One discussion that is becoming less the stuff of science fiction and more the topic of our immediate lives is the trend toward computerization of work and the gradual replacement of workers by robots or disembodied software routines, if you prefer. It really can’t be dismissed as futuristic paranoid nonsense as real, grounded studies, such as this one from The Oxford Martin School, show that 47 percent of jobs are partly or wholly replaceable by robots in the next 10 to 20 years. There are clear ‘winner’ jobs like physical therapists and psychologists, which are thought to be at low risk of computerization. Jobs such as telemarketers are set to lose out to automation and are thought to be nearly 100 percent computerizable over the next 10 to 20 years.
But, HR can’t just be worrying about other profession’s threat from robot induced extinction (concerning as it is); we need to do some navel gazing of our own and see how our own profession will fare in this computerization of jobs process. Well, the full Oxford Martin paper provided a probability of computerization score for 700 jobs, and I have included the scores for HR below, (with a score of zero meaning no chance of computerization and a score of 1 meaning 100% chance of computerization)
- 0.0055 Human Resources Managers
- 0.31 Human Resources Training and Labor Relations Specialists, All other
- 0.9 Human Resources Assistants, Except Payroll and Timekeeping
So, let’s start at the sharp end. It seems that the greatest casualties of computerization will be in the administrative area of HR, where there is a 90 percent chance of automation over the next 10 to 20 years. This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, given the explosion in HR/Hiring software tools that are automating and enhancing routine HR processes. Many aspects of hiring, onboarding, training and performance management are now being automated. (How long before the office tour is performed by a robot?) It’s clear that the future for HR Assistants is not bright and this has serious implications for HR Career Pathways, as there will be a much diminished opportunity for HR professionals to work their way up to the top in an apprenticeship style way.
It seems to me that HR professionals will increasingly need to move sideways into the HR profession directly into HR Specialist and Advisor roles where there is only a 30 percent chance of computerization over the next 10-20 years. Clearly, these mid-level HR roles will not be immune to computerization, but on the whole, there should remain plenty of opportunities for human resource practitioners at this level of HR for some time to come. But, as I said before, as HR Assistants become obsolete, would-be HR professionals may need to start moving sideways into HR from marketing or line management as a matter of course.
The good news is that HR Managers/Business Partners are thought to be very safe and have less than a 1 percent chance of computerization; however, I also think this level of the profession may also become more open to sideways hiring from marketing, line management and/or finance. Why? Because the pipeline of HR specific talent will be diminishing due to automation and I think that the lack of HR Assistants will have forced the mid-tier HR recruiters to open their minds to hiring from outside the profession and this more open thinking will flow through to the higher ranking jobs.
The projections and immediate evidence suggest that low ranking HR jobs and about a third of mid-ranking HR jobs may be replaced by robots over the next 10 to 20 years, which makes me feel that would-be HR professionals should think less about a bottom up career into HR, and think more about reaching mid-managerial positions within the operational or finance areas and then move sideways into the HR profession.