The Augmented Workforce

Ten or even five years ago, the idea of working alongside and interacting with artificial intelligence on a daily basis would have been put in the same vein as flying cars and time travel. Now, Cognitive and Ai technologies aren't impossibilities or far in the future – they’re already here, and we need to get ready.

By Alexandra Nott

Deloitte's Human Capital Consulting practice recently explored this exciting area in a series of events around New Zealand that focused on the impact these technologies will have on the way we work, who does the work, and what HR practitioners can do to prepare.

Our international guests included:

  • David Mallon - who leads the research team at Bersin by Deloitte. David shared with us the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends for 2017, with a particular focus on the future of work, the future of the workforce, and the future of HR.
  • Cameron Pitt - a Human Capital Partner in our Australian practice. Cameron shared his current experience working on the proof of concepts for AI in the Australian public sector.

Our future workforce

This year, 41 percent of the 10,000 HR leaders and business partners who took part in the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report said they have made significant progress in adopting Cognitive and Ai technologies. However, less than 20 percent of the executives surveyed globally report that they are prepared for the impact this will have on their people.

Cameron has seen these changes play out with the Australian Navy and the Public Service Commission - organisations that have been experimenting with the way technology fits in with their existing, human workforce. He spoke of a new kind of workforce model where people, automated assistants, cognitive assistants and Ai sit next to one another in both the organisation chart and within the network of teams within an organisation. Cam has seen huge benefits come out of this new framework - working with automation and Ai means we can work at a rate that is up to 70% faster, with enhanced quality assurance and improved compliance.

Human beings doing human jobs

Most businesses approach the topic of Ai and robotics either with an element of fear (Will I still have a job in 5 years? Am I prepared for a new pace of working?) or with cynicism, believing the work they do is too difficult or important to be replaced by a computer. The transition to the augmented workforce will upend our idea of what it means to work and how an organisation should be designed.

Our speakers painted a different picture of the way we will work in the future. While there will be some short and long-term consequences of automation for our workforce, ultimately these powerful tools will boost our declining productivity and create new jobs. Organisations short on resources will be able to redeploy their people and focus on the tasks that are value adding. Older members of the workforce will have a role in training these new workers, passing on their company knowledge and industry experience before they retire and this knowledge is lost.

With Ai and Cognitive technologies taking over time-consuming data entry and analysis activities, we will have more time than ever to concentrate on parts of work that are "essentially human".  David says our human ability to tell stories, problem solve, provide personal service - in essence our creative, social and emotional intelligence - is what will matter for the human employees of the future.

The future of HR: What can we do to prepare?

Despite the lip service paid to these 'human skills' in our recruitment and performance frameworks, often companies do little to develop these skills in our employees. But the reality is the way we work with Ai is not going to fall in the laps of the technology team - it is going to directly impact the work we do in and across HR. It will be HR’s role to consider what skills and capabilities our workers, both human and artificial, will need to have, and it will fall to HR to train these new workers in everything from specific skills to company culture.

The question of how each job will change, adapt or be passed over to Ai has become a design decision.  HR should be leading the charge, experimenting and implementing Ai and Cognitive technologies, retraining existing workers to use these tools and rethinking the role of people in our workforce.

Rather than avoid the conversation and put walls up to protect our way of working, we must "rewrite the rules to reflect the shifts in mindset and behaviour required to lead, organise, motivate, manage and engage the 21st-century workforce".  One of these rules is to shift the way we think about our workforce, our traditional jobs and the role of human skills in a world of automation.

For more information on The Future of Work or our 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, click here.

Alexandra is an Analyst in Deloitte New Zealand’s Human Capital practice which helps organisations develop and manage the variety of people-related aspects of today and tomorrow’s business environment.

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