CBIA Employment Law Conference: AI for HR Panel Recap
Last week, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association held its annual Employment Law Conference. Tallan’s SVP of Client Delivery, Doug Smith, spoke on a panel with Dan Schwartz, a Partner at Shipman & Goodwin and author of the CT Employment Law Blog.
Rather than pose questions to the panelists, Moderator Mark Soycher opted to poll the audience, and allow Doug and Dan to provide color commentary on Artificial Intelligence & Analytics for HR: Recruiting, Retention & Engagement.
This style panel allowed for continued audience engagement for a topic many seem to shy away from. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the answers I saw, and not all that surprised by others. The first two questions created a Word Cloud, so the audience was able to visualize what their peers were thinking. The very first question asked was, “What loathed HR task or responsibility would you love to offload to AI?” Recruiting surprised me as the most popular answer. Granted, I am not in HR, but I would have thought disciplinary action or termination would have risen to the top.
Our own HR Generalist, Victoria Niemann who was in attendance noted, “For the question about loathed tasks, my personal opinion is FMLA administration. This could be boiled down to any and all benefits administration. Tallan is a national company, and for any individuals or companies operating in multiple states, the differing and convoluted changes to FMLA in each state is extremely daunting. Having AI to analyze the laws and requirements and help administer and monitor leave would be a huge help. A big portion of people polled submitted recruiting as a response and I tend to disagree with this. I believe offloading FMLA, or other benefits related tasks, would allow us more time to practice the human aspect of these crucial first steps in a hiring process. It’s of course very important to get to know the people you are looking to join your company, and vice versa for the potential hire. Culture and engagement are very important to the workforce right now and there shouldn’t be a replacement for these initial conversations. The second polling question showed this as being evident; employee relations shouldn’t be taken over by AI. As long as we can all understand that AI cannot take over the human side of our jobs, I believe implementing these time-saving machine learning techniques will be extremely beneficial to every HR professional looking to maximize their time and data.”
It’s also interesting that recruiting is something HR professionals would consider offloading. Recruiting is such an important first step of the hiring process, and on the flip-side, the first impression of an organization. The next question was much more telling as the hesitation we have seen in the AI for HR market began to emerge. “I would never want AI to take over:”
Employee relations was the clear winner, but ‘hiring’ and ‘my job’ were the 2nd most common answers. Hiring makes sense. The Amazon Bias in Hiring example from 2018 remains a valid concern, but one thing Doug said that seemed to resonate, was that these larger organizations are making the mistakes and learning the lessons for other companies. When smaller companies or even companies that are more conservative from a digital transformation aspect are ready to take a step further in innovation, they’ll have a clearer purview into how to achieve their strategic goals. This Amazon example should also prove further that AI will never replace the need for humans in Human Resources (or really any other job for that matter). There will always be a need for a final decision based on human empathy.
The remaining questions were all pie charts and gave great insight into how the audience, all HR professionals, felt about this technology. ‘I believe AI will result in…’ was a question I had concerns about. People fear what they don’t know, and AI is no different. My inclination would have been that the majority would have been ‘fewer HR jobs in the future’ so I was pleasantly surprised to see the results in that 57% thought the technology would create a wash as new jobs replace those eliminated. It was eye-opening to see what these professionals believed AI might be best suited for, concerns about adopting AI at their companies, and why. Cost is always a factor and was something 66% of the audience believed would be a barrier to adoption. This isn’t surprising as many organizations, from what I’ve learned, look at HR as a cost center, rather than a way to either save or make money. That being said, timing is actually perfect for the start of the AI adoption conversation. Unemployment is incredibly low, 3.6% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the cost to attract, hire, and train a new employee is considerably higher than making efforts to retain the talent you’ve already got.
Tallan’s HR Director, Veronica Tkaczuk agrees that “Today, it seems like HR professionals receive a steady stream of ‘AI in HR: Are you ready for it’? While it’s natural to fear that AI may take away HR jobs (Self-checkout lines, we see you), we should never forget the Human part of our profession.The role of HR is evolving. We see more and more technology in HR, and yes, AI. However, there has been a simultaneous shift in HR to more of a ‘People’ function (there is that Human part again) like never before. So perhaps we shouldn’t fear AI, but rather leverage and embrace technology to unload some of those ‘not-so-fun’ tasks that allow us to focus our talents and energies on our people. So let’s make those informed data-driven decisions that support the business strategy, but without compromising the integrity and importance of making sound human decisions.“
The final two questions asked about the future. The first was integrating AI technology for HR, 45% recognized that it’s in their future, while 13% confirmed they’re already using it to some extent. That said, 19% of the audience seemed to have no desire to look to AI for help, and 18% are waiting to see what the Amazon’s do next – more missteps, or great breakthroughs they can ride the coattails of. The final slide brings the panel full-circle. After seeing what the panelists had to say, and hearing the candid commentary from Dan and Doug, a similar question was raised about what HR function the audience would like offloaded to AI. At the beginning of the panel recruiting was the top choice for AI, ironically – 40% of the audience maintained the exact same sentiment at the end of the panel. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the open-minded attitude of the audience at this event. I anticipated more reluctance, but it looks like the majority of the crowd is ready to keep their eye on the tools that will continue to evolve and potentially support the ways they’d like to evolve their department.