an advantage over those recruiters based in 2010; based in part on the technology at their disposal. The technology does not remove the human element needed to perform such tasks as candidate engagement, relationship management and exercising judgement. It does however, free up the recruiter’s time to do more of it and thus, make more hires quickly and more efficiently.