Separating Artificial Intelligence Myths from Reality

By Dave Zielinski October 18, 2019
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​LAS VEGAS—Artificial intelligence (AI) has pervaded most categories of HR technology, and those it hasn't touched are likely to see its impact soon. But questions and myths persist around the use of AI, issues that a panel of HR, talent acquisition and learning leaders explored in a session at the recent HR Technology Conference & Exposition.

Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, an HR advisory and research firm in New York City, moderated the panel.

"The conversation in HR has moved fully toward how AI and humans will best work together," Meister said. "It's about changing the role of the recruiter, leader or manager with the arrival of AI tools. The conversation no longer is only about how AI will displace jobs."

One slide in the presentation highlighted this quote from a Harvard Business Review article: "Over the next decade, AI won't replace managers. But managers who use AI will replace those who don't."

The panel tackled the question of whether AI would displace HR staff in their organizations. Sarah Smart, vice president of global recruitment for hotel and resort company Hilton, said use of the technology has changed—but not displaced—recruiter roles there.

To efficiently collect more accurate data on candidate capabilities, Hilton uses AI embedded in technologies from vendors HireVue and AllyO in the initial stages of recruiting call-center representatives.

Smart said using the technology has helped Hilton make 400 percent more offers with 23 percent less staff and improve its time-to-hire from six weeks to one week. The AI-driven predictive insights in the video interviews also have contributed to hiring more high-performers and reducing staff turnover.

Implementing those technologies has altered the recruiter's role in the first stages of screening, Smart said. "The profile of the recruiter has changed here partially as a result of AI. Many have new roles and responsibilities. For example, some are now technology implementation specialists, and others have transitioned into recruitment marketing using data-driven practices, or become project managers."

The panel also addressed the myth that AI is primarily being applied to heavily funded, high-profile projects. Meister reminded the audience that some of the most impactful uses of AI within HR have been applications that improve common processes in small but significant ways—often saving HR staff considerable time.

She cited the example of a hospital system that uses robots to check nurses' certifications. "The bots … send a reminder if they're not up-to-date, with no need for human intervention," Meister said.

Using AI in Internal Job Marketplaces

One of the more intriguing new uses of AI is playing out in internal job marketplaces, where the technology is used to automatically match incumbent employees to open jobs or part-time assignments. Such platforms allow managers to post openings and employ AI to connect employees to internal opportunities.

Andrew Saidy, vice president of talent digitization for Schneider Electric in Boston, told the audience how his company is using such a system with the help of a platform from vendor Gloat.

"We see it as a one-stop shop for career development," said Saidy, whose company has 150,000 employees. "Employees can go out on the open, internal talent market and find jobs or gig projects that fit their desires or further their career plans."

Saidy said that prior to introducing the platform, exit surveys showed that almost 50 percent of employees who were leaving Schneider Electric were doing so because they couldn't find a new career opportunity internally—even though they wanted to.

If Schneider employees aren't ready to leave their current role but would like to test-drive work in another area of the company, they can accept gig projects for a few hours per week. The platform also matches employees to mentors and provides AI-curated learning opportunities to prepare workers for future roles in the organization.

One obstacle to using internal jobs boards is managers' tendency to want to "talent hoard," or not allow their top employees to move to other parts of the organization. Saidy said the introduction of the platform at his company initially met with some resistance, but the CEO and other executives made clear that the use of the internal job marketplace was to be welcomed, used and promoted.

Schneider Electric previously required newly hired employees to stay in their role for three years. "But we came to the conclusion that was no longer possible," Saidy said. Company leaders realized keeping top employees inside the company was better than watching them flee to new opportunities in other organizations.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

Auditing Algorithms and 'Designing for the Disappointed'

Meister said that some progressive vendors have turned their AI applications into "white boxes" rather than black boxes, meaning they're making the functioning of their algorithms more transparent and auditing them frequently for accuracy or any adverse impact.

"If your vendor is working as a true partner, you'll be co-creating most algorithms with them, so you'll want them to be as transparent as possible" about the process, she said.

Smart said Hilton regularly validates the algorithms used in its candidate-screening process. "The algorithm is constantly taking in new information, so we believe validation should be ongoing."

Jennifer Carpenter, vice president of global talent acquisition for Delta Air Lines, said given that most job candidates will be disappointed at the end of the application process—the airline can hire only a small percentage of the many candidates who apply for flight attendant jobs—it's more important than ever to "design for the disappointed" and ensure AI is used in ways that doesn't depersonalize the process.

Carpenter believes technology can help by being more responsive to candidates, keeping them apprised of where they stand in the hiring process and notifying them faster if they aren't selected.

"Our candidates are our customers, and if we upset them, they have choices" and can choose to use other airlines, she said. "Job candidates are vulnerable, and we also have a responsibility to humanize the [hiring] process."

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

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