will automation transform your future contingent workforce?

June 26, 2016 Pat McCall

Automated store check-outs. Driverless cars. Product delivery drones. This is the present and potential future world of work, and if your organization isn’t looking for ways to benefit from robotics and automation, you may be losing out on a competitive advantage.

By now, you’ve probably read about Google’s driverless vehicles, which have logged more than 1.5 million miles autonomously. You might have also heard of Amazon’s ambitious Prime Air program, which aims to deliver purchases through a fleet of self-navigating drones. While these are high-profile examples of robotics at work, the reality is businesses around the world are already leveraging automation and robotics to supplement their talent needs.

According to the World Economic Forum, a fourth industrial revolution led by digital transformation could lead to the loss of 5.1 million jobs from 2015-2020. A recent Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) study concluded that 63% of temp agency jobs in the U.S. are at a high risk of automation over the next 20 years. Just recently, it was reported that Foxconn, a contract manufacturer of iPhones, replaced 60,000 workers at one Chinese factory with robots. And did you know that artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being leveraged to help travelers alleviate the legwork associated with travel and accommodation bookings?

How do these developments affect your organization’s contingent talent strategy? I believe automation and robotics present both threats, challenges and opportunities to every company. If your organization could better deploy these resources — whether as a manufacturer or as a service — you may gain a long-term advantage over competitors. While initial investment costs may be sizable, the return over time can completely mitigate the upfront spend.

As contingent workforce leaders consider the implications that AI and robotics may have on their programs, they face a daunting question: How can I supplement contingent talent with technology to accelerate business outcomes?

The answer isn’t easy. Many promising technologies are still under development, and it’s unclear how they can be applied to each organization. Even well-established technologies require investors to have a deep understanding of the cost and impact on operations. Today’s talent leaders are already overwhelmed with many responsibilities, so should they be saddled with these additional tasks? I believe there is a better answer.

the role of strategic partners

Managed services providers are playing an increasingly important role in the development of our clients’ contingent talent strategies. We administer the talent, provide insightful analytical tools and offer expert advice on workforce planning. Our role has steadily evolved in recent years to drive more value to employers. We help businesses look at talent in a holistic way, and this includes the use of automation and AI. In the near future, I believe we will play a bigger role when it comes to choosing appropriate technologies for our clients’ talent needs.

Will this happen overnight or even in the next few years? No. We are at the early stages of having a discussion with employers. Our role is to be an advisor who can help identify opportunities where technology can play a role. As a service provider, we understand our clients’ talent needs, but we need to better familiarize ourselves with the technologies that can help transform their contingent workforce. Even though this requires time and effort, we’ve already started down this road.

A great example is how we apply AI in sourcing and selection. We’ve developed methodologies and technology toolsets to bring talent closer, and more quickly, to employers. In fact, the Randstad Innovation Fund invests in some of the most exciting workforce technologies that facilitate the work of customers, enabling them to get talent more quickly and efficiently. Among the many companies are twago (freelance management system), Checkster (assessment), Crunchr (analytics) and VONQ (recruiting marketing).

There are those who fear automation and its impact on displacing people. I don’t pretend this won’t happen; technology has always been disruptive. But it also creates opportunities. Demand for engineers, app developers and other STEM skills will rise. According to the 2016 Flexibility@Work report, sponsored by Randstad, for every high-tech job created, up to 4.4 additional jobs are created downstream in the same location. Even in our business, we will need to deploy more experts familiar with our customers’ businesses to develop strategies that complement their existing workforce. You can learn more about this phenomenon in the report here.

You might question why a service provider whose business is based on placing people would want to help our customers think about technology and automation as an alternative. The answer is simple: if we aspire to be a true strategic partner, we have to help our clients explore all available talent and resources to achieve business growth objectives. Technology is transforming not only what talent is needed by an organization, but also how work is done. If we allow our clients to stand still during these dynamic times, their survival, as well as ours, will be in jeopardy. As clients succeed in their contingent workforce program, we know then that our relationship will grow and evolve for the long term.

about the author

Pat McCall

As chief sales officer, Pat McCall leads sales efforts across Randstad’s HR solutions group, including Integrated Talent Management (ITM), Managed Services Programs (MSP), Payrolling and Independent Contractor Solutions (PICS), strategic account sales, and more. McCall draws on more than 15 years of executive management and sales and marketing expertise for staffing, process outsourcing and technology organizations, helping global employers adopt the solutions that can solve their most complex talent acquisition challenges. Before assuming the chief sales officer role, McCall served as vice president of Sales and Solutions Design for Randstad Sourceright, leading the strategic development of new business and solution design. McCall was previously co-founder and managing partner at Verity Professionals, an IT services and staffing firm. There he led operations and sales for the firm, helping it become a preferred specialty supplier to Fortune 100 companies.

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