HR Tech Day: balance between technology and people

november 23, 2019

The concept of the “ordinary” employee is on its way out and is making way for the human-plus-worker. A human being linked to technology. People linked to robots and screens, controlled by smart software and algorithms. This employee of the future is also someone who highly values health and fitness, and for them, a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and a good work-life balance are key. During the HR Tech Day, a quick test was done to determine the fitness of the HR managers. Just raising hands to give your opinion wasn’t enough; those who agreed with a statement, stood up. 

How do HR managers choose the right people? How do they know whether candidates meet the human-plus-worker qualification? This question and many more were the focus during the first HR Tech Day event, created and organized by Brightlands Smart Services Campus, Techruption, APG, BISS Institute, Maastricht University, Open University and Zuyd University of Applied Sciences. These are all parties that are pioneers in the field of data analysis and processing at the Heerlen campus, fields which are also essential for HR managers.

Changing tasks

“The War on Talent has begun,” said interim director Theo van Kessel of the Brightlands campus in Heerlen to kick off this conference addressing a broad range of topics. His statement was kindly but firmly corrected by the first keynote speaker, the employability professor Jol Stoffers, who works at both Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and the Open University. 

His message was that the war on talent has been going on for a while, and these days, the focus is more on training your own employees to make sure they can keep up with our changing society, equipping them to use technology resources. “Robotics and automation have a major impact on the labor market. Although this isn’t causing a loss of jobs, the tasks are changing. Strenuous and repetitive work is being taken over by machines and robots. According to our own research, this figure is more than 20 percent. Other tasks are being added however, supported by smart technology. This demands certain skills of the employees, such as being able to work with robots. Employers must take this into account by training their own people and, when hiring new employees, assessing whether they have the skills they need. Of course, this also requires a different approach from the HRM department.”

Participating via a video link from London, Will Stronge gave a few more good examples. “The driver who is no longer allowed to sit behind the wheel,” said Stronge, the co-director of the British think tank Autonomy, which focuses on the labor market and the employees of the future. “Even though there will be less work, this still gives us the opportunity to fill this time in a different way, take different approaches to work.”

Development

Jol Stoffers (photo right) references the results of a study conducted by Zuyd University of Applied Sciences among 200 companies and institutions in Limburg. More than half of the employees are insufficiently trained for the new digital era. “Employee development is now part of the total business process and is no longer a subject for the HR department alone. 

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Capitalizing on people’s capacity to learn has become part of the primary process. Our research shows that more than half of the companies are still not doing enough in this area.” Technology, artificial intelligence, algorithms; they are all indispensable in this context. Jol Stoffers emphasizes that in spite of this, it’s still about people. They are at the heart of all this; technology is a means and not an end.

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Mien Segers (photo left), professor of Corporate Learning at Maastricht University, agrees. “Technology provides access; it's a means to an end. We live in a world where information is available anytime, anywhere. How do you handle this, and how do you know which information is accurate? We have to make people future-proof, but how? The solution is to train them on an ongoing basis, with offline and online programs but also on an informal level. 

People learn from each other when they talk and listen. I advise organizations to promote discussion in a safe environment, to listen to each other, provide feedback, give employees the room they need to be creative. It's about striking the balance between technology and people. This is the challenge.”

Struggles

These concepts were not all completely new ones for the HR managers and entrepreneurs assembled at the event. And even though this was the case, they still struggle with the question of how to respond to the rapidly changing labor market and the skills it requires. The tried and tested method of posting a job opening and waiting for reactions is on its way out. “HR is no longer in control,” according to Hans Mangelschot of the Belgian company Tech Valley. He even turns things around. “Job seekers are the ones to determine what happens. They are well-educated, can use the latest technologies and look for employers that suit them and their needs. They look for the companies or organizations with the best reviews, terms of employment and philosophy. In other words, talent shops around, and this is why an employer must be visible and the information must be accurate. Unfortunately, we see a lot of organizations doing too little in this area.” 

Artificial Intelligence

The message is therefore to increase visibility and also use the latest technologies in selecting candidates. “This may be done using algorithms and artificial intelligence. For example, data that predicts the probability of someone leaving the organization quickly. The technology for this is not fully developed yet. AI is still in its infancy, but it's definitely something that HR managers should be working on now. It's the future, after all, but still requires a lot of investment and pioneering.”

Additionally, there isn’t a manual on the use of data. “HR analytics and data analysis are the areas that will play a major role,” according to Ilse Schrijver, a researcher at Zuyd. “It’s crucial to ask the right questions.” The young entrepreneurs Jan Berghoff and Fionna Falk confirm this in their short pitch with two more pioneers in the field of HR analytics. They are developing tools to make the right choices from databases containing data on tens of thousands of students. A sophisticated search tool makes this easier. Gert-Jan Guldemond has developed a tool for the early prediction of burnout, provided the correct data is entered. To make this a success, it’s important to pay attention to people, a concept Jol Stoffers and Mien Segers advocated earlier during the event.

Combination

It’s all about the combination of man and technology. “The human-plus-worker, in other words,” says Lars Maubach of Accenture, “someone who is inextricably linked to technology. This is what we need to be able to anticipate and respond to. Here at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus, this is just another day at the office for us.”

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The successful recruitment and selection of new employees is increasingly determined by self-learning algorithms and the smart use of data. The increased ease of finding the employers themselves also contributes to this success. Plenty of reasons to organize a HR Tech Day at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen. The over 100 managers and entrepreneurs who attended learned more about the advancing role of technology in the human resources field, and why it’s so important for employees to stay fit.

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