Your company is only as good as your employees, but finding and keeping high-quality talent is one of the most challenging aspects of running any business. And it's not getting any easier.

In April the unemployment rate in the U.S. fell to 3.6 percent, a nearly five-decade low, which has led some businesses to take creative approaches to recruiting, retention, and other human resources functions. More and more, they're leveraging new technology to cut costs, and relying heavily on data to make decisions about hiring, raises, and promotions.

Here are a few ways HR will evolve in 2020 and what business owners should do now to  prepare for those changes.

1. Deploying chatbots to handle recruiting

Recruiters already use artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify potential candidates who have the right skill sets and experiences for the roles they're trying to fill. But what if there's a new manufacturing plant opening and you're tasked with finding 100 people to work specialized machinery? Or there's a new restaurant that needs to find 30 people to fill various types of roles? In certain industries like these, which typically don't use recruiters, the process could take significant time.

This is an issue Jeanne MacDonald, president of global RPO solutions for management consultancy Korn Ferry, says her firm's clients are facing. Their solution: robotic process automation (RPA), more commonly known as chatbots. "It's adding recruiting processes to an industry or possible industries that never really had that before," MacDonald says. 

Essentially, the chatbot asks a candidate if they're interested in the job. If they are, the bot sends over a job simulation--a video or written description of the role. Next the bot sends qualifier questions and, if the candidate is a fit, schedules an in-person interview. Paradox, for example, offers a chatbot called Olivia that reaches out to potential candidates by text message, SMS, and messaging platforms like FB Messenger, Whatsapp, or WeChat.

"The cost of talent acquisition at that level needs to be pretty low," MacDonald says. "So companies are looking for a kind of chain of pre-configured robotic process automation where the bot itself is engaging the candidate through the entire recruiting process, rather than the recruiters themselves."

2. Reskilling of the workforce

With unemployment low, the "buy, not build" strategy of hiring is unlikely to work. It's vital for employers to retain employees, even those whose roles are shifting or being eliminated from the company, because there's no guarantee of hiring additional talent.

"Companies are getting smarter about asking, 'How do I keep and retain and transform my workforce to be more agile for what the demands are?'" MacDonald says.

Instead of downsizing and rehiring, HR will be more willing to spend money and time putting employees in the classroom to learn new skills. In the long run, it's more cost effective. Amazon has provided a good model: Earlier this year the company announced a path for workers to rise from working in warehouses to data centers. The 16-week certification program nearly doubles employee's earnings from $16 to $30 per hour, while helping the company staff a fast-growing part of its business.

3. Shaking up who's in the HR department

With human resources becoming ever more important to company growth during this period of low unemployment, HR people themselves are more likely to come from various backgrounds, and bring new skill sets that previously weren't essential for the job.

"There's a trend of hiring people in HR that aren't just typical HR backgrounds," says Jon Stross, co-founder and president of Greenhouse, an HR software platform. For example, a fast-growing company might bring someone in who knows how to successfully run a sales funnel--demonstrating that they have people skills, and can run all elements of a process from reaching out, to gaining interest, to closing a deal. A larger company may hire someone with an analytics background who's able to analyze employee performance based on internal data.

"More leaders are realizing that being in HR is one of the biggest leverage points you can have for a company," Stross says. "Nobody would have said that a few years ago."

4. HR departments leveraging internal data to find potential new leaders, and help employees change teams internally

Companywide employee surveys can be used for a variety of HR purposes such as gauging company morale, determining benefits packages, or asking about the next holiday party. While the use of surveys isn't new, Jody Kohner, SVP of employee engagement at Salesforce, says they're a good way to see who's performing beyond expectations.

Right along with performance metrics such as sales quotas, Salesforce uses "people analytics," its version of HR data, to understand how its more than 45,000 employees are working. The company uses confidential, semi-annual employee surveys to measure employee engagement and the overall health of the company's culture. According to Business Insider, the company asks employees survey questions like "Do you see yourself working at Salesforce in two years?," "Are you willing to give extra to get the job done?," and "Are you comfortable telling your boss when your workload becomes unmanageable?"

Salesforce uses the responses to create "an internal Glassdoor," collecting comments that help identify who is engaged, has good ideas about how to improve the company, and has been helping their co-workers. The information is then used to help enhance internal recruiting and mobility.

Employees also have access to the results, including data regarding any manager with at least five employees who submitted survey responses. This helps employees who are unhappy switch managers or change teams to find a group where they may be a better fit. It also enables Salesforce to pick out leaders who are helping their teams excel.

"We're able to pinpoint a whole new group of leaders, not just those crushing quotas, or getting work done early, but the people who are embracing the culture and helping others rise to the top," Kohner says.

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