Virtual career assistants can solve coaching challenges

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Employees need machine-led coaching to help make career decisions

Virtual career assistants are going to play a growing role in employee coaching, according to AXA’s head of future workforce engineering Ambros Scope.

Speaking at the People Analytics World 2018 conference in London, Scope said that with businesses looking into the future use of technology such as blockchain, the Internet of Things, and big data “we need state-of-the-art technology to guide our employees’ development in this ever-faster changing digital world”.

“Because of these trends organisations are facing a rise in demand for coaching and career advice but a huge decrease in resource and budget for it,” he said. “We need to address this gap and we can’t do it with human coaching because it is too expensive, so we are turning to machines to solve this challenge.”

Employees need guidance around whether their jobs have a place in the future of work, the skills they may need to develop, and future roles that they could move into, he continued.

AXA has developed a virtual career assistant by combining the tools of a number of technology start-ups. It works by aiming to answer questions employees have about their careers, including: ‘will a robot do my job?’, ‘how suited am I for internal mobility?’, ‘what other job options are there for me?’ and ‘what’s the best training for me?’

Scope encouraged HR functions to partner with start-ups as a lower-cost way to drive innovation. He explained that one platform AXA partnered with, People Analytix, provides a dashboard where employees input information related to their job and skills, with algorithms then determining what jobs they could be suited to and where they require more training.

“If an employee finds that their job could be taken over by a robot, and their skills are not very suited to mobility, then they can take the right steps to develop their career or the skills they need,” Scope added. “There are so many new jobs that people aren’t aware of, and by using smart algorithms employees can be made aware of the opportunities available to them, and the business can be made aware of where its employees can be moved to from other parts of the business that are being streamlined.”

However, Scope was keen to point out that technology shouldn’t replace human coaching and career advice altogether.

He told HR magazine that “the use of virtual assistants in coaching is going to increase because no human being can grasp the amount of data needed for proper career advice and no human being can do it for the price of a machine, so inevitably machines will have more space in the future.”

But engaging employees with the technology can be a challenge. “Not all employees trust machines so they won’t use them,” Scope added.

“The challenge is that the employees who need it most will get it last. We start with the most engaged, as they are most willing to try it and we can then get user case studies from them to persuade others. But these are obviously the most agile and adaptable employees.”

He added: “So for the next 10 years or so I think a combination of both human and machine will be the right approach. If a human coach helps the more cautious employees use the machine then we have the human trust as well as the insight from the machine, so this combination is most beneficial.”

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