Using tech to narrow the labour gap
Of all the hangovers from the Coronavirus pandemic, a shortage of people wanting to go to work might not have been at the top of everyone’s list. After almost two years of lockdowns, leaving the house would seem like an adventure.
With hindsight, motivating a great swathe of the workforce on 90% pay for the best part of a year to go back to the nine-to-five grind was always going to be an issue, but now that challenge is about more than just filling vacancies.
In fact, according to Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chamber of Commerce, this shortage is directly impacting the UK economy’s ability to grow. Adding that the “huge number of vacancies, currently sitting at 1.134 million, is stopping firms in their tracks.
“It means businesses are struggling to meet the orders on their books, and it puts any plans for growth far out of reach.”
That warning about growth will have pricked many ears. With recession looming and businesses facing stagnation, the only growth anyone seems to experience is the day-to-day responsibilities of those who are working.
The hospitality industry is a prime example of a sector rife with overworked employees. Front of house staff responsibilities, for example, include taking orders, delivering food, and being the first port of call when something is wrong, all with a smile on their face and a welcoming attitude.
But this all becomes taxing for employees and, as Ben Brown, vice president of marketing at ConverseNow points out, costs restaurant chains in more ways than one.
“Once they have implemented technology, restaurants are seeing average tickets at an all time high in a way they never got with physical team members because those members get so busy.
“When the phone rings, they don’t want to take too much time on the phone because it prevents them from making pizzas or burgers, and they’re not upselling, they’re not adding that extra side or premium topping or dessert or drink.
“AI does that every single time, the customer won’t say yes every time, but a tasteful upsell always takes place, and the customer is guaranteed to be able to make an order which is a factor for driving total sales up to 30%, and average ticket prices up to 25%.”
At the heart of the labour crisis is the churn that businesses who need low and no skilled workers experience every month. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, piling on hours of responsibilities with little-to-no breaks leads to burnout and time off, that is if they don’t leave.
AI can bring efficiencies, but it can also help boost employee satisfaction and reduce churn, according to Valour principal analyst Rebecca Wettemann
“The obvious answer is that deploying technology makes people more productive. Whether it’s productivity tools on desktop, or automations through AI that enable people to do less of the rope work so they can be more productive. That applies to a lot of people who sit at desks, but we are starting to think about it for a service population too.
“The answer is no technology can completely replace employees, but there are things that companies need to look at to improve the employee experience and reduce employee turnover. That’s a real benefit, not just in terms of having to hire and train employees, but reducing the disruption that’s associated with losing employees.”
That disruption is something that Brown touches on too, adding that, if employees are able to focus on their core responsibilities, they have more hours to complete tasks, and therefore end the day satisfied.
“One of the more interesting metrics we track is sales per labour hour. We think of this especially in terms of non order calls where guests call to ask how long restaurants are open, or they want to know the specials of the day.
“These are the things AI can answer, which is time saved by the restaurant staff. With the use of Voice AI on the phone lines, team members have a collective 90 hours back in their daily work life over the course of a month.”
Another trend seen during the pandemic was the shift to remote working leveraging videotelephony programmes such as Zoom and Teams. The remote nature of these platforms can help to open up job opportunities to those outside of big cities. Wettemann said that technology being used to enhance worker capabilities, rather than replace them altogether, is a prime example of how businesses can implement technology to overcome labour shortages.
“I think the question businesses are currently asking is how do I expand my potential talent pool? That happens in two ways: being able to hire employees who don’t necessarily have the skills to do the job, or it’s using technologies to hire more people that wouldn’t have been considered.
“If businesses reduce the dependence on people who have a specific skill set going in, the question turns to how do I hire employees based on their potential, and not necessarily hiring employees for a certain job.
“From there businesses can look at what candidates are capable of, where their talents lie, how they work, rather than hiring for a specific job, or a type of employee.”
To that end, implementing technology to offload customer-facing or more complex jobs to ‘the robots’ opens up employment opportunities to a wider demographic. Brown pointed out that those with disabilities are also able to apply and hold down jobs that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible, adding “it’s obviously very hard to flip a burger remotely!
“But if we think about someone who is hearing impaired who wants to work in the restaurant, that person can’t take a drive thru order. But now that person no longer has to worry about taking orders, they can just worry about cooking food and their role is not impacted by their disability.”
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