In the 1960’s, Rosie the robot, model XB-500, served George Jetson and his family in a futuristic world that looks like the world today. While we know that Rosie was hired from U-Rent-a-Maid, we don’t know whether she replaced a human employee for the Jetson family. But here we are in 2018, the future has arrived with the Roomba robot vacuum commonplace in many households.
As we move forward in the 21st century, this crazy pseudo sci-fi scenario becomes more and more commonplace. Bank tellers and travel agents have disappeared. Soon we’ll see lawyers, cashiers, HR professionals, doctors, union leaders, and loan officers replaced by algorithms.
While this transition takes place, HR professionals will be in the position of having awkward conversations with those being replaced.
We have thousands of years of human history where technology has replaced humans. The runner messenger who was obsoleted by the invention of the wheel. The monks who crafted editions of the Bible who displaced by Gutenberg’s printing press. The weavers of the 1820’s who were displaced by the power loom. While this is not new, something seems different this time. Perhaps it’s the level of education and “professional” status of those being replaced? It’s not a low-level service employee being replaced - it’s a highly educated professional surrendering their job to an algorithm.
Unfortunately for us humans, algorithms never get tired, never lose their patience, and tends to have the right answer – and if not, learn from their mistakes.
The question for HR professionals is how do you have a conversation with someone who’s job is eliminated with a new software discovery? – A new algo is written that is better than the human. Empathy is good. HR professionals need to think about the H in HR and identify the uniquely human skills in their organizations and plan ahead for the coming of the algos. That may result in conversations with talented people whose jobs are automated. Perhaps creating new opportunities for human skills. There is work to do.
This world is here now. HR professionals can get ahead of the game in their own organizations by thinking about the type of jobs that might succumb to algos and how they will talk to those folks. Retraining is a great option but planning ahead is critical.
Welcome to the 21st century!