How do we prepare people and business to meet the challenges of automation?

Open a conversation with an HR professional anywhere in the world and I’d guarantee that the dialog will swiftly turn to explore how the labor market is going through a huge transformation. The burning question on everyone’s lips: How do we, as HR professionals, prepare people and business infrastructures to meet the challenges of this new, automated era?

As Industry 4.0 unfolds, it will completely change the way we live, work and interact with each other. Characterized by what the World Economic Forum calls “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres,” it will cause widespread disruption and workplace change. Although it is impossible to predict its exact impact, we are already seeing artificial intelligence (AI) and automation making their mark on industries. With such momentous developments underway, I believe it is essential that we, as HR professionals, start preparing now.

These are issues that will impact the daily lives of millions of people around the globe. It’s therefore natural to conclude that as the “people” experts, HR professionals, just like me, are instrumental in driving innovation. With this in mind, we recently invited HR leaders to join a new HR Innovation Lab to share industry-wide best practice, knowledge and expertise on all the latest trends and uses of HR digital transformation.

Changing the face of the workspace

We are facing both a cultural shift and a change in roles. There has been much in the press to suggest that 5G, AI, data analytics and automation will not only alter skills requirements but will also replace certain jobs altogether. Yes, some roles will disappear, but on a positive note, AI has the power to alleviate repetitive tasks, allowing people to apply their skills and knowledge to more interesting, engaging and high-value business tasks.

Our aim for the HR Innovation Lab is to measure the impact of technology on business and identify co-innovation projects and experimental initiatives. Over time, we’ll be sharing the findings from members’ research including specialist reports from our future of work team at Orange Labs in Silicon Valley.

We know that without people an organization can’t transform. HR teams must lead by example by employing digital tools and HR analytics to help people understand where they fit into an organization and how they will need to adapt to the arrival of new technologies. Our role as HR leaders is to translate data into concrete advice for business leaders on what skills will be needed and how they can be put in place and be both an enabler and driver of transformation. This means taking on a far more strategic role in defining the workplace of the future.

According to a survey by the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that by 2022 around 54 percent of employees in organizations will require significant re-skilling or up-skilling. However, proficiency in new technology skills, such as AI and robotics, is only one part of the puzzle. We will also see demand for human skills such as critical thinking, negotiation, empathy and complex problem solving. In my next blog, I’ll share more ideas on HR’s role in preparing business with the right skills for tomorrow.

Until then, I am always interested to hear how other organizations are preparing for a changing workplace. If you are an HR Leader and would like more information about the HR Innovation Lab, future webinars, HR circles and learning expeditions to Silicon Valley, Asia and Europe, I look forward to hearing from you (or contact the HR Innovation Lab directly at

Paz Fonteboa
Paz Fonteboa

Paz Fonteboa is Europe’s Regional Head of Human Resources at Orange Business. Prior to joining Orange España in 2013 as Human Resources Director and member of the Executive Committee, Paz held various human resources directorial positions at major telecom, consumer goods and banking enterprises for over two decades.