Enabling Technology

Coming of Age

Artificial intelligence is showing its power to automate and augment HR services for the better.

By Simon Kent

The march of AI into the realm of HR is unstoppable. According to Jessica Brown, director of strategic partnerships at SaaS platform Faethm, technology is already being used extensively to automate and augment HR activities, and the trend is unlikely to slow down any time soon.

Currently HR is least impacted by AI compared to other parts of the business. Faethm estimates 7.5% of HR processes have the potential to be automated in the next five years, compared to 12.2% across the UK workforce overall.

“The rate of augmentation is much higher though,” she adds, “at 18% compared to 8.5% across the whole workforce. This suggests technology has a big role to play in complementing the work done by HR professionals across the UK. If it’s done effectively, it could result in a productivity gain of up to 8% across all HR departments.”

Frances Ibe, VP of product at SmartRecruiters confirms the pandemic has increased demand for AI-enabled HR tech, particularly within the recruitment function. More roles, more applications, and the need to reduce time to hire and bias have driven companies to make the move to AI.

“TA teams sifting through thousands of applications for each job role is incredibly time consuming and delays hiring,” says Ibe. “Bringing in AI-enabled tech eliminates this challenge by narrowing down the best candidates for the position by cross-checking experience with the necessary qualifications.”

Ibe shares significant results for businesses such as eCommerce technology provider Sana, which improved time to hire and managed to fill 90% of their roles on time and budget. Colliers International real estate reduced their dependency on external agencies from 80% to 5% in the first year of using AI, whilst also securing an increase in new hires volume by 47% in line with their growth targets.

“In terms of what’s next for AI technology in HR, I believe we will see an increase in the adoption of AI to remove recruitment bias,” Ibe says. “More than ever before, companies are aware of their shortcomings in diversity and inclusion and amongst our clients, it’s top of mind as a challenge to overcome in recruitment. To remove recruitment bias, AI can assess data points around successful employees and objectively determine the best hires in a talent pool.”

Certain recruitment is a volume process with repetitive decision-making and that presents fertile ground for AI. Approaches like this is where the technology has arrived for good. Online supermarket business Ocado is leveraging AI alongside digital assessment tools to save time for candidates and hiring teams within the groups’ graduate recruitment process. The business has deployed Aon’s AI-driven video interviewing platform, and in the first year, the business experienced tangible benefits: 300% growth in applicants and realising a gender split of 53% female to 47% male candidates, an improvement from the 36% female, 64% male hires in the previous year.

“Diversity is essential, not least because we’re growing and evolving from a retail to a technology business,” says Henry Clendon, emerging talent adviser for the Ocado Group, adding that the new system enables the business to look at behavioural qualities instead of just academic qualifications. “We don’t just ask for senior software engineers, we want graduates who can grow with us, building a long career,” he explains.

At every stage however, AI is not simply being deployed without forethought. Matt Hurley, director of service strategy and innovation at Shared Services Connected Limited (a joint venture between the UK Cabinet Office and Sopra Steria), says many HR departments are seeking to strike a balance between technology and human interaction.

“Too much technology and employees face losing a personalised experience,” he notes, “whilst a lack of technology can also bring frustrations in other areas such as too much admin-heavy, monotonous work.” Hurley explains getting this balance is crucial but there is no hard and fast rule as to what it should look like. “There needs to be a level of discovery to ascertain what works and then scale automation as needed,” he says.

“We will see more of a blended approach between people and technologies such as AI and robots emerge in the workplace,” he continues. “However, implementation does not mean overnight success. Leaders will need to outline how technology will be used to support existing functions such as HR – and not replace them – in order to get buy-in across the business.” Hurley also says specific training will be required to equip workforces with the skills they need to work with AI tools effectively and productively.

Taking an equally pragmatic view to current trends, Tom Lakin, director of innovation for Resource Solutions, says there has been more discussion of AI in HR than actual widespread adoption. That said, he also believes the technology is improving—and at a rapid pace. “We’re seeing massive improvements in the accuracy of AI and we’re already seeing that AI is increasingly adding value to broader aspects of HR,” he says.

Going forward, Lakin recommends that HR leaders consider using AI for any HR process that is repeatable. One key for AI success is to treat the technology like a new employee rather than a piece of software: “Nurture it. Teach it. Don’t ignore it,” he says. “You can’t just plug in AI tech and leave it; it needs ongoing love and attention to unlock its benefits and to minimise risk.”

But when done right, HR can reap the rewards. “In recruitment, volume hiring has seen significant usage of AI and AI-powered chatbots to screen, assess, and schedule interviews for candidates,” says Lakin. “When done well, this use of AI benefits candidates through faster 24/7 support and benefits HR leaders by facilitating efficient recruitment funnels even during spikes in demand. The challenge here for HR leaders is to ensure that the automated process has been audited for bias, meets ethical guidelines, and improves candidate experience.”

Lakin is adamant that HR should keep itself informed and up to date with the latest trends and possibilities within AI-powered HR tech. And naturally, he says, it is always important to seek out information regarding actual performance and worth in the workplace, rather than just looking for a silver bullet.

Tags: Enabling Technology

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