Career Planning? Consider These HR Technology Roles of the Future

By Dave Zielinski September 21, 2020
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​The accelerating adoption of new technologies in human resources, made more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic, is changing the skills, roles and jobs that will be needed in the future. SHRM Online talked with HR practitioners, researchers and consultants about the new technology-centric roles and job titles that will emerge in coming years as a result of these profound changes.

Clearly, HR professionals will need to be nimble when making future career choices. In a recent Deloitte Consulting Global Human Capital Trends survey, 86 percent of respondents said they'll need to reinvent their ability to learn as artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies and other automation has disrupted HR. While many human resources roles won't be replaced by these new technologies, HR professionals will increasingly be asked to work alongside and understand the inner workings of evolving technologies.

Experts predicted that some of the future roles will be folded into broader HR jobs, while others will require stand-alone job titles, especially in larger organizations.

AI Data Ethics Officer

New technologies being adopted by HR are generating unprecedented amounts of data about employees and job candidates, and that data must be carefully assessed, used and protected, experts said. Brian Kropp, group vice president specializing in HR issues for research and advisory firm Gartner, said one new job role organizations will need is chief AI data ethics officer.

Decisions to deploy AI and machine learning often are made in departments other than HR, Kropp said. Therefore, it is essential that HR leaders have a voice in ensuring AI-generated talent data is used ethically. 

"The algorithms used within HR have potential for bias, and AI-created data is increasingly used in making decisions about who to hire, promote or to let go," Kropp said. "Unless there is an incredibly strong ethical component to that decision-making, the likelihood that organizations will make decisions for financial reasons based on an algorithm's output but that are ethically suspect is quite high."

Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, an HR advisory, research and membership firm in New York City, believes the task of mitigating bias in the workplace is big enough to justify a new role called human bias officer.

"[Developing this role] has become especially important on the heels of protests about systemic racism and the need for enhanced diversity and inclusion efforts in corporate America," Meister said. The human bias officer would help ensure that algorithms used in making workforce decisions are free of bias related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age and more, she said.

"Whoever has this role would work closely with the legal team to make sure the results of algorithms are transparent, explainable and bias free," Meister said.

Kropp said the ethics or bias officer also should work to ensure that AI and future intelligent technologies are applied in a balanced way. "The question organizations should be asking themselves isn't what technologies they should be using, but rather how they should be using technologies in ways that work both for employers and employees," Kropp said.

Chief HR Technology Optimization Officer

Rhonda Marcucci, HR and benefits technology consulting practice leader for Gallagher, an HR advisory firm in Chicago, said an HR tech optimization officer role is needed because of the burgeoning technology platforms used in HR departments and the growing adoption of software-as-a-service (SAAS) technologies.

Marcucci said it's not uncommon for HR to have 15 or more technology platforms operating under its umbrella, serving varied needs such as core employee record keeping, recruiting, benefits administration, learning, performance management and more. Handling multiple platforms requires stronger governance and oversight than is typical in HR departments.

"The right hand often doesn't know what the left is doing, and that poor communication can lead to redundancies, unnecessary costs and other problems," Marcucci said. "HR needs a dedicated technology leader to ensure all of those systems are properly selected, optimized and integrated where needed."

A chief HR technology optimization officer also would serve as the point person to ensure that frequent software updates released by SAAS vendors are tested, configured and maximized for their new functionality. "The vendor community isn't always good at helping clients understand what SAAS upgrades are and how best to take advantage of them," Marcucci said. "So what ends up happening is people simply don't use the update."

Gallagher recently conducted a survey of 400 organizations that found that more than two-thirds of HR functions use less than 75 percent of the features and functions available in their technology platforms.

A big component of the technology optimization job would be to increase employee adoption of HR technologies. Investing in shiny new recruiting, performance management or learning technologies is one thing, but convincing employees who are set in their ways to use the new systems is quite another.

"I think about my iPhone and everything it can do that I still don't know about," Marcucci said. "Employees often don't adopt new software and systems at the rate companies would like, and even when they do, they don't use all of the features and functions available to them. It's a concern, not just in HR but across the enterprise, because organizations are missing opportunities to improve productivity and efficiency."

Experience Engineering Specialist

Experts said this role will help to improve the technology experience for HR's customers: the employees. Michael Rochelle, chief strategy officer and principal human capital management analyst for the Brandon Hall Group, an HR advisory and research firm in Delray Beach, Fla., said the job could focus on helping build HR websites, portals, apps or employee self-service tools that are user-friendly and efficient.

"There's a need for more people in HR who really understand software because systems in the function are becoming more sophisticated," Rochelle said. "The world is moving toward 100 percent web-based HR support, and HR needs to operate like a services organization in terms of treating employees like customers. That means digital HR should be very intuitive and efficient for the workforce to use."

Data Science Manager

Organizational leaders are increasingly asking CHROs to take a more evidence-based and data-driven approach when making decisions, experts say, creating a need for more data science and analytics expertise in the human resources group. "HR needs to either reskill existing staff or hire specialists who can perform statistical analysis and predictive analytics at a high level," Rochelle said. "That need will only grow in the future."

Meister said the science manager or data detective would oversee the mining and analysis of people data from multiple sources in the organization to extract actionable insights for leaders.

"The data detective role is the next step for forward-looking companies that have increasingly been hiring or developing people with computer science and analytics skills in HR," Meister said. "It will be their job to sift through data from employee surveys, recruiting platforms, benefits portals and other HR systems to draw conclusions that help solve pressing business problems."

AI 'Chaperone' and Coach

The growing use of bots to handle tasks within HR also requires new skills and knowledge in humans, experts say. Meister says the blended workforce is no longer defined by full-time employees working alongside contract and gig workers, but rather by humans using automated programs—bots—to improve efficiency and save time.

Meister identifies one future role as "chatbot coach," a human recruiter who ensures that recruiting processes involving bots don't discriminate against job candidates, and that bots effectively answer applicants' relevant questions and treat candidates humanely.

"Human recruiters will be trained in how to work with the bots on their recruiting teams, including deciding which tasks to outsource to the bot, making the bot aware of changes in job specs or new types of questions arriving from job candidates," Meister said. "Creating this new role represents the natural next step for early adopters of artificial intelligence in HR."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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