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Workforce Planning, AI and the Future of Work



I had the honour and privilege to be the Chairperson for day two of the National HR Summit 2017 conference in Sydney.  The best part of the day was when I facilitated a panel of extremely interesting HR professionals from a wide variety of industries through discussion focused on workforce planning, AI, robotics and the future of work.

The Panellists

Sally Kincaid, Chief Human Resources Officer, QBE Insurance – QBE was the most traditional organisation represented on the panel.  Augmenting core insurance roles such as Underwriters, Assessors and Actuaries with big data analytics and AI is core to their talent strategy.

Toby List, Head of HR, Australia & New Zealand, Disney - creators of movies, games and videos with titles that have global recognition.

Sarah Sammut, Head of HR, Fitness First  - with a highly diverse workforce ranging from a Group Fitness Instructors who might do a few hours per week as a contract employee through to support office staff to support a business of more than 240k members.

Mathew Paine, Director HR, International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney – the types of employees and work patterns within the ICC Sydney is massive, from catering to events management to back office staff – with a significant portion of them contractors for a particular event or activity.  The type of work and workers makes for a challenging workforce planning environment.

And by more luck than planning the individuals sat on the stage in the order they appear above which worked well.  Taking the audience down the journey from the more traditional (QBE) to the newest and potentially least traditional (ICC Sydney).

The Discussion

The overall focus of the panel was HR technologies with the central theme being: -

Digital technology is disrupting business models and radically changing the way we work. With automation increasingly disrupting the workforce, what will this mean for the future role of HR departments?

The insights and discussion on this topic with this broad variety of companies made for a great debate.  Here are my takeaways: -

It is all about the employee experience – but that experience is highly variable depending on your industry, employee types and workforce plan.  For example, with ICC Sydney they are trying to get the person on the bus, who is travelling to the Hilton Hotel this afternoon to be a waiter, to take a job in the convention hall as their next gig.  The employee experience, in this case, is not really for an employee it is an independent worker who will pick their next engagement based on the ease of interfacing with the organisation and fast response from “I am willing to do X” to “Please show up at noon tomorrow”.  The employee experience is about the speed of response and mobile. 

On the other end of the spectrum is QBE who have more traditional workforces and it is about single sign-on for all their HR needs – from information on policies and procedures, to “how to’s” instructions, through the whole value chain of HR (hire to retire).  Employees in these environments appreciate the single interface, one-stop shopping approach so they can find all their requirements in one place.  Mobile would be great, but in reality, most of the employees access the HR portal from their PC or laptop during working hours. 

What these types of workers demand as their experience with HR is very different than the employees in ICC Sydney or Fitness First.  Some good lessons here for all organisations when looking at what the employee experience should be.  Making sure you understand who your workers are and what they value.

AI and Robotics – It is not hard to find dozens of articles or research about which roles may or may not be taken over by robots.  From the panel's perspective, there were some interesting points of view.  On one end of the continuum, there was QBE where the business can already see some of the more procedural analytical roles, such as lower end risk assessment, being replaced by AI at some point in the future.  

Meanwhile ICC Sydney and Fitness First have roles that will be tough to replace with robotics or AI.  Group fitness instructors, the security guard at a Cyndi Lauper concert or Boot Camp leaders will be far harder to replace with robotics or AI.  Roles that have high “customer touch” are going to be far more challenging to replace.

HR Technology – The types of HR technologies used in the four companies did vary.  QBE and Disney both have global HRIS strategies and use major players such as SAP SuccessFactors and Workday.  They have what I would term a “typical” corporate strategy for HRIT which fits the global reach and types of the organisation they are.  These choices of technology also align with providing the appropriate employee experience for their workers, more “one-stop shop” for coordinating all of the HR with the overall company portal strategy.

Fitness First and ICC Sydney had a different approach to HRIS.  Both organisations had a more “best of breed solution” with various applications for recruitment, time management and rostering, core HR administration and specialist applications for their unique people needs.  Both organisations had HR solutions that worked for both their permanent staff but almost more importantly for their independent workers.

Another learning point regarding fully integrated and best of breed solutions and ensuring that your choice of solution(s) fits the types of “workers” your organisation has to create shareholder value.

Workforce Planning – The participants have challenges and opportunities with workforce planning.  Starting with defining who are the workers (or even if they are human versus robots or AI) to where do they look for their future talent, globally or local.  The tools the organisations need to build out their workforce plans will be different, and for some types of workers specialist solutions could be required to help get the best value out of the “people expense”.  No matter what the company environment there will be an increase of analytics and data needed to drive the right workforce plan.

The panel was excellent and the discussion lively.  At the end of the day, each of the participants represented the best of HR and Talent Management professionals in Australia and beyond.  And while their employees, workers and organisations are different the challenges each of them face to attract, retain, develop and engage the workforce for the future have a lot of common themes.  Excellent sharing of ideas and experiences brought together for the Sydney National HR Summit 2017.

Article by Mary Sue Rogers

Posted On : 30-04-17

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