From recruitment and deliveries to surveillance and inspections, companies worldwide use drones.
In fact, the projected revenue from drone sales is expected to exceed $12 billion by 2021—up from just over $8 billion in 2015, according to a report from BI Intelligence, published by Business Insider.
But how will the use of drones impact HR and the workforce over the next few years?
Experts say HR will need to arrange to hire drone pilots or train staff to be pilots and ensure their safety—and the public's safety, too.
Steve Boese, a technology editor for LRP Publications who co-chairs the Human Resource Executive HR Technology Conference & Exposition, and other experts tell SHRM Online there are a number of concerns with using drones in the workplace.
1. The legal requirements and regulations. "HR and legal departments have to be aware of and consistently monitoring the relevant Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other state or local rules and regulations governing commercial drone usage and deployment," said Boese, a former HR instructor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. "Some of the key issues for HR are going to be around privacy, access to private airspace—in the case of deliveries, for example—and safety."
2. The recruiting and training challenges. Because commercial drone operation is a pretty new discipline, it is likely that qualified operators are in short supply. "And very few organizations would have any in-house capability or capacity to train their existing employees," Boese said. "This could be an area where HR and training departments have to look to third-party providers … to take some or all of these roles. This is a great example of how an extended, flexible workforce can be leveraged by HR to acquire specialized and technical skills that are new and in short supply."
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]
Jonathan Rupprecht, an attorney who practices drone law with Rupprecht Law in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., agrees. He is also a commercial pilot and professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"With companies eager to hire drone pilots to start building their internal drone programs, careful attention needs to be placed on the vetting process," Rupprecht told SHRM Online. "HR will need to consider what documents need to be looked at [and] what documents can be requested from the FAA regarding the potential hires' enforcement history. These things are necessary to prevent bad hires as well as potential legal liability if there is an accident," he said.
3. The need for niche skills. "Longer-term, HR leaders would need to think about commercial drone operations like they consider other technical or niche skills," Boese said, for example, whether it makes sense to have people with these capabilities as in-house employees or as part of the extended or contracted workforce.
"Drones can allow certain portions of your more senior workforce to be repurposed into other highly valuable jobs," added Rupprecht.
Using drones "allows HR to start looking into newer areas to acquire talent and character that might have been previously not as realistic (e.g., a double-amputee wounded veteran operating a drone at a construction site)," he wrote in an e-mail.
Added Boese: "It might make sense to develop relationships with third-party providers who are more likely to keep abreast of the most current technologies and regulations covering commercial drone operations. On the other hand, if [drone-operating] capability is considered essential to the organization and rises to a core competency, then, like other types of specialized skills, HR leaders would need to build some of their own internal capability to build out the internal teams."
4. Certification issues. "Human resources will want to maintain records of related certifications and may want to offer training for personnel who operate drones," added Arun Srinivasan, senior vice president, SAP Fieldglass, a Chicago-based services procurement provider. However, he told SHRM Online, the use of drones, as with other new technologies, "may have broader implications in the workplace, and human resources needs to be cognizant of those."
For example, he said, take a utility or oil company that needs to maintain its pipelines. "Drones may be deployed to capture a view of the situation ahead of sending in a live crew. That may safeguard a crew. It can save time and inform other workers about what they may need to take with them when they're deployed to address a situation. The drone becomes another source of information and [human resource professionals may] need to know that employees are trained [and certified] on the drones' capabilities" so they know exactly what information has been processed and relayed by those drones.
5. Pushback and resentment. "HR has to be cognizant of any organizational pushback or resentment if employees interpret commercial drone usage as taking away real employees' roles," Boese added. "HR and operations should stress the safety element here primarily, and then the new jobs that will potentially be created for [drone] operators."
Use in Recruitment
In the Czech Republic, Kiwi.com—an online travel agency—used drones to recruit developers, as seen in the video below.
But experts say that when HR dives into programs like this, it must take precautions in case employees piloting drones cause or are involved in accidents.
Drones are aircraft—and aviation is a highly regulated industry.
Accidents do happen, and just as with any other liability issue, HR needs to have a contingency plan in place in case things go awry.
"Aircraft crashes can trigger the need to contact the FAA, the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] or file a NASA report. Will HR need to hire a person who can assist with reporting an accident?" Rupprecht queried.
"While many think of the rare accident as the big problem for the company, the constant problem is the need for getting rapid, accurate answers to regulatory compliance questions," he said.
Experts said having an aviation attorney on retainer is smart. "The NTSB requires some reporting to be immediate, while the FAA and NASA require reports to be filed within 10 days. Do you really want to be under pressure to try and find an aviation attorney within 10 days?" Rupprecht asked. He added that HR professionals can and should use their legal departments to help them vet an aviation attorney.
Hiring an aviation consultant might be a bad idea, though, he added.
This is "because the communications between an attorney and their client are protected under the attorney-client privilege. Communications with consultants are not protected, which means the FAA or a plaintiff's attorney can subpoena the consultant you hired to testify against you."
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