THE workplace continues to evolve, changing our assumptions about the tasks we do, the tools we use to perform them and the ways in which we collaborate with our colleagues.

Consider a few statistics that suggest how quickly technology is changing the job market and the workplace:

  • 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 don’t exist today;
  • Currently available, technologies could replace 45% of human work today;
  • About half of decision-makers don’t know what their industries will look like in three years.

This uncertain future is placing HR departments under enormous strain, demanding that they become more agile at:

  • Forecasting skills businesses will need;
  • Sourcing the human resources needed to perform the work;
  • Enhancing employee engagement to retain the best talent;
  • Upskilling people to keep up with the rate of technology change;
  • Helping colleagues map out their careers in an unstable world.

This raises the question of how HR can partner with IT to help staff make the most of technology resources, as well as how HR can make better use of technology to achieve its own goals.

Lifelong, bite-sized learners

We are already seeing major disruptions in how people learn, thanks to technology. For example, most large businesses are using online and mobile learning to complement classroom-based training. In addition to formal training programmes, we are seeing a growing emphasis on on-demand interventions that give employees access to training and information at the moment it is needed.

It is not only training that is changing as a result of technology, but also recruitment, hiring, employee engagement and career development practices. Organisations are figuring out how to hire and develop the workforce of today, tomorrow and five years from now. Rather than hiring for specific skills, businesses need to look for well-rounded individuals with skills in several disciplines that bridge the gaps between departments and functions.

Global talent pool

A team working on a project or programme could be made up of not just internal employees, but also freelancers, contractors and skills sourced from on-demand talent marketplaces. Businesses can dip into globally diverse talent pools, hand-pick the skills they need from anywhere in the world and gather a highly experienced, specialised team. This is challenging for HR departments, which realise they will need to automate processes and make better use of their data if they are to become world-class talent hubs within the business.

Automation, however, is just the departure point for creating a data-driven HR function ready for the challenges of the digital age. Once HR processes are digitised, HR will benefit from access to reams of information it can use to make better decisions and serve the needs of job candidates, employees, managers and other stakeholders.

Data-driven HR

Access to data will empower HR to evolve into a data-driven function in much the same way as marketing already has. For example, the HR team will be able to examine data for historical trends and predictive insights into the business and the workforce, including:

  • Skills the business will need to support its future growth;
  • Where its most successful recruits come from;
  • Why employees leave;
  • Levers that are most successful in driving talent performance;
  • Employee satisfaction and engagement.

The disruption digital technology will bring is just beginning. HR departments and companies are only starting to come to grips with the impact of social media, cloud computing and collaborative tools like Slack, Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams. HR departments are going to face interesting questions in the years to come such as:

  • Just how much responsibility should they take for skilling up employees who may be displaced by automation?
  • How will people and machines work together, possibly with artificial intelligence (AI) supervisors taking the lead?
  • How to strike a balance between privacy and control when they can monitor employees 24/7?
  • How does HR use AI to offer better employee experiences and higher levels of efficiency?

Every HR officer will need to seize the opportunities today’s digital technologies offer to better serve the workforce and the business. Those that put an efficient digital backbone in place in the form of a modern HR management system will be well positioned to succeed, in whatever the future brings.

Debbie Tim is the regional director: People Business Partners for Sage Africa & Middle East.

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