Jim Stroud, HR influencer: “AI will remove routine and repetitive tasks before fully eliminating jobs”

We’ve interviewed CEOs. We’ve interviewed authors. We’ve interviewed entrepreneurs. But this is the first time in our series about the future of work that we’ve interviewed someone who is also a talented cartoonist.

Not that Jim Stroud is your typical cartoon creator. Think of him instead as an HR influencer, someone who can “generate demand for HR tech companies with awesome content”.

Content such as the strip we’ve embedded here; to see more, sign up for his superb comic strip and newsletter, The Recruiting Life. It’s his take on the latest happenings in the world of work, designed to make you think — and laugh. 

As someone who is steeped in the world of HR technology, what comes through from our interview below is how much is changing. If your company is still using old tools and old metrics then you will struggle to recruit talented staff.

It’s that simple.

What are the major factors influencing the future of work?

Rise of AI and automation: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation have revolutionised various aspects of recruitment. AI-powered tools can efficiently screen resumes, analyse candidate data and automate repetitive tasks such as scheduling interviews. This technology has helped recruiters streamline their processes, reduce bias and focus on more strategic aspects of their roles. 

Shift towards candidate-centric approaches: Candidates now have more power and choices in the job market, leading to a shift towards candidate-centric recruitment strategies. Companies are increasingly focusing on delivering a positive candidate experience, personalised communication and transparency throughout the hiring process. This includes providing timely feedback, clear job descriptions and ensuring a smooth onboarding experience.

Emphasis on employer branding: Companies recognise the importance of building a strong employer brand to attract and retain top talent. They are investing in creating compelling employer branding campaigns, showcasing company culture and employee testimonials, and highlighting the unique benefits of working for their organisation. Social media platforms play a crucial role in amplifying employer brand messages.

Expansion of remote work and flexible arrangements: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote work and flexible arrangements. Many companies have embraced remote hiring and virtual interviews, enabling access to a broader talent pool beyond geographic limitations. Remote work options have become a significant factor for candidates when evaluating job opportunities, and organisations are adapting their recruitment strategies accordingly.

Growing importance of data-driven recruitment: The availability of data and analytics has enabled recruiters to make more informed decisions. Recruitment analytics can provide insights into the effectiveness of sourcing channels, candidate screening methods, and overall recruitment strategies. Recruiters are leveraging data to measure their performance, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions to optimise their hiring processes.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives: Companies have placed a greater emphasis on DEI initiatives in their recruitment efforts. They are actively striving to build diverse and inclusive workforces, recognising that diverse teams drive innovation and better business outcomes. 

Skills-based hiring and upskilling: The focus on skills-based hiring has increased as companies seek candidates with relevant competencies rather than solely relying on traditional credentials. Organisations are placing more importance on assessing candidates’ abilities, potential and cultural fit. Additionally, upskilling and reskilling initiatives have gained prominence as companies aim to bridge skill gaps within their existing workforce. (Look for more companies like TaTio to make an impact as this trend continues.) 

What jobs do you think AI might replace?

I think AI will remove routine and repetitive tasks before fully eliminating jobs. With that done, workers will do different activities and thereby expand the scope of their work. Take for example how ATM machines were supposed to replace bank tellers. That being said, there are several roles that are destined to be re-engineered. 

Customer service and support: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are increasingly handling customer inquiries and support, potentially reducing the need for human customer service representatives in certain scenarios.  

Transportation and delivery: With advancements in autonomous vehicles and drones, jobs involving transportation and delivery, such as truck driving or package delivery, may see changes as AI technologies progress.

Data analysis and reporting: AI can quickly analyse vast amounts of data, potentially impacting roles that involve manual data analysis and reporting, such as certain types of financial analysis or market research.

Manufacturing and production: As robotic automation advances, certain roles in manufacturing and production lines, particularly those involving repetitive tasks, may be replaced by AI-driven robots and machines.

Data entry and processing: AI technologies, including optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent document processing (IDP), are increasingly capable of automating data entry and processing tasks, potentially reducing the need for manual input.

Stock trading and financial analysis: AI algorithms are already being used in automated trading systems, and advancements in machine learning may impact roles in stock trading and certain aspects of financial analysis.

And yet, I think there will always be a human in the loop to resolve issues caused by technical glitches. Plus, people want to do business with people and I foresee an eventual apathy and resentment towards machines. I don’t think it will be too far-fetched to pay premium prices for all human services. 

Which tech skills will be in most demand over the next 12 months? And ten years?

That’s an interesting question but not the right one, in my opinion. Technology is changing so rapidly that this is hard to predict. At one point, I would have said data science or something related to software engineering. Due to AI advancements, however, such predictions may be moot.

I think the best skill to have now, over the next year and next ten years is high emotional intelligence. It’s already rated a top 10 in-demand skills by the World Economic Forum and research from McKinsey has shown that the demand for emotional skills will grow by 26% by 2030. 

I think as automation and AI begin doing so many of the tedious tasks associated with certain roles, it’s going to open the floodgates to more human interaction; for better or worse.

Imagine for a moment speaking to a customer service person after exhausting all the automated assistance available. They will have to keep you calm, stay calm themselves, convey empathy and resolve the issue without putting you on hold (as AI would have already done the heavy lifting of checking related to fixing things). 

How do you think the work office will change in the next ten years?

I think office spaces will convert to multi-use facilities where companies can offset high salaries for certain roles by offering living space. Very cheap (or free) rent may be a perk too irresistible for some workers, although it would be like giving golden handcuffs to their employees.

Between 2016 and 2021, 218 offices across the country were converted to other uses, or about 36 each year. The USA’s biggest office-to-apartment conversion is underway inside the old Daily News office, where more than 1,300 apartments will fill an empty office building in Lower Manhattan. 

Which areas of society do you think will be more impacted by technology?

I think it will impact the poorest among us the most. For instance, automation can lead to unemployment, while specialised skills favour certain individuals, deepening inequality. To address this, equitable access to education, digital infrastructure, upskilling and fair labour practices are crucial.

What is a recent example of technology disrupting work that you found interesting?

ChatGPT. The world literally changed overnight once it entered the mainstream.

When ChatGPT is brought up in relation to the job market, the arguments tend to repeat themselves. One view is from the doomsayers who suggest AI is going to steal all the jobs away with the contrarian position being somewhere between a “robotopia” (where machines do all the work and humanity is sustained on a Universal Basic Income) and an Iron Man scenario where tech and humanity operate simpatico.

I think to some extent all workers will become Tony Stark with our iPhone or variant wearable technology augmenting our intelligence. If that seems far-fetched, consider the last time you dialled a phone instead of commanding Siri or tapping the name of a desired party. (God help us all if we wander off lost on a road trip without the aid of GPS.)

As the new status quo of office robots and automation encroaches, it strikes me as odd that no-one seems to be voicing the next great worker concern. If automation can eliminate certain tasks for a certain worker by X per cent then, should that worker have his compensation reduced accordingly?

I do not have a background in benefits and compensation analysis but, I think that such is an argument that will be made in the near future.

For more on the future of work

Our thanks to Jim for taking the time to share his thoughts on the future of work. For more predictions, read on:

  • Deepesh Banerji, Chief Product Officer, Deputy. “The key to preparing for the future of work is to develop skills that are difficult to automate, such as creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence”
  • Philip Ross, author, futurist and CEO of Ungroup and Cordless Group: “The office of 2033 will become a more social, healthier, more sentient, elastic, digital, personalised, shared and purposeful space”
  • Duena Blomstrom, author and CEO of PeopleNotTech. “Jobs of the future? Chief Psychological Safety Officers will be in, bureaucrats will be out.”

If you have something to say about the future of work, please email us at [email protected].

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.