AI in Asia - How Workforce Digitalisation Is Actually A Good Thing

7 Minutes

Phillip Welburn, Managing Director, North-Asia, at Elliott Scott HR, recently sat down with ...

Phillip Welburn, Managing Director, North-Asia, at Elliott Scott HR, recently sat down with Richard Hanson, CEO of Jobable, to discuss how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the landscape of Asia’s workforce, and what HR professionals can do to prepare themselves.

Compared with the rest of the world, Asia may be behind when it comes to embracing AI, but it will soon catch up. Richard Hanson, CEO of Jobable, a company pioneering the discussion around AI in the workplace, believes that in Asia, employers are aware of the benefits of AI more than ever, however it will take time to prepare businesses for the actual implementation of processes to leverage it effectively.

“The good news is that when companies in Asia start using AI, they tend to quickly expand its usage,” he says. He expects that the presence of AI in the workforce will increase significantly in Asia over the next five years as the first pioneers report their successes and more companies feel comfortable to pursue AI innovations.

Philip Welburn, Managing Director, North-Asia, at Elliott Scott HR, a specialist HR recruitment company, sees this first-hand when meeting with clients. “In Asia, it appears more talk than action when it comes to AI, but we will see this slowly change,” he says. “The insurance industry in particular seems the most aware of and bracing for the change.”

Some job functions may be more at risk of automation compared to others. According to a recent study on the impact of automation on a global scale, there are high-risks to functions typically considered ‘safe’, such as accounting and customer service. “All functions will be impacted in some way by automation, however the scale of the impact will vary,” Hanson says.

Businesses need to strike the right balance between automating time-intensive manual processes, whilst capturing the opportunity to up-skill existing workforces to become even more productive. “In practice, applying automation to any business is a subtle art, not a complete revolution,” he says.

The challenge is how HR designs jobs that optimise human talent alongside workflow automation in order for their business to remain as competitive as possible. HR can best respond to the impact of increased automation by embracing the change and seeking out opportunities for their employees to up-skill across all functions of the business.

“Thinking about how to train, up-skill and redeploy existing staff into roles less at risk of automation will be essential,” Hanson says, “as there are potentially even more roles where people and robots will work together." Businesses who value their employees will benefit not just from a workforce equipped to handle the new work environment, but also from the positive employer branding story it tells.

“It reflects well on an employer when they look after their people and prepare them for future roles in the company,” Welburn says. “As an employer your people are your best assets. If there are people with potential and business know-how, you should be looking at how to retrain them, and retain them.”

HR professionals must look not at how AI will affect functions across the business, but how it will affect their own function. Hanson doesn’t see that HR will be taken over by AI, but that it will work alongside the function to better leverage data and improve processes. Welburn agrees. “There’s always going to be a need for a personal touch in HR, even if the basic operational sides of the role may be affected,” he says.

Hanson sees that some of the most practical uses of AI is in the recruitment process. It can be used to improve job descriptions, automate the on-boarding process, improve feedback to candidates and analyse the success of past hiring decisions to better inform future ones. “It’s a logical evolution from the more manual processes used today,” he says.

Welburn agrees that using automation in the HR function alongside traditional processes can be a great tool, but not without the human element so necessary in the role. “If AI can pull together a shortlist for a role based on data-points, then it can be cross-referenced with the manual shortlist created with a consultant’s experience and know-how. It may avoid candidates slipping through the cracks.” Yet there’s an ongoing debate as to how effectively AI can help HR with the issue of diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

Used in the right way, can algorithms enable a ‘blind’ hiring process where conscious or unconscious bias from humans is removed? Hanson believes this is possible, however he says there will always be a risk that algorithms could actually reinforce human bias if used incorrectly. Welburn sees potential for AI to help companies close pay gaps. “Already we see great debate on equal pay, all from companies making their pay data transparent. AI may bring an opportunity for more change in this area.”

Hanson also sees opportunities for AI to improve learning and development programs. It can allow the creation of learning and development content based on the individual needs of the learner, such as translating into different languages. At a more advanced level, AI can be used to recognise individual learning styles and allow them to run in parallel to each other.

“People learn in different ways and at different paces,” Hanson says. “Necessary improvements in course material or inefficiencies in any individual learning journey can also be highlighted by AI." Neither Hanson or Welburn believe that HR professionals will be replaced fully by AI. What they can do, however is better prepare - and protect - themselves in the face of workplace automation by embracing it.

“We wont all be replaced by AI bots, but we do need to learn how best to incorporate them into our workflow,” Hanson says. Welburn thinks that understanding more about AI is key. "Don’t be afraid of AI, equip yourself with knowledge about how it will affect your job and the world more broadly, and embrace and where necessary, up-skill.”

To find out more about Jobable, visit