Canadian HR functions unprepared for growth of AI, automation: survey

While almost all Canadian companies using artificial intelligence and automation expect to expand their use of the technologies in the next three years, less than five per cent said their human resources functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of digitization, according to a new global survey by Willis Towers Watson.

Just over a third (36 per cent) of respondents have taken steps to address deficits in talent through workforce planning, while 33 per cent have taken steps to identify the new skills required. A quarter (26 per cent) have taken action to match talent to the new work requirements and 37 per cent have taken action to enable careers based on a more agile or flattened organizational structure.

Read: Does artificial intelligence have a place in human resources?

“Canadian businesses clearly see work automation gaining momentum, with few signs of slowing down anytime soon,” said Tracey Malcolm, global leader of the future of work at Willis Towers Watson, in a news release. “The implications for human resources and talent strategies are immediate.

“On one hand, the growing use of artificial intelligence, robotics, free agent workers, contractors, consultants and part-time employees brings with it human resources challenges that only few organizations are prepared to tackle. On the other hand, many companies recognize the need for breakthrough and innovative approaches — and are reinventing work and how talent and skills combine.”

The survey also found respondents are either planning to take action this year or are considering measures to prepare for the future, including deconstructing jobs and identifying the tasks that can be automated (44 per cent) and identifying re-skilling pathways for employees whose work is being taken over by automation (56 per cent). Also, 47 per cent of employers are taking action to identify skill gaps as automation reconfigures total rewards and benefits to fit a radically different workforce.

The number of employers automating work and seeing increases in skill requirements is expected to jump from 22 per cent to 49 per cent in the next three years, according to the survey. However, 32 per cent of those surveyed expect to use automation and redesign jobs to lower the needed skill levels in that same time frame.

Read: Employers, policy-makers urged to rethink future of work

More employers expect to use an increased amount of freelance or contract workers due to automation and 49 per cent believe they will need fewer employees in the next three years because of automation.

“Management and leadership development will be a critical issue for companies of all sizes over the next three years,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson. “We know strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement and retention. But in the face of rapidly changing work automation, companies will need to develop leaders and managers who can orchestrate a radically different work ecosystem while keeping all of the talent in their workplaces fully engaged.”