Day one of the CIPD conference flew by. From the welcome through to the final session of the day, the speeches were informative and touched on many current affairs and trends affecting HR.
Technology was an underlying theme during the day. Martha Lane Fox began the day looking at a ‘fair and inclusive digital world’. Using analogies and anecdotes from her experience of setting up Lastminute.com she explained how far technology and in particular the internet has come and what may lie ahead. The future (and even near future) is difficult to predict especially in relation to technology, HR professionals need to acknowledge that traditional working practices and recruitment processes may no longer fit and there needs to be a move away from recruiting based on just ‘job skills’ to the sorts of ‘behaviours’ that are likely to fit no matter what the future brings. She stressed that innovative mind sets and emotional intelligence will be the life blood of future business and whilst ‘skills’ are important these will become secondary to desirable traits that can morph to an ever changing workplace landscape. She is using her influence at governmental level to encourage industry to move from a ‘best practice approach’ towards a ‘best fit approach’ and not treat technology as something that is being ‘done to us’ but something that if harnessed could not only cease to be a genuine threat to our jobs but actually increase productivity by 50%, and in some cases reducing stress and increasing thinking time.
Timandra Harkness’s passion for Artificial Intelligence (AI), and in particular how beneficial it could be to the modern workplace, was inspiring. She mirrored Martha’s plea that AI if used correctly could benefit us all. AI could be seen as an industry in its’ own right and although certain roles may become automated, AI may actually create new opportunities since machines, at least in the short term, still require humans to make judgement calls and final decisions. AI may also remove the human bias from recruitment and could be used to search for suitable personnel from Facebook profiles looking for key words and interests whilst avoiding subconscious (or conscious) biases that humans frequently show. The key to success with AI seems to be the ability and restraint needed to strike a balance between information that empowers businesses, decision makers and its employees whilst avoiding invading people’s privacy and eroding civil liberties.
Professor Alexander Betts’s speech on ‘Migration and the social political shifts affecting the future of work’ mirrored many of the points mentioned so far. Many businesses incorrectly believe that refugees cannot be legally employed, a problem which will hopefully be overcome with information and education. However a bigger problem is that migrants/refuges are put off many new sectors as they are entering an unfamiliar place. This combined with poor language skills and a lack of access to technology means many feel increasing ‘behind’ and ostracised. This could create a long term employment problem and represent a shameful example of unfulfilled potential for UK and Europe. Alexandrer also suggested that there is still a lack of understanding of what the rise of popularism and nationalism means for our job market and this lack of understanding is compounded by a shift in terms in what people want from their jobs. Possibly as a result of an increase in stress at work (28% in 1989 to 37% 2015) more people are opting for jobs they feel comfortable in rather than one which is well paid.
My day ended with an uplifting summary on how many of the issues facing modern HR can be dealt with. Avon Workday ‘Transactional to strategic HR to add value to business’ explained that business would benefit from an execution focused, metrics driven, approach to HRM.
The world of HR is changing – and it’s an exciting time to be part of it.