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How AI can augment HR: invoking a skills revolution


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On 1 March, we held our first virtual roundtable of 2023. We had the pleasure of welcoming Beth Rudden, CEO of Bast AI and formerly Chief Data Officer at IBM, as our provocateur in this exciting and rapidly developing subject.

There were so many takeaways for us here at Career Innovation Company. They included, but were by no means limited to, the following:

  • Greater “humanisation” of organisations. AI can enable new opportunities across the HR space, including in our very human areas of careers and the development of skills ontologies
  • The power of explainable AI. The introduction and spread of AI should not feel complex or bewildering. At its best, AI should feel accessible and welcomed by organisations and individuals alike
  • The growing importance of diversity. The development of AI, for all its raw power, puts a far higher premium on different types of perspectives to augment human intelligence most effectively
  • The need to be bold – and let everyone experiment. Leaders should encourage everyone in a business to familiarise themselves with AI capabilities, to see how it can help them most effectively
  • Don’t be seduced by the newness and complexity of AI. But DO be prepared to do the hard work and really understand the human potential for your business


Rosemary McLean and David North introduced the session. David made the following introductory remarks:

  • AI offers many advantages, but also presents risks for every organisation. In an earlier report, Careers of Tomorrow we said that organisations needed to “humanise” alongside automation.
  • In 2023, talent and career development is a great example of why this is necessary. We use AI to empower employees because it gives them opportunity to develop the new skills and knowledge they need to build great careers. It also helps employers to design better careers strategies, in which everybody feels they can build a rewarding career in their organisation
  • These human stories must remain central. The challenge is to keep people front of mind in the design of, for example, an AI-driven skills approach. The key for businesses – their litmus test – is to be able to do so even when competitive pressures are to use automation to save costs in isolation

Beth Rudden, in her introductory remarks, noted that the many senior HR, learning and talent professionals had admitted that they were at the early stages of considering how AI can augment HR in their particular business model, industry and set of circumstances. So, she gave us an account of her journey of understanding.

  • Yes, of course AI can do things that humans can’t…. During Beth’s previous senior role with IBM, the business needed to change radically in a short space of time. The business had an urgent need to quickly upskill 25% of their 100k employees across 175 countries. This meant examining hundreds of thousands of digital employee records, learning records and job requisitions. The truth was that AI could scan through and dissect all of this at speeds that a human could not
  • … But AI also requires more diversity. To manage this huge programme of activity required a team of 10 full time and 200 part-time data professionals. They needed a high degree of technology-based skills but also very different types of human skills. There are 188 cognitive biases (and counting), she said, and so alongside data you need greater workplace diversity to counter them. Getting different types of people together in the room to co-create becomes even more important when introducing AI. An observation on the need for buyers of AI driven platforms to ask for evidence of how underlying AI is built and works was particularly resonant for HR leaders participating
  • More about job enhancement, less about job destruction. Beth talked about misconceptions around the impact of automation. While a primary focus is on the risk to jobs through automation, one McKinsey study showed that while AI and automation can take over some tasks performed as a part of today’s jobs, it would be able to cover only 5% of jobs in their entirety. Better still, it could enhance the quality of jobs by taking over mundane tasks, leaving workers to focus on up-skilling
  • What machines and humans are good at. Machines are good at probabilities, analysing large amounts of data, performing repetitive tasks, being objective and sensing patterns. Humans, however, are great at things like intuition, emotional IQ, common sense and creativity. So, businesses should focus less on how automation replace humans, and more on how humans use AI to do their jobs better
  • Look for the human stories in the data. In using AI to build skills ontologies with unmatched speed, all organisations need to be mindful of finding human stories in the data. For example, how can AI help humans understand how the data generated gives us insights into new learning, or reskilling or locating previously unrecognised talent? At the root of the challenge is earning trust
  • Everyone should be encouraged to try AI out for themselves. And when a business introduces people to AI, she urged to people to think freely about the tasks they complete every single day, and which ones they want to eliminate to enhance their own roles

Beth admitted that it’s easy to become seduced by the newness and complexity of AI, but businesses and HR in particular do have to put in the hard work to really understand how AI can augment human intelligence. And it this understanding that will help the human stories and individual career journeys to shine through.

Beth’s insights certainly resonate with us. And we recognise that AI represents a big opportunity for self-driven career development, which we support through products such as  Be Bold, Career pulseCareer trails and Career inspirer. Each of these programmes similarly puts the learner at the centre of the development journey.

Our next roundtable will be on 30th March, entitled “A Talent Marketplace is not a Plug and Play”. We’ve invited Karen Powell, Chief Talent and Learning officer at IQVIA to discuss their strategy of “one IQVIA, Multiple Careers” and the journey they have been on to build an agile, skills driven organisation. If you’d like to participate, contact us via the link above.

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