By Stephen Baker

Picture a cashier at a big box store. Everything’s going fine until her son’s daycare schedule changes. Ideally, she’d change her hours. But that’s not always so easy to do. So when a friend tells her about an opening for an afternoon shift at rival store, she promptly switches jobs.

This happens all the time. According to LinkedIn, turnover in the retail workforce is especially high, at 16.2%. It costs companies an average of $4,425 to recruit, hire and train each replacement worker. This churning of the work force can devour earnings and punish productivity. And the problem extends throughout the hourly work force, which represents 80 million employees in the United States.

To help companies battle turnover and other HR issues, IBM Watson Talent and Kronos, a leader in workforce management solutions, are collaborating on a new tool to provide hourly workers with more control over their jobs and careers. The technology will combine Kronos’ Workforce Dimensions with the Artificial Intelligence of IBM’s Watson Career Coach. Workers will experience it as a chatbox that can provide answers, suggestions, even career options at the company.

“Historically, every bit of HR software has been built with the company in mind,” says Aarti Borkar, vice president of product management and design at IBM Watson Talent. This new tool, she says, “is built with the employee in mind.”

Take that hypothetical cashier facing daycare issues. It can be awkward asking a manager for a role change. It often feels like a favor, and since the manager usually doesn’t have instant access to other openings in the store or company, the answer is too often, “I’ll get back to you.”

With the new solution, she’ll be able to ask the interactive bot on her mobile phone for help. It should have access to scheduling data and offer a list of shift options. It might suggest personalized training possibilities. Or it could point her toward the hottest jobs at the company. It can answer questions about vacation days, personal days, and overtime pay.

Over time, the AI component of the tool will learn more about each individual and provide more customized suggestions.

The end goal is that if employees have easy access to information and opportunities within the company, they’ll be happier, more productive, and more likely to stay put. That’s the ideal scenario, for companies and workers alike.

Stephen Baker is a technology writer and author of several books, including Final Jeopardy: The Story of Watson, The Computer That Will Transform Our World.



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