The CHRO of the world’s top staffing firm says you don’t need to worry about the threat of AI. Here’s why.

Dec 20, 2019 - Joe Matar

And before we get started...

  • Ashley and Joe spoke with Jim Link, CHRO at Randstad North America to learn more about the impact AI is having on human resources and talent acquisition and what companies need to do to be prepared. 
  • Change is coming (slowly). “I don't think [AI is] going to have quite the negative impact on our society that many prognosticators would indicate,” Jim says. 
  • “The best HR leaders are not asking if they can have a seat at the table. They’re demanding that they have a seat at the table,” Jim says of HR getting a seat in the boardroom. 

How big of a threat is artificial intelligence (AI) to jobs and how quickly will it change the workforce? 

A shift is coming, but there’s plenty of time to adjust and options for doing it, says Jim Link, Chief Human Resource Officer for employment/recruitment giant Randstad North America, where he oversees the human capital strategy and HR initiatives for 125,000 employees. 

Depending on the source, early predictions indicate AI could eventually replace anywhere from 20 to 60 percent of jobs. 

Jim takes a measured view, recognizing the importance of both human efforts and emerging AI. 

“We [at Randstad] like the idea that one standing alone won't be successful. But those two working together — both the human component and the technological component in a collaborative way — will produce the best results,” Jim says during his in-studio interview for Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s new podcast about transformative leaders and how they got a seat at the table. 

Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:

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Growing up in western Kentucky working on his family’s farm, Jim learned at a young age that hard work leads to a feeling of accomplishment.

While attending university, he was part of a cooperative education assignment with General Motors. “That was, in my mind, the single most important thing I did because it was that transition from all the things I had known growing up and learned through my education at university,” he says.

The assignment opened the door for an impressive career at major corporations like General Electric, Pillsbury, Porsche Cars North America and finally Randstad North America, which manages a workforce of 100,000+ each week in Canada and the U.S. Given his depth of experience and industry knowledge, Jim is frequently sought out by the media, including Forbes, Fox Business and NPR.

In our interview, he shared candid thoughts on how AI is changing the workforce and how HR leaders can get a seat at the table.

What impact will AI have on the workforce?

Statistical forecasts regarding AI in the workforce can seem scary, but Jim points out these numbers are speculative in nature. 

“The one that I pay the most attention to is for next year,” Jim explains. “What the statistics really say is that one percent of all jobs out there in the world today are at high risk for automation extinction [in 2020].” 

But — and it’s a big one —  changes will only start happening in the next few years if companies actually jump in and adopt the AI.

“It relies upon the development of and the buying of that technology to enable that to happen,” says Jim. “And, I just don’t see that investment level occurring at that pace in today’s marketplace.” 

Instead of fearing AI’s threat to the workforce, Jim recommends forging a path to make automation work cohesively with human efforts. 

For example, research shows that candidates are accepting of technology in the early phases of the hiring process. However, as they advance and get closer to an offer, the more human touches they want. 

Randstad refers to this balance as “tech and touch” because it requires both components —  technology and human effort — to succeed. 

Advancing the human agenda in the workplace and beyond

The company takes it one step further. 

“We’ve packaged all of that into what we call, ‘human forward,’” Jim says. In short, it’s about doing what is best for people. 

“What we are really doing by enabling people to get jobs, to get new experiences and to get opportunities is actually driving forward a human agenda,” Jim says. 

If you're able to provide someone with an opportunity, get them into the workplace, help them to become sustainable members of our society, you're actually doing something for the good of all of us, not just that individual of that person,” he adds.  

One way Randstad puts this idea into action is by thinking about hiring on a granular level (focusing on the experience of the person applying for a job), but also on a broader level that pushes the limits of what companies can do to serve the overall good of mankind.  

“I encourage all companies to think in a human forward way,” he advises. “It has resonated very well with our own company's values and mission and goals.”

Skill development as an antidote to job displacement by AI 

Part of taking a “human forward” approach and adapting to the eventual introduction of AI means that it’s important to “upskill, new skill and reskill” employees. 

The good news is this really aligns with what employees want. Jim notes there is “an extreme desire by people of all age levels to get that knowledge and capability for the future.” 

Training and development is an answer to fears about AI displacing people in the workforce. “As long as the appetite's there, we will not let ourselves get into a position where massive amounts of our population are without a job because they don't have the skills,” Jim says. “But that will take investment.”

Few employers are offering this kind of training today, but governments and the private sector need to invest more to help people acquire the technological knowledge to adapt to workforce changes. 

That’s just where it starts, Jim notes. “You have to change — not only the application and availability of the skill development — you have to change the people who are managing that, in what they're expecting and how they lead people,” he explains. 

The leaders of tomorrow won’t be successful if they look like the leaders of today. 

Demanding a seat for human capital expertise in boardrooms 

When it comes to including HR in the top levels of leadership, Jim says, “the best HR leaders are not asking you if they have a seat at the table. They're demanding they have a seat at the table.”

Given the tight labor market and the focus on STEM development, Jim says he’s seeing more boards “seeking human capital leadership expertise.” Plus, as workforce changes due to AI and technology become a larger topic of conversation, the need for a strong HR perspective becomes more important. 

“I can't point to a specific example of where someone's been put on a board for that, but it's coming,” Jim says. “I can feel it.”

This article is based on an episode of Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s new podcast about transformative leaders and how they got a seat at the table. Subscribe in your preferred podcast app. 

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