How technology is advancing: by 2023 you’ll have the power of one person in a PC. By 2050 all humankind in one! Vivek Wadhwa at HRTechWorld Paris 2016
If there is nothing more that HR pundits like talking about then it is the future of the work! Technological change is the one constant that has been with for longer than we perhaps realise. It’s been a constant since the year dot, apart from when the Romans left Britain and for just over 600 years, everything went backwards or at least seemed to!
Take farming, in just short of 150 years the number of people working in agriculture has decreased by over 90% and is continuing to decrease. I grew up in a rural area and my family has been involved with agriculture and the changes I’ve seen in my lifetime are pretty amazing. In this area there were around 20 working farms, now there are just two. One farm manager takes care of a massive operation.
Work smarter not harder
The equipment used in agriculture has benefitted from technological innovation, for example, the Class Jaguar self-propelled forage harvester is not only fitted with GPS that is linked to the base station via radio, it also has autopilot sensors near the rotary cutters that work out the width of the gap between crops, which keep the machine straight. Combine Harvesters are fitted not only with GPS but their own onboard computer, once the operator starts the machine takes over, and the operator can sit back and monitor the operation. The latest development is Case Magnum tractor which has no driver! It is controlled via a PC, radio link, and a GPS and the result will be the use of contractors will be unnecessary.
That was then (2011)
Class Jaguar 980 – 930
This is now!
Case New Holland Magnum
It is affecting a lot of industries
Of course one of the early adopters of manufacturing automation has been the car industry where robots have replaced humans to a degree working on the track.
Even broadcasting has been an early adopter of using technology that has reduced the need for human input. For example back in the 1990’s your local radio station, will have invested in automating the scheduling and playing of songs, adverts and idents. At the time this was welcomed as it gave the presenter/DJ more time to think about what to say to their audience. Technology has moved on so much that now presenters come into the studio and in a process called voice tracking record segments which are added sometimes days in advance before being played on air. This means that the presenter may only have been in the studio for an hour, but the station gets a three-hour show! This means the presenter may be paid less for his time but he is free to do other things.
If you are a listener of certain DAB radio stations, you now have your answer why certain presenters can be heard presenting different shows at the same time!
It’s not just Radio even Television is using the same techniques, the CBeebies channel uses pre-recorded links, some which are reused time and time again (tedious for parents having to watch no doubt!).
Where will it all end?
Imagine you are walking through your town centre at night, you pass an automated street cleaning vehicle that uses the same technology as the tractor above!
Amazon already has robots working in some of its distribution centres.
Remember the typing pool? Even office jobs are not immune and that includes HR! Human Resource Information Systems are becoming smarter and making a greater use of available technology. Many companies are adopting Employee Self Service, this cuts down on the amount of administration because your employees update their information via a secure app on their smartphone, this means you need fewer people working in HR at administrator/assistant level and may in some cases, remove the need altogether.
I’m predicting the HR department or whatever the name that replaces it in ten to fifteen years time, will be a totally different place than what we know, yes, of course, HR has been evolving and will continue to do so. If technology can replace humans in the function without causing employee engagement to suffer, then it will continue apace. The HR Shared Service centre that is just a pseudo call centre staffed by people with a non-HR background will disappear. True Centres of Excellence (CoE) will be a lot smaller and I expect outsourcing to play a bigger part.
“What about supporting line managers, who are going to do that” Again a major change will be that there are no line managers as such, the concept of being promoted beyond one’s ability has been shown not to work for long enough now. Team Leaders will replace the line manager, with a totally different ethos and the technological tools to support day to day operations.
I started this post with a quote from Vivek Wadhwa and one thing to consider is that in 2023 and shortly beyond, our population will be reaching what is called the replacement rate, that means there will be more people available for work. We just need to hope that the jobs that haven’t been invented yet can keep a lot of people gainfully employed!
Vivek’s book The Driver in the Driverless Car How our technological choices affect our future will be available in Spring 2017 and can be ordered via Amazon now.