Wilson Wong, head of insights and futures at the Chartered Institute of Professional Development, is at the leading edge of developments in the HR space. He told DataIQ one of the great opportunities offered by automation and artificial intelligence to human resources is the possibility of facilitating the transfer of skills and expertise.
Wong said: “If you are setting up a learning environment, automation allows you to dip into all kinds of resources, to mix and match your learning environment, to explore interactively with other learners outside the organisation. That kind of potential is huge.”
Aspen Technology is realising that potential. According to market strategy director Ron Beck, it is imperative that this kind of technology is applied successfully. He said that the oil and gas industry, in which his company operates, has high rates of attrition with many highly-experienced employees leaving the workforce due to retirement and redundancies.
His company has developed online models that are “highly actionable versions of a digital twin idea,” which can be used in a training environment. One such environment is a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) unit. These are essentially tankers or transport ships that have been converted into off-shore oil production plants.
Aspen Tech worked in partnership with simulation and modelling company Inprocess, to build a digital model for FPSO provider YinSon. He explained that in the past YinSon did not have a way to train new recruits offline and had to do on the vessel. He said that Aspen Tech is now putting a lot of artificial intelligence and machine learning into different aspects of the software.
“This allows them to set up a training room where they could simulate the person working on the FPSO and get them to a pretty good level of competence before going on their first trip,” said Beck. He said that this method of training can help to eliminate at least two problems. It can improve the retention of new entrants to the industry.
Beck gave the personal example of his son who as a recent graduate went to work on the Alaskan North Slope, the location of the oil-rich Prudhoe Bay. He said: “Literally, for the first six months he was doing nothing. He was observing. He was basically an extra person. By training people making them feel more valuable and effective you have much better retention.” Beck said that training time could feasibly be reduced from six months to one month.
Wong gave a similar example of a virtual learning environment at a German tech company. He said: “Instead of 6 months, the company was able to let them loose basically a month after using the virtual environment, so the productivity gain of that kind of learning is incredible.”
The automation of knowledge means that the jobs and tasks of the new recruits become much more interesting earlier on. Building experience into software means that newer people are able to make higher level decisions, and do things they wouldn’t have been able to do until they had five or 10 years’ experience.”
Beck said this is important for the oil and gas sector where many of the new jobs are being created in South East Asia, where the workforce does not have as much experience of non-renewables as places like North Europe.
He also said that the “key man” problem, whereby one only person has the capability to do an essential job within a company, is another issue that the automation of knowledge can help to solve.
Beck spoke of one Alaskan oil company that had an engineer who in charge of the compressors and spent one week a month collecting data, putting it through spreadsheets and figuring out what to do with them for the next month. He was the only person tasked with that job and when he retired there was no one else who could understand the spreadsheets. The company tried to rehire him as a consultant but he refused and moved to Florida.
Aspen Tech was able to surmount this challenge by putting a compressor online for the company.
“By having a model doing this, people are making decisions they couldn’t make before in real time. In the first month they had this model online it made them an extra $1 million in the oil field,” said Beck.
The benefits of automating knowledge transfer are evident in this sector, at least. Efficiently training an emergent workforce and generating significant cost savings are the two leading pros, but perhaps even more will be uncovered as knowledge transfer becomes increasingly automated in other sectors.