The AI revolution: This is not the end for employee engagement professionals

Exciting new tech is promising to transform the ways we all live and work. Much attention is focused on the promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and automation, and advanced analytics and machine learning.

The emergence of these technologies is forcing governments around the world to plan for the dramatic upheavals they will effect on society and in the world of work. The UK government has made the point that these changes mean there can be no “business as usual”.  It has recommended that employers and employees focus on developing the key skills and attributes that will be at a premium in future.  These include resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, enterprise, cognitive skills (such as problem solving), and the core business skills for project-based employment.

The Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace survey carried out by CBRE in 2015 came to similar conclusions. It made the startling prediction that 50% of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025. According to CBRE, the new jobs that will replace today’s will, "require creative intelligence, social and emotional intelligence and the ability to leverage artificial intelligence”.

Essentially, people will need to excel at the roles and skills that machines can’t easily replace.  In The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson identifies three categories where workers will still be able to prosper:

  • Creative tasks and inventing new things that machines aren’t very good at.
  • Interpersonal relationships – motivating people, comforting people, caring for people. Machines have not proven good at this kind of interactive task.
  • Routine motor skills, and fine motor control. The skills of a barber, or gardener, cook or janitor. Machines are still incredibly bad at manipulating the world.

Because of the creative, emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationship elements of HR and Employee Engagement roles, this is likely to be one area where opportunities will continue to grow rather than shrink.


What’s more, in a changing world, with jobs evolving and disappearing, HR and employee engagement will take on a new significance. The link between employee engagement and performance is well documented and ensuring engagement is maintained and developed in these times of huge transformation will take determined and long-term effort.

The challenge for employers – whether looking to beef up employee engagement expertise internally or building a team of employee engagement professionals within an agency – will be to attract the right talent into these roles and harness the best of what is still a relatively new discipline. There is a real need for appropriately qualified and intuitive graduates and professionals who are skilled with the appropriate employee engagement skillset.

To date, employee engagement has been seen very much as an element of HR. As such, the majority of professional learning and development has been offered as a subset within HR qualifications. Some specialist training opportunities do exist for experienced HR professionals through industry associations such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Those seeking a role in HR have three different entry points to these learning opportunities: whether direct through on-the-job experience, via a three-year under-graduate degree in Human Resource Management (HRM) or a one-year post-graduate Masters degree in HRM. However, the degree to which an HRM degree incorporates employee engagement topics will vary considerably between institutions and is patchy at best. Because of the infancy of the discipline, a Masters degree can offer greater flexibility for self-study that really focuses in on employee engagement.

Alternatively, Occupational Psychology undergraduate and post-graduate courses can also be great routes into employee engagement study, without necessarily requiring any psychology qualification as a prerequisite. Some of these courses are offered as distance learning; making them a real stepping stone for professionals already working in HR who would like to reorient their career to an employee engagement focus. For example, the University of Leicester’s two-year distance learning Masters degree in Occupational Psychology (MSc) includes a module on leadership, engagement and motivation.

For those wishing to specialise further, CIPD employee engagement courses are probably the best first step. However, educational institutions are slowly responding to the rising interest in and demand for employee engagement and the associated discipline of internal communications. In 2015, Kingston University launched a Masters in Internal Communications Management (MA) in association with Capita, which attracts both graduates and experienced professionals without an undergraduate degree.

We hope, as employee engagement increasingly delivers real business value for employers and organisations, educational establishments will continue to expand their course prospectuses to focus more heavily on this important and much in-demand discipline and skillset.