HELSINKI (July 27): Finland’s biggest private investor is reinventing the concept of human resources to adapt to the robotic age.
Jouko Polonen, the 48-year-old incoming chief executive officer of Ilmarinen Mutual Pension Insurance Co in Helsinki, says “HR needs to take responsibility” for the way in which new technology is dramatically altering work-place dynamics. So at Ilmarinen, HR now stands for humans & robotics.
It’s about more than just the automation of certain tasks, Polonen said in an interview at the fund’s headquarters. Technology means people can’t rely on the skills they had yesterday to get them through tomorrow. It’s “about learning and managing new skills and changing the way we work,” he said.
The HR department at Ilmarinen now includes experts in robotics, Polonen said. “They are deployed to departments to analyze how processes could be handled in a smarter way.”
Managing 46 billion euros or US$54 billion, in assets, Ilmarinen currently has just just under 700 human employees. But the staff list also includes Tarmo, a robot whose name in Finnish stands for vigor and drive.
Ilmarinen’s human employees don’t see Tarmo as a threat who will make them redundant, Polonen said. Tarmo is more of “a colleague who can take care of the dullest jobs and routines,” he said.
Dull tasks include taking over things like handling uniform pension applications. But other tasks remain too complicated for Tarmo, including figuring out how to retrain a person who, through illness or injury, can’t continue in their current job.
Polonen says people who are worried about losing their jobs to robots should make sure they keep learning. He also points out that more technology means more productive and richer economies in general, which is good for humans.
“The key skill going forward will be the ability to learn,” he said. “And that goes for everybody, from every employee to every manager.”