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Right Management’s Bridget Beattie: Impact of digitisation on HR and jobs

HR leaders must be amenable to change, for the gig economy has the potential to share up their entire world, affirms Bridget Beattie, group EVP, for Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern region, Right Management, in conversation with Aditi Sharma Kalra and Wani Azahar.

Q: You’ve just published articles covering career management expectations in the retail banking sector, what do these findings suggest?

While the organisation can facilitate conversations and equip the individual with the needed capabilities, the individual would need to want to own their career. What that means is to understand themselves in the context of work, and comprehend what the opportunities are.

Q: Despite 82% of the consumers globally using digital channels to fulfil their banking needs, 60% still want a human touch. How is digitisation affecting employees and jobs in the retail banking industry?

Typically what we are seeing is that automation is not affecting whole jobs, but just parts of jobs.

With the data showing that customers still want the human touch, we have to make sure this is given where the customers need it to be. In retail banking, it’s the last-mile delivery. It’s focused on problem-solving, and having excellent communication skills

Additionally, it’s about bank leaders acknowledging their role in helping people manage their careers. They are the ones with access to the information such as the skills that are sought-after, so with this on hand, they can start having the conversation.

Q: And how can leaders start these conversations?

Personally, I think it’s about the individual. If a manager wants to retain that person because they’re high-performing, then you want to give the individual all the information to make the right decisions.

It’s not a silver bullet; it’s conversational. It’s frightening for these leaders to have the conversations because they don’t know the answers. It’s challenging because (as leaders) we feel as though we must know them. We need to remember that’s it’s okay to just set the vision – this is what we know for now – and treat it like a real-time conversation.

Q: Talking about the right skillsets, what jobs do you think are most affected by the Singapore government’s emphasis for re-skilling?

All jobs. Everywhere. We’re talking about coding being the new blue-collar job!

Every industry is getting some type of digitisation because it’s about saving money. They do this by disrupting their own business, becoming digital without throwing away the human touch. But the concern is working out where this human face should be adding the right value.

Q: As we move to digitisation, is there a group of people that should be particularly worried?

Perhaps the first big wave of digitisation might affect women more, as this concern lies in the way we (women) socialise. They’re filling a lot more roles where parts of their jobs get automated. When we think about the quest of gender diversity, this is an extra concern – but it’s only in the first wave.

Adding on, people with no learnability are going to be really challenged.

If we end up with a big divide, we might have political dislocation, economic dislocation and a big sense of unease – as hinted towards what’s happening in America and Europe.

Q: How does this digital shift change the job description for HR professionals?

Massively! They’ll have to look at structures, work models, people practices, amongst other things. It’ll shake up your entire world. With this push of automation, there needs to be a critical way to engage people.

There will be big shifts in the composition of the workforce with an increasing amount of contingent labour. As they’re managed by service level agreements, there’s not a lot of touch-and-feel. Furthermore, these staff are not always happy in the gig economy since there’s no sick leave, no annual leave, and no protection. Considering Singapore’s interest in how all these works, I wouldn’t be surprised if this group of employees gets another type of protection.

Additionally, I think Singapore is able to differentiate itself like it did in the 60s. The country is able to pull away from everyone else, by creating this incredible economy and freedom to do things quick.

I think Singapore has the same opportunity to do the same its people when it comes to skill revolution. Make them smart globally, as it has the just right size with a central government approach.

Q. Could this fluid workforce be the answer to the labour shortage – especially in ageing-workforce economies like Japan and Singapore?

Totally – and I think it is a three-way partnership between government to have the right policies, education providers to make sure they are looking out far enough to see what business is going to need, and employers.

In many parts of the world, the government is not interested in these matters – they say it is for the business and university to figure it out. Good luck with that – because university sector is not traditionally fast moving. They take a long time because they are very research-and evidence-based, while business is very fast. So again, I think this is a unique advantage Singapore may have.

Q. What should HR directors do differently in light of these trends this year?

The most value that they can give is as a talent strategist, looking at the demand side, i.e. the business, what is it that the business will need?

HR has been obsessed with the supply side. This is why all these leadership pipelines are a disaster, because they just don’t have the right people. So the key thing will be to be a really good talent strategist.

Your HR stuff should work but you have to adapt – skinny it out. Out of all the policies, the big one is flexibility. Don’t worry about the supply – it will fall into place once you articulate what the demand is. And then, equip the supply to adjust themselves to where the demand is going. For example, tell the business – these are the skills we are going to need.

This is what HR should be doing in their spare time. Go and find some of these courses – lots of workplaces have huge amounts of online courses and people don’t take them. The smart ones, the get-ahead ones – only they take them.