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We need to prepare for the AI revolution – and soon

Given all the recent talk and headlines about the impact of AI on our lives it was a bit anti-climactic that a recent survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) found that nine out of 10 ten of the respondents who work in influential roles in HR don’t use AI.

Especially given its potential to boost the UK’s go-slow productivity. In fact, of this 92% of people, just 3% intend to use AI in their HR process in the next 12 months. Hardly the tech revolution some might be expecting.

UK lags behind US on AI adoption at work

While the results are perhaps underwhelming, there is still time for technological change to take place and make its mark – so no drama.

I am a big fan of Bill Gates’ observation that “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10”. That is where we are now. We have time – but need to get ourselves ready.

The broader HR community needs to talk about data, automation and AI – and soon.

Our survey shows typical early apathy or unawareness that can come with any wave of new technology.

After all, the ONS reported in April 2023 that just 16% of businesses across the UK are using AI (and of those, spam filters were the most common). And a 2022 study by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport found only around 2% of businesses were in the process of piloting AI.

We know that right now hardly anyone is using it therefore, but the businesses who will get ahead are already doing somethings differently.

They are looking at their data lake and plotting a future strategy, knowing that this is the basis that automation and then AI will be built on for years to come.

And, as set out in our recent report Tech-Enabled Humanity they are thinking about how to transform users experience – not merely speeding up processes they already run.

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With prime minister Rishi Sunak saying at London Tech Week this summer that the ‘tectonic plates of technology are shifting’ with AI setting a goal to make the UK the best place in the world for AI technology, the will is there. But delivery can be a different story.

Companies and government alike need to get focused if the UK is to compete.

One of the key issues for HR is the extent to which any technology works if its users don’t see the benefit from it. Understanding the human reactions of staff (and customers) to new tools is at the heart of sustainable change.

Tech investment is business model change – not just a process. Every business needs a people strategy for the next stage of their development.

AI can also support HR to enhance the workforce experience in how we use our technology.

From scheduling to personal development plans, there is a lot of process that we can speed and make easier for staff.

But people need people to engage them too. As a profession, we should be seizing this and using it to create space for the more advisory, consultative and engaged services we will need to offer businesses in an even more complex labour market.

HR managers worried AI will replace them

And for those HR colleagues that don’t have the capacity to dive into this area themselves, consider where to tap into external support.

Recruiters have been early adopters, and our industry is moving fast to a more advisory and consultative role – especially given the tighter labour supply that will dominate most sectors this decade.

We’re here to help clients find solutions to staffing needs whilst using the best tools available to them to do this. Many of our members are already using AI to deliver transformational experiences to workers and their clients.

Our Tech-Enabled Humanity report will help lead this workforce revolution in recruitment across the economy.

It sets out to our 3,000-plus members how the right technology can help businesses improve resilience, retention and profitability. Using machine learning and natural language processing models to reduce time and speed to fill open positions, for instance, is all the rage.

We are guiding our members though options that for some can seem overwhelming. But by setting realistic expectations, we can progress.

An example is making recruiters aware that adoption in areas requiring human intuition and trust, such as interviewing and managing offers, will rightly remain lower.

It also needs to be managed carefully to ensure candidates are engaged and protected from unequal treatment.

After all, generative AI models like OpenAI's GPT4 can create new content and perform tasks for recruiters and candidates alike – but they can be misled by the data they find.

There is much to do. But with the right spirit and intention there are huge opportunities. As Andy Warhol said: “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Neil Carberry is CEO at Recruitment and Employment Confederation