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Artificial Intelligence in HR Remains a Work in Progress

September 03, 2021 Digital Workplace
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

Artificial intelligence has become ubiquitous in workplace technology, to the point where more than a few chief human resources officers consider it to be table stakes for any technology they buy. 

One report indicated the majority of HR practitioners believe AI will become even more important to their work than it already is over the next several years. According to Eightfold AI’s HR Future State 2021 report, nearly 82% of the practitioners surveyed think their teams will incorporate more AI tools into their talent management processes during the next five years.

“The nature of work continues to evolve, and the talent gap continues to widen,” said Ligia Zamora, Eightfold’s chief marketing officer, on release of the report. “HR leaders are responding to today’s challenges by embracing technology, specifically AI, and bringing initiatives that were planned for the next several years into their current scope.”

The key insight from the report, Zamora said, is that forward-thinking HR leaders aren’t only ready to embrace artificial intelligence, but in many ways already have. That assertion aside, how HR departments apply advanced technology like AI varies. In some cases, they’re not even using it directly in their relationships with employees and job candidates.

The State of Artificial Intelligence and HR

The Eightfold report analyzed data from the company's proprietary AI-fueled Talent Intelligence Platform as well as a survey of 224 HR practitioners to assess what's most critical to the future of HR organizations. Those findings showed that more than half of companies already use AI-related technologies in their talent management processes, and 45% said using AI in HR drives business impact and helps their company scale its growth.

Some 60% of HR leaders plan to use AI to promote inclusion and equity among employees, as well as to upskill and reskill employees to prepare them for the company’s future. That’s important: Eightfold said that nearly 50% believe reskilling and upskilling current employees is the fastest and most effective way to impact their organization. 

Corporate America is clearly enthusiastic about AI, but a separate survey found that most talent acquisition functions at Fortune 500 companies aren’t using it to offer advanced personalization and proactively engage job candidates. In fact, 93% of the Fortune 500 use AI poorly, which means they’re not delivering the level of personalization candidates have come to expect, according to the 2021 State of Candidate Experience benchmark report from Phenom, an Ambler, Penn.-based HR technology company.

Related Article: Why Artificial Intelligence Won't Replace the Human Workforce

AI Improves Recruiting Efficiency and Experience

During a job search, candidates seek the same personalized experience they see in their personal lives, according to Phenom. Advanced technology like AI is the foundation of many services employers use to deliver relevant information in real time.

Such approaches work. According to Phenom, chatbots that answer questions and present relevant jobs double the number of candidate leads and increase job apply rates. By automating manual tasks like screening and scheduling, they also improve recruiter productivity.

At the same time, Phenom identified a number of things employers don’t do: Some 94% don’t provide job recommendations based on their career site’s browsing history. Ninety-one percent don’t present job recommendations based on a candidate’s profile. Also, 91% don’t display recently viewed jobs. And notably, 99% don’t share an application’s status after the initial email used to confirm submission.

That’s not helping employers who bemoan today’s talent shortage. “The digital revolution accelerated by the pandemic has only increased candidate expectations for seamless, exceptional talent experiences,” said Phenom CEO Mahe Bayireddi. “Companies that deliver the most personalized talent journeys will be at an advantage when competing for future employees.”

In fact, during the pandemic, HR and recruiting teams that expanded their use of advanced technology were in a better position to hire, especially virtually, grow their talent communities, upskill employees and reach talent goals, Phenom said.

While the report focuses on the state of candidate experience across the Fortune 500, Phenom pointed out that employers should be mindful of every key stakeholder experience that occurs in their process. The relationships among candidates, employees, recruiters and managers are all interconnected, it said, and neglecting even one can undermine an employer’s ability to hire, develop and retain talent.

Related Article: Why Is AI Adoption for Recruiting Just Crawling Along?

HR Needs to Take the Lead on AI Ethics

And then there’s ethics. At least until the pandemic began, ethics was moving toward the center of HR technology discussions, with “the first conversations” beginning around the idea that “every HR department needs an ethics organization,” said John Sumser, principal analyst at HRExaminer.

“Every HR department needs an ethics organization because we’re going to be installing tools in our companies without exactly knowing what they do. And these tools are going to have input into the lives and livelihoods of the human beings in our organizations,” Sumser said during an interview for an HCM Technology Report podcast.

The activities, if not the mandates, of these organizations will be far-reaching. “They’re going to make recommendations about how to coach. They’re going to make recommendations about how to improve performance. They’re going to make recommendations about all sorts of things,” he said.

Today’s HR functions lack a good way of thinking about what could go wrong, Sumser added, and need to develop a disciplined process to anticipate problems and make decisions in light of what could go wrong.

Before COVID-19 took hold, Sumser saw a number of signs that HR departments were examining ethical concerns in more depth. As an example, he cited Accenture opening a practice centered on the development of corporate ethics committees to address issues relating to AI. “The real meaty problem in AI is what happens in the HR department,” he said. “So it’s going to be critical for the HR department to take the lead.”

To be sure, talk about the ethical implications of AI, machine learning and other advanced technologies have been growing. Some HR technology vendors, such as HireVue, have created ethics committees while others, such as Modern Hire, emphasize transparency and publish codes of ethics.

Ethics in AI is an area “adjacent to employment law,” said Sumser. “If law tells you what you can’t do, ethics is about figuring out what the right thing to do is. AI is going to force us to look very carefully at what’s the right thing to do.”

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