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SHRM CEO addresses AI 'nightmare' in HR

SHRM is pushing back against predictions that AI in HR will lead to job losses. The association's CEO Johnny Taylor believes AI will augment HR roles.

Society for Human Resource Management CEO Johnny Taylor is trying to be upbeat about the effect AI will have on HR. AI will augment HR jobs, not replace workers, he said during the closing keynote of the group's annual conference in Las Vegas this week. But he also candidly acknowledged the prevalence of contrary predictions.

There's not a week that goes by, Taylor said, "when a major news headline doesn't tell [HR] employees how much their jobs are at risk" because of AI.

"The resulting fear -- and that's not an understatement -- has created one of the biggest nightmares for HR to manage," he said.

Two days before Taylor delivered his closing remarks, McKinsey & Co. predicted generative AI and other technologies will be disruptive to productivity and the economy. They "have the potential to automate work activities that absorb 60% to 70% of employees' time today," it said in a new report. Workers will need support to learn new skills, "and some will change occupations."

Last month, a report by Valoir, a technology analyst firm in Arlington, Va., found that HR jobs are at risk. The report was based on a survey and interviews with 1,000 workers in finance, HR, IT, marketing, operations and other service roles.

New findings

HR was found to be the top business unit where workers could be vulnerable to AI. More than 60% of HR jobs are at risk, according to Valoir's report. IT and finance closely followed HR. These are areas where "a significant portion of daily work tasks are ripe for intelligent automation in areas such as data entry and analysis, coding, and revising of reports and documents," the report stated.

HR workers who "learn how to use AI effectively will save a lot of time and be able to focus on higher value activities," said Rebecca Wettemann, CEO and principal analyst at Valoir, but "those that don't may run a greater risk of being replaced." 

The specter of increased automation has always stalked the future of work.
Johnny TaylorCEO, Society for Human Resource Management

Despite the predictions of job risks, Taylor has a more hopeful vision.

"The specter of increased automation has always stalked the future of work," he said. 

But Taylor said combining AI and human interaction could deliver increased value for employers. 

"This isn't about eliminating humans; it's about making human beings more efficient, more effective," he said.

Taylor argued that there are many things AI can't do for HR because "those things are uniquely human." 

"At the end of the day, you can't send a cyborg or ask ChatGPT to do the job of a human -- making each employee feel unique, feel valued and feel heard," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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