By Peter Weddle on the TAtech Blog
It’s entirely reasonable and appropriate for those of us in the talent acquisition field to be focused on the two convulsive challenges of our time: the social justice movement and the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we would be remiss – no it’s worse than that, we would be negligent – to ignore the other two challenges that are also shaking the foundation of our lives: the automation of jobs and the overheating of our planet.
Business leaders have spoken billions of words over the past several decades, all affirming the importance of diversity and inclusion. What’s different about the social justice movement is the insistence that those words become actions, that aspirations become reality.
The Covid-19 pandemic, on the other hand, has already changed the fabric of business operations. Every activity from sales and customer service to marketing and corporate operations – including recruitment – has adopted new behaviors to protect employees and customers alike.
For many of us, dealing with these two issues has been all consuming. They are ever-present priorities in our day-to-day work and relentless worries that keep us tossing and turning at night. And yet, as important as they are, they do not represent the totality of what should concern us. Even as we deal with them, each passing day brings us closer and closer to an event best described as a point of no return.
Two Singularities in One Moment
Whatever your views on the ultimate role of artificial intelligence, what is clearly indisputable is the accelerating replacement of human workers by smart machines. From journalists and lawyers to production line workers and customer service reps, from warehouse workers and postal clerks to accountants and programmers, blue and white-collar workers alike have lost out to a smarter, stronger working class species – byte-collar workers.
And yet, those machines aren’t even that intelligent. Each generation of the technology, however, is gaining in knowledge and understanding, and most AI experts now agree that we will cross a point of no return in 2040. In just two decades, this Technological Singularity will mark the moment when machines finally and forever become smarter than humans.
And during that very same year, that point of no return will signal another challenge to the way we live and work – the Climatic Singularity. That’s right, according to the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the year 2040 will also signal the moment when the average temperature of the earth’s surface becomes 1.5 degrees F warmer than it was at the dawn of the industrial age. When that happens, the earth will never, ever get cooler again.
And yet, the planet hasn’t even become that hot. Still, global warming is already affecting the weather. The fire season on the west coast and the hurricane season the east coast are now longer and more destructive than ever before. At the same time, flooding destroys city streets and ruins farmers’ fields in the Midwest, while droughts endanger water supplies and stunt crops in the south and southwest.
There’s no doubt that these are major issues for each and every one of us today, but what do they have to do with recruiting? Not a lot … unless we choose to get involved. And how do we do that? There are, of course, an infinite array of possibilities, but let’s take employment branding as an example.
In the area of AI, employers are now engaged in an automation race that is as potentially harmful to peoples’ careers as the arms race is to their wellbeing. Competitive pressures will ensure that companies keep ratcheting up their investment in byte-collar workers. There’s no doubt that it’s happening – in fact the pandemic is accelerating it – but most companies keep their plans under wraps.
That secrecy leaves employees vulnerable to techno-shock when out-of-the-blue, they come into work one day and see a machine where their desk used to be. Most workers, but especially top talent, are aware of this possibility and worry about it. So, think how much stronger an employer’s brand would be if it were honest and transparent about where, when and how it will be investing in AI. Yes, that might scare some people off, but it would also attract those who value an employer with the courage to deal with them forthrightly.
In the area of global warming and climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing companies to reconsider their commitment to huge cubicle farms in offices with high energy demands and unrelenting business travel that puts billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Neither is likely to go away entirely, but doing something as simple as adopting a goal of reducing the company’s carbon footprint would probably tip the balance toward significant reductions and other green initiatives.
That commitment offers a way for employers to move beyond marginal efforts at being good stewards of the planet. For years, companies have recycled paper products and purchased energy efficient technology, but until now, their day-to-day operations have remained largely unchanged. Implementing more planet-friendly ways of conducting business would enable a company to make its environmental contribution a genuine facet of its employment brand.
Obviously, we won’t make much headway by embarking on such initiatives by ourselves. We’re going to need allies and supporters in other areas of the enterprise, but what we can do is get the conversation started. We can help our colleagues understand that even as we address the challenges of moving forward on social justice and dealing with the coronavirus, we have to resolve the issues of work automation and global warming as well.
Food for Thought,
Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.