Article (April-2019)


HR has to come out of confusion and embrace technology

Sumantra Mitra

Designation : -   Head - Human Resources

Organization : -  Glenmark Life Sciences Limited, Mumbai


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Where do you think, we are headed in terms of skill set requirements and capability assessments to build a talent bank for future workplace needs? And how do you visualize the workforce of future?
SM The world has witnessed the journey of "Robocop" to "Sofia" in a period of three decades! A movie on scientific fiction of a robot to control crime is no more limited to the screen now. It has come out from the screen to become an honoured citizen of a country in reality!
Phenomenal developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have put us on the cusp of a new automation age. Till the recent past, robots and computers were used to perform a range of routine activities better suited and more efficiently than humans. However, now they are also increasingly capable of accomplishing activities that include cognitive capabilities, which were too difficult to automate successfully. Tacit judgments, sensory emotion, or even driving is now a part of this journey in robotics. This is the most critical challenge. This development is here to stay & will change the daily work activities of everyone; from frontline workers to the CEOs, though we may assume that it will not happen overnight.
Employees of the future will spend more time on activities that machines are less capable of, such as managing people, applying expertise, and communicating with others. They will spend less time on predictable routine physical activities and on collecting and processing data, where machines already exceed human performance. The skills and capabilities required will also shift, requiring more social and emotional skills and more advanced cognitive capabilities, such as logical reasoning and creativity.

How is AI, robotics, automation affecting the employment scenario in India?

SM Industrial revolution has always brought a series of exponential benefit as well as challenge to us. The wheel is the contribution of first industrial revolution, wherein electricity came out of second, and computers are introduced as a result of third industrial revolution. The World Economic Forum 2016, declared AI as "the fourth industrial revolution". AI has & will continue to radically transform the way we live, work, and connect with each other. Businesses and mass manufacturing facilities in India are beginning to appreciate the benefits of AI systems, and increasingly investing in the adoption of smart machines and automated technologies.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 60 per cent of the formal employment in India relies on "middle-skill" jobs, including clerical, sales, service, skilled agricultural, and trade-related work, all of which are prone to automation. Thus, automation has economy-wide implications at the macro level and workplace-level implications at the micro level for the worker.
At the macro level, there are three main transformations that automation will bring about : changes in type of skill sets, gender disparity in redeployment of workforce, and firm re-organisation. At the micro level, automation will change the meaning of work. Jobs will be increasingly described as a set of discrete "tasks". Independent workers will perform a portfolio of tasks for specific wage-rates. At the workplace, hierarchy of supervision will be replaced by networks of collaboration with distributed and remote teams.
The maximum impact of this shift to automation will be seen in the services industry, as outsourcing jobs for specific skills, the use of non-employee talent and robotics become the norm.
Not just the services sector, even manufacturing in India is adopting automation. Leading car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. use robots. They deploy atleast one robot for almost every four workers; it deploys some 5,000 robots at their Manesar and Gurgaon plants. Adoption of robotics is also a common phenomenon now in Pharma, IT & ITES & financial sector. Even some restaurants have started using robots for a differential customer experience!

There are statistics that speak a loud about the growing unemployment in the country, so much so that highly qualified individuals are forced to take up meagre jobs to make a livelihood. To avoid any kind of social unrest, how more employments opportunities can be generated?

SM Today there is growing concern about whether there will be enough jobs for workers given the potential of automation. History would suggest that such fears may be unfounded; over time, labour markets adjust to changes in demand for workers from technological disruptions.
Sustaining robust economic growth is critical to support new job creation, as it supports for new business formation. Fiscal and monetary policies that ensure sufficient aggregate demand, as well as support for business investment and innovation, will be essential. Targeted initiatives in certain sectors could also help, including by increasing investment in infrastructure and energy transitions.
To move ahead in keeping pace with automation, as a nation we need invest in next-generation technology skills. This will pave the way of future employment opportunity for the country. Jobs will certainly be created, but in new areas. Deep learning, unlearning and adapting to a new skill will be the key to the success of individuals and nations.
Governments will need to focus more on skill-based education. With its campaigns and re-skilling drives, it has an important role to play in re-skilling the workforce of being future fit. It needs to give careful attention to the importance of teaching soft skills to students. At the same time, the government can instruct training institutions to take all possible measures to ensure the comprehensive skill development of candidates.
Indian universities need to engage students in hands-on activities that can help channelize their talent in the right direction, besides supporting them to acquire a handle on how technology supports and ignites innovative thought processes.

Is the current HR ecosystem ready to take on the challenges of a highly demanding and dynamic future workforce? How HR should evolve and upgrade its competencies to address this challenge?

SM A latest report by KPMG reveals two sides to this story. Out of the surveyed 1200 global HR executives from 64 countries, 39% of forward looking and confident HR leaders are harnessing the resources and insights to redefine obsolete models of HR, and implement technologies such as analytics, digital labour and AI. However, most of the HR leaders remain confused and overwhelmed by so many new additions, thus facing a risk of extinction. They are either struggling to adapt to this digital era or ignoringchange altogether.
Without a doubt, a large cloud of uncertainty does prevail in the minds of HR leaders across the globe in the backdrop of an inevitable and relentless change.
The need for a digital transformation from operating in a traditional mindset is no longer an option. The sooner the shift happens the higher the chances of survival.
Taking an excerpt from the book Victory Through Organization by Dave Ulrich, David Kryscynski, Michael Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank, the key future HR competencies that HR needs to embrace upon is Paradox navigator : Able to manage tensions inherent in businesses, Technology and media integrator : Able to use technology and social media to drive create high-performing organizations & Analytics designer and interpreter : Able to use analytics to improve decision making. Additionally looking at the boundary less organisation that business operates today, HR need to further embrace on Global Operating skill as the world is moving towards 'Glocalization'.

What are the ways which can help HR to create a system where man and machine can co-exist without eating into each other's space? Is it even possible to have such a workplace universe?

SM A recent report from Accenture reveals that business success will depend on ongoing collaboration between people and technology to drive efficiencies and innovation. Further, the report indicates that three quarters of companies believe that intelligent technology is vital to give them a competitive edge - and over half believe that human-machine collaboration is important for strategy.
As in most successful partnerships or collaborations, each side brings to the table abilities what the other lacks. The result is that complementary skills are blended to use the strengths of both types of ability in terms of sensory and repetitive activities, and even physical capabilities, to fill in other's weaknesses.
HR should play a role in explaining it to the workforce on the benefit of this collaboration. Automation of activities can enable businesses to improve performance by increasing accuracy and improving quality and speed, and in some cases achieving outcomes that go beyond the normal human capabilities.
Re-skilling & Up-skilling are the two major drives that HR should take charge so that employees are not deemed redundant & collaborate constructively with the machine environment. Focus on building those distinctly "human' skills", like creativity, problem solving innovation and empathy, would help to create specialised opportunity for man.
HR should drive to create an environment of trust & transparency & continuously orient the employees on the impact & value of automation & the new opportunities arising out of the pact.
By automating repetitive, administrative roles, workers can focus on delivering more premium services, concentrate on strategy, create innovative outputs and engage in problem solving, which could lead to greater job satisfaction.
Yes, that's the future; alongside & not against - is the key.

How do you think young generation should prepare themselves to remain employable and worthy in the age of technological disruption? How can HR and organisations support in this?

SM It's essential to encourage the next-gen in problem solving ability. They have to learn more on how to work cooperatively in teams, as future of work would be of more co-creation & not limited to collaboration. It's interesting to note that, there is a lot of interest in inquiry-based or project-based learning amongst the young population & it's a happy state.
Ethics also deserves more attention at every educational level of this population. AI technologies face ethical dilemmas all the time - for example, how to exclude racial, ethnic, and gender prejudices from automated decisions; how a self-driving car balances the lives of its occupants with those of pedestrians, etc. - and we need people and programmers who can make well-thought-out contributions to those decision making processes.
Looking at need of tech enabled next-gen talent; it's more of a pressing need of HR & companies to reach out to the talent pool which is getting groomed out of its physical boundary through continuous communication on its product, workplace, people & strategy. This will help young talent (who comes with a superior tech skill) to contribute faster and the timeline for adaptation is shorter than ever.
The gen next wants to have a genuine impact on transformation initiatives and harnessing automation in this way to help with decisions, makes them an active participant in the solution.
This offers the dual benefits of helping companies embrace the digital transformation they need and the innovative approaches to problems sought by this generation.
In this age of technological transformation, it's inevitable for the organisation to create an environment of deep employee engagement which will foster a mutual growth.
As stated by Albert Einstein "I never teach my people, I only provide condition in which they can learn."