Why Human Resource Management Must Change for the Coming Robotics Revolution

The Coming Automation and Robotics Revolution

Many experts have predicted that the robotics revolution and automation trends are coming sooner than you think and why it is time for organizations to prepare for the invasion of the robots and artificial intelligence.

In a scenario where nearly 60% of the jobs would be lost to automation and robots, it is indeed the case that the field of HRM or Human Resource Management must prepare for the massive job losses as well as the necessity to re-skill and retrain the workforce.

Thus, it is no longer an if, but, when robots start taking away jobs and hence, it is contingent on the HR Managers to change accordingly.

Managing Downsizing and Firing of Workers

To start with, losing one’s job is always painful and traumatic and with the added aspect of automation, it is very much possible for the employees who have been downsized to feel depressed and unwanted.

Indeed, the fact that automation is like a “slap in the face” for older workers who are unable or even unwilling to learn new skills means that HR Managers would have a tough time in handling involuntary exits.

The term involuntary exit refers to the downsizing and hiring of workers wherein they are made to leave or exit the company against their will.

The least that the HR Managers can do in these circumstances is to offer office facilities for the laid-off workers to find other jobs as well as negotiate a generous severance package for them.

In addition, the HR Managers must also prepare themselves for some tough bargaining by the workers who might even sue the organization for firing workers on flimsy pretexts. Indeed, this is what is happening in India right now where IT (Information Technology) industry employees are being fired in the hundreds and thousands, and some of whom have gone to court to protest the layoffs.

Retraining the Workforce

Apart from that, firing workers is not the only problem that the HR Managers have to contend with.

They also have to envisage a scenario wherein top performers and the best employees in the organization are re-skilled and retrained instead of being let go.

In other words, if the employees are valuable to the organization and hence, firing them is the last option, the key challenge, in this case, is to upgrade their skills and enhance their performance through value addition.

Thus, it becomes incumbent upon the HR Managers to devise retraining and re-skilling programs so that employees move up the value chain.

In this context, it is worthwhile to note that retraining and re-skilling of employees can be done through customized training programs where the HR Managers have to take a call in conjunction with the Immediate Managers to identify the employees as well as design training programs based on the need analysis and the identification of gaps between current skills and required skills.

It is this aspect that calls for adroit and adept personal and professional skills for the HR Managers to respond to automation and robotics revolutions.

The Field of HRM would Change in Fundamental Ways

Another aspect of the coming robotics revolution is the fact that the HR Profession would change in fundamental ways wherein the HR Managers would have to prepare to manage robots instead of human beings.

While this might sound like science fiction, if robots replace workers on the factory floor, how do the HR Managers respond or react when they have to manage machines? This is a question that does not have satisfactory answers at this point, and all we can hope is that some management expert or thought leader would come up with a solution to this.

Moreover, automation and robotics also lead to changes in the way the HR Function works, and with the downsizing of rank and file employees, there is also a chance that the HR Staff would be made redundant since routine processes can be automated, and robots replace the personnel.

Indeed, given that technology has already made many HR Staff redundant means that the next wave of automation wherein robots takes the place of nonessential personnel means that there is a need to rethink the very concept of an HR Professional.

The key point to note in all this is that just like computerization made the workers migrate to higher value adding activities, robotics, and automation would also ensure that lower value-adding activities are automated.

Thus, the central challenge for any professional or organization is how to move up the value chain, and this is where the field of HRM can answer these questions by formulating new theories and revisiting existing theories. After all, capitalism is built around value addition, and we contend that sooner or later, the teething problems associated with automation and robotics would be resolved.

Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Lastly, the field of HRM has been on an evolutionary path since the manufacturing era and then, the services era.

Thus, it is clear that there needs to be another evolutionary leap to deal with the challenges of automation and robotics so that there is a win-win situation for all stakeholders and not only employers.

The fact that the search for profits means that employers would always find the most cost-effective ways to get work done should serve as a signpost to the future for HR Professionals.

To conclude, HR Managers must prepare for not only job losses and retraining but also a fundamental change in the way their profession operates to compete in the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution.


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