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Editor's Note: In today's fast-paced news cycle, we know it's difficult to keep up with the latest and greatest HR trends and stories. To make sure you're updated, we're recapping the most popular trends, events and conversations every month in our "In Case You Missed It" series.

There’s been plenty of innovation in the HR space this past year: Artificial intelligence provided new, more effective ways to conduct candidate searches and selections, there was an industry-wide push to improve employee engagement and invest in programs that do so and companies found better ways to manage remote workers.

But as 2019 comes to an end, it’s time to look ahead to the HR trends that will take shape over the next 365 days. With the help of some of our expert contributors, we’ve come up with four predictions that HR professionals and departments should pay close attention to in the coming year:

1) AI-Driven HR Processes Will Be Scrutinized Under the Microscope

For many companies, AI has become a crucial aspect of their HR department’s talent acquisition initiatives. It reduces time to hire, increases productivity for recruiters and delivers an enhanced candidate experience. In one study, 40% of companies reported using AI to screen and assess candidates during recruitment. For example, HireVue, a recruiting-technology firm, offers an AI system that uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice. These factors are then combined to produce an “employability” score that ranks candidates.

While this tactic might streamline the recruitment process and help companies find the right hires, it’s a use case that faces some hesitation and disapproval. While some believe in the efficiency and effectiveness of this kind of system—especially for personality-driven industries like hospitality—others see it as a dangerous addition that could reiterate biases or create an unlevel playing field for many candidates. Skeptics argue that using AI to study a candidate’s speaking patterns and facial expressions could end up penalizing nonnative speakers, nervous candidates or anyone else who doesn’t fit the standard mold in terms of speech and appearance.

In the face of these complicated and somewhat concerning AI developments, experts look to 2020 as a year that might hold these systems to a higher standard. “I don’t think AI will get through the new year unscathed,” says Suzanne Lucas, a regular ReWork contributor and author of the Evil HR Lady blog. “Already, companies are facing scrutiny for bias in their systems. In 2020, many will find that these flawed systems hurt far more than they help, and companies will have to react accordingly.”

2) Skills Gaps Will Continue to Expand

Many experts forecast an economic slowdown in the coming year. Though a full-blown recession isn’t likely, many predict job growth will slow, the unemployment rate will grow and as a result, skills gaps will continue to expand. In fact, a study by Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace found that 64% of human resources leaders already see a growing skills gap in their companies. This widening gap is a worrisome sign, according to the president of Success Performance Solutions Ira Wolfe: “Like the wealth gap, where the top 1% own more than half of the world’s wealth, the top 1% of companies will start to own more than half the world’s talent. My projection is that talent poverty will grow exponentially in 2020 and, as a result, hiring top talent will be more challenging than ever.”

In this competitive talent environment, companies will have to work harder to retain top performers and upskill their talents. Right now, less than half of companies (48%) spend more than $500 every year on continuing the education of each employee, but that won’t cut it moving forward. Companies will need to invest more in modern learning and development programs. These courses should speak to AI, machine learning and automation and teach employees how to best leverage these technologies. Effective programs will also speak to new and old workforces—from Gen Z to Baby Boomers. Programs like Cornerstone’s DNA program, which is designed to engage Generation Z, will become more effective in the coming year as new talent enters the workplace.

But as the skills gap grows, employees may have to take training into their own hands. Workers would be wise to take note of which departments are getting the most management attention and resources. In doing so, they can strategize how they might be able to work in those areas (if they’re interested) or try to become involved in a cross-functional project, where they can pick up new practices and then design a training program for themselves based on what they learned. For instance, if the ability to code in HTML is a desirable skill that will add more mobility and job security for an employee, they can request the opportunity to further develop this skill. If the company is unable to help with this request, the employee may need to learn it on their own time. 

3) Employee Wellness Will Be Redefined

Research has shown that healthier employees are more effective at their jobs. And when companies have healthier workers, they experience higher retention rates, too. It’s no surprise, then, that, over the past five years, HR departments have focused more on employee wellness. Today’s HR professionals are constantly searching for new ways to help workers avoid burnout and take better care of themselves.

But there’s a disparity here in how employers and workers view existing programs. According to one recent study by Aetna, 70% of employers believe they provide reasonable access to health and wellness benefits, but only 23% of employees agree. Similarly, the study found that 82% of workers across the globe are concerned that mental health issues could impact their ability to work, but only 25% of employees feel as though their organizations provide enough support for mental health conditions.

In the coming year, HR professionals should be prepared to evolve wellness programs to focus more on employees’ mental health and more holistic benefit options that service employees’ behavioral health issues like addiction or mental health ailments like anxiety or depression.

4) Better Candidate Experiences Are Coming, Thanks to Voice Technology

Research suggests that, more often than not, communication between candidates and employers is poor. One study from the Talent Board found that 47% of applicants were still waiting on a response from employers two months after applying. This reality has a direct, negative effect on how a candidate perceives the company and the likelihood that they apply for another position at the organization.

In the coming year, HR departments and professionals should expect a push to improve the candidate experience with technology like natural language processing, a new kind of voice and language recognition system.

“Whether most companies will engage with this new recruiting trend is yet to be seen,” Wolfe says. “But in the coming year, more companies will find that new HR [voice] technology can streamline their recruitment applications and improve engagement.”

Companies like McDonald’s have already jumped on this trend. Earlier this year, it announced its plan to use voice assistant technologies like Alexa and Google to implement the world’s first voice-initiated application process. Called “Apply Thru,” the program asks applicants for basic information like their name, job area of interest and location. From there, the system lists what McDonald’s positions are available and sends a link to the official application online.

Others are providing a better candidate experience through voice-activated rejection and offer letters. This technology uses personalization to make candidates feel valued by the companies they apply to—even if they don’t get the job—and more likely to apply again in the future once their skills have advanced.

Are you prepared for these 2020 trends? If not, don’t stress: The first step is being aware of what’s coming next. And now that you have an idea of what lies ahead, start taking the steps to get your organization on track.

Image via Creative Commons