Photo by Leohoho

With the release of ChatGPT that shocked the world in late 2022, 2023 was the year that HR and People Operations teams started to get serious about implementing AI solutions into their workflows. 

In surveys of HR professionals, fully 75-80% say they are already using or actively considering AI today (e.g., Lattice, SHRM). And importantly, majorities of HR leaders are embracing the technology and don’t seem to be bogged down with existential dread about risks to their own jobs or those of their employees: 72% say they don’t see AI impacting their company headcount (Lattice), and 65% say they’re not worried about their own job security as a result of AI. 

I’d like to think this optimism stems from the fact that HR leaders spend their days immersing themselves in the power of human potential. Many of them have been through previous technological transitions and have led workforce retraining initiatives. As People Ops moves forward in the AI revolution, it will be critical for them to see AI as a tool like many that have come before it – one that must be applied carefully and  intentionally, and with special attention to its potential risks and shortcomings.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways that People Operations leaders are already starting to use AI and automation, and we’ll wrap up with a special focus on current and future applications in our favorite area: upskilling.

HR applications of AI

According to a recent SHRM poll of HR professionals, hiring is the area that is currently experiencing the greatest use of AI and automation, with 79% of HR managers reporting using it for this purpose. After hiring, we were excited to see that L&D came in second at 42%, closely followed by performance management (38%). Smaller numbers of HR leaders also report using AI and automation for productivity management (18%), succession planning (8%) and promotion decisions (4%) (SHRM).
But how, exactly, is HR using AI and automation? It’s important to sort out which processes can be significantly improved or enhanced by using AI, and which should remain in the human domain so that we don’t lose the “People” in People Operations. Generally speaking, processes that are repetitive and operational in nature can be easily automated to speed up workflows. Perhaps counterintuitively, doing so may actually make them a more positive and human-feeling user experience. Let’s look at a few examples of this in hiring, the domain with the greatest application of AI and automation today, and then shift to our favorite domain of upskilling.

Using AI and automation to make hiring more human

Take a minute to consider all of the tedious, time-consuming tasks involved in the hiring process. Reading through thousands of resumes, many of which may not even be relevant to the role. Scheduling dozens of interviews. Sending hundreds of emails. Answering the same candidate questions over and over. It’s not fun for People Operations leaders, and it’s certainly not great for candidates who can find themselves in the middle of drawn-out processes with painfully slow response times. 
AI and automation can be used to support all of these processes. For example, you can use automation to ensure that every candidate gets a courtesy email about whether their application is being considered, and to notify them when the role has been filled. After all, how many times have you submitted a resume into the digital ether and not received a single notification about your application status? Additionally, automatic scheduling can be used to make the entire interview process go faster, and AI-trained chatbots can be engaged to answer common candidate questions in a way that is more interactive and conversational than standard FAQs.
All of these strategies can be employed to free up valuable human resources for other important parts of the hiring process. So which tasks should be purely left up to humans? 
After resumes go through an initial round of sorting for relevance (which may involve the use of AI tools), subject matter experts should do the final review. Candidates are more than just keywords, and the subjective ways that someone presents their experience are important. Similarly, humans should be conducting all late-stage interviews, even if automated programs are used for initial interview rounds. And communications with candidates who make it to the final rounds of the interview process should be thoughtful and personal, whether or not they get the job.
When using AI and automation for hiring, it’s important to consider biases within the technology that may not be easily detectable, and which may conflict with DEI and other priorities. Because AI is designed to identify and replicate human patterns, it can learn to reflect our own human flaws and biases. For example, AI software may prioritize the resumes of historically privileged individuals – including those with certain types of last names, institutional affiliations, or backgrounds – if it learns that these candidates tend to be the most successful. That’s why it’s imperative to regularly assess your AI systems for potential biases and make sure that humans are involved at critical stages of the hiring process.
image of a crystal ball in front of a sunset
Photo by Drew Beamer

Using AI and automation to make upskilling more human

Many more organizations are taking upskilling seriously in 2024, and we couldn’t be more pumped, because it’s sorely needed. Historically, upskilling has been inflexible and one-size-fits all, and executives have judged success based on who has access, instead of who has meaningfully engaged with learning content. They have also failed to consider the many legitimate reasons why employees don’t engage, from a lack of guidance to a lack of choice and relevant content.
This fact is demonstrated by the disconnect between what executives think they offer and what employees believe they get in terms of upskilling. According to an EdX study, half of executives believe their organization provides employees with a strong culture of learning as well as the time to spend learning, but only one in five employees strongly agrees.

How we’re using AI and automation at OneRange

At OneRange, we have long been using AI and automation to personalize the upskilling experience and drive high levels of engagement, and we have a lot more planned in the pipeline in 2024.  
AI powers our discovery engine, enabling us to offer individualized recommendations based on role, team, organization, personal interests, and learning history. One of the ways we do this is by using AI to enrich the information that we get from learning providers, and then align it with our proprietary algorithms. For example, we use the information in the description of a book to classify it into subcategories that can help you to find it faster, for example “office productivity” or “compliance.”
We also use automation to send regular emails and in-app reminders that keep users coming back to learn more. These combined features contribute to making our engagement levels 10x higher than similar upskilling programs.
We believe the possibilities for AI to improve the platform are limitless. For example, imagine being able to upload the text of an annual performance review and get personalized learning recommendations as a result. Or what if you could paste in the narrative of a job description and get a customized learning plan to help you get the skills needed for the job?
On the administrator side, we’re envisioning ways that AI could be used to speed up processes and provide better insights. For example, we’re currently working on an enhancement that will expedite manager approvals. It works by analyzing resource requests to check whether the requested items align with the employee’s job function and the company’s business strategy, and then automatically approving them if so, without the manager ever having to click “approve.” And in the future, imagine if a People Ops leader could ask questions to a generative AI chatbot to get an analysis of how their company is performing and then develop an annual action plan to improve their upskilling program?
As we dream about an AI-enhanced future, we’ll remain mindful of the many elements of upskilling that require a human touch, such as coaching and mentorship, feedback and encouragement, reflection and discussion, and putting skills into practice in your career in the real world. And we’ll be on the lookout for potential biases that could occur, such as perpetuating gendered stereotypes about specific skills and job roles, or providing overly narrow recommendations that don’t push users to go outside of their comfort zone.

In summary: AI is here for HR, and we’re here to help you embrace it

2023 was the year we saw AI land with a bang, and all signs point to even greater growth in 2024. People Ops will continue to find exciting new applications for AI, including upskilling. OneRange will continue to be at the forefront of using AI to personalize the learning experience, but with careful consideration of potential biases, and with close collaboration and feedback from real humans like you.
We’d love to chat more about our AI initiatives, or anything else. Say hi at [email protected].