AI and HR




In 2004, Professor Frank Levy from MIT and Professor Richard Murnane from Harvard published a detailed study of the job market, listing those professions most likely to undergo automation.


Truck driving was given as an example of a job that could not possibly be automated in the foreseeable future. Back then, busy roads seemed far too chaotic to be navigated by algorithms. But in less than a decade Google and Tesla could not only imagine this, but were actually making it happen. Whether we like it or not, AI has already revolutionised the way we live and work. And the pace of change shows no signs of slowing down.


To be clear, HR will not be affected by automation in the same way as truck driving. It will not put HR Managers and staff out of jobs. But it will almost certainly shift the focus of the work they do. Indeed, there seems no better meeting place for human and machine-based intelligence than in HR departments.


Ira Wolfe is a TEDx Speaker, Author, and expert in workforce and employment trends. He believes in order to survive a rapidly evolving business landscape, organisations must create synergy between AI and HR. The potential benefits are significant. In the absence of a heavy administrative burden, HR professionals can be freed up to focus of what really matters: human interaction.  


We caught up with Ira to get his thoughts on how AI can be used to help recruit, support, and develop a successful workforce.


Could you outline the impact of AI on the talent acquisition process?


This might sound trite but AI’s impact on talent acquisition will be both disruptive and revolutionary. For decades, companies have touted employees as their most valuable assets but managed them more like penny stocks. Borrowing a quote from one of my favourite people, David Green says, “you can’t build AI in HR if you suck at people data and analytics.”  In other words, the era of HR just being good enough and making recruitment and hiring decisions “by the seat of their pants” is ending. AI enables HR with the right tools to be more efficient, more strategic, more productive, and more predictable. Without AI (and people analytics) assisting HR, many organisations will just collapse under the weight of mismanagement, poor hiring decisions and turnover.

essential HR tools

How is AI helping improve candidate engagement?


I’m not sure AI itself is helping improve candidate engagement, at least not yet for most organisations. In fact, a better question might ask “How is the need to improve candidate engagement helping improve AI?” The candidate experience in most organisations is dysfunctional. The needs of the company and the demands of top talent are like two ships passing in the dark of night. Fortunately, many organisations are coming to grips with the realities of “Age of Googlization” and starting to “fix” candidate engagement. This need for agile and accurate management of talent from the first impression to career development is exposing a terrifying “readiness gap” in HR, unleashing awareness of the role AI can play and experimentation with ways to complement and enhance the human in HR.


As the role of automation continues to expand, which areas of HR will always necessitate human involvement and discretion?


What differentiates humans from machines comes down to skills such empathy, creativity, communication, and complex problem solving. Therefore, interviewing, coaching, mentoring, and development are all opportunities. Technology also has no ethics. But how it’s applied to decisions affecting our lives and others has huge implications. HR is positioned in the ideal place to be protectors of the human in human resources. Ironically, HR lately has become more machine-like than human with an emphasis on administration and compliance. It has itself so buried in forms and procedures, it has no time for human interaction.


Instead of utilising technology such as applicant tracking software to automate administrative tasks and enhance communication, HR unintentionally and foolishly relinquished its role to technology. People want and need empathy and communication. HR needs to step up and deliver it.  AI and automation can help HR make this happen but only if it embraces technology to automate what should be automated and do what machines can’t.


What are the risks of “falling behind the curve” in this area?


I see three risks.  The 1st is a practical one.  AI and automation are not products you purchase, flip a switch, and you’re off and running. AI requires experimentation. It takes time. It takes a mindset shift. It alters workflow. The AI ship has already sailed. The longer HR waits, the harder it will be to catch up. The 2nd risk is probably a progression of the 1st.  Without AI and automation, HR won’t have the time or resources to focus on improving the human experience. HR will become irrelevant.  Its critical functions – payroll, benefits, compliance -will be assumed by finance, operations, or even IT, leaving it a shell of what it could be.  And the 3rd risk leads to the extinction of the business.  For the foreseeable future, organisations will require humans. But without those humans performing work using uniquely human skills such as empathy, creativity, communication, and complex problem solving, the business itself will not be able to deliver its products or services productively or profitably. The bottom line is companies won’t be able to manage talent without AI and AI can’t function without humans.


What are your predictions for how HR will look in 2025?


That’s a really good question. It’s a difficult one to answer too as is any attempt to predict the future.  My biggest fear is that it still looks like it does today. If that’s the case, the results will be disastrous. The workplace will undoubtedly consist of more robots and machines working collaboratively with humans. It will be massively more complicated with multiple generations working side by side, gig workers making up an increasing percentage of workers, and wearable technologies and augmented reality integral parts of our everyday life. HR’s role in that 2025 workplace depends on how quickly they respond and effectively they adapt.


My hope is that AI will help HR make more intelligent employee selection, identify employee career development opportunities, assist managers in coaching others, reduce unconscious bias, eliminate gender pay equity, enhance inclusion, as well as monitor employee and candidate engagement in real-time. But to accomplish all that requires the adoption and advancement of people analytics.  If that actually comes to pass, then some group of people within the organisation needs to ensure our data is protected and analytics are transparent.


HR is in the perfect position to assume – or lose- that role. All these changes may just be the top of the iceberg too.  How quickly cryptocurrency alters how our data is captured, stored, and exchanged could blow up almost every conventional business model and process we know. And the impact of quantum computing is almost unfathomable.  Should either of these new technologies be online and adopted before 2025, what HR looks like is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned.