The Perils and Potential of Advanced Speech Technology

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Advances in speech technology may provide a key tool in the training toolbox, particularly as applied to just-in-time training to quickly address emergent and growing skills gaps.

The modern economy in the developed world is highly dynamic and extremely integrated—even after recent shocks to the globalization system like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The needs and demands of businesses and their staffs are constantly shifting and evolving, and this trend has only been exacerbated by the recent pandemic, historic inflation levels and the Great Resignation.

Owners and leaders of businesses of all sides are understandably reeling in this hyperdynamic environment. The difficulty in finding labor has meant that it’s not a simple task to go out and find experienced and knowledgeable staff who can step right into an important role, even if a company can afford that expense.

Instead, companies are increasingly looking to training—upskilling and reskilling staff—to help adapt to changing demands and address a concerning skills gap. Just-in-time training that allows companies to provide content and instruction almost as soon as the need arises is a tremendous advantage for those who can pull it off.

Recent advances in speech technology have found great currency in the training context. We reached out to industry experts to get some further insights into what this tech does and how it’s being leveraged in the training context.

On-Demand Content

Perhaps the biggest and most obvious advantage of speech technology in training is the ability to pre-record and replay training material. It can be hard to get everyone in the same place for a real-time training, especially for companies still operating largely remotely. Even when employees were predominantly office-bound, scheduling large trainings was challenging. Pre-recorded trainings can be watched and re-watched whenever and wherever an employee has access to the content.

“I’ve found that using speech technology for training and L&D makes a lot of sense, especially now that we’re not all in the same place like we were before the pandemic,” says Todd Ramlin, manager at Cable Compare. “Anything that I can record using speech technology and make available 24/7 from wherever employees are is a win. Recording standard operating procedures, policies, etc., gives our employees access to almost all the information they need whenever they need it, no matter where they are. One thing that I try to do is get feedback from team members whenever I put new material out for them so that I know what they like and what isn’t working so that I can make the material more effective.”

Finding the Right Use Cases

Pre-recorded content is not always the perfect fit for all training needs, of course. Anything that requires or is largely dependent upon trainer-trainee interaction and discussion is not necessarily a good fit for pre-recorded trainings.

“As an HR manager for a company that helps businesses find PEO solutions, I love using speech technology to automate and expedite training and L&D,” says Nelson Sherwin, manager of PEO Companies. “I’ve found that the best thing to do is to figure out where it will work well and where it won’t. For things that get the same answer every time, speech technology works great to eliminate the need for you to repeat the same information over and over. For situations where the information someone is looking for varies, speech technology isn’t as effective.”

Sherwin recommends determining what information is likely to stay the same over time, and what is likely to change. Information that is more variable is best suited to speech technology, he says. “Create a library of recordings for employees to access so that they serve themselves without having to bring those questions to you.”

Recall for Attendees

Even when staff are able to attend training sessions in person, it’s typically not the case that they’ll recall 100% of that information. Staff are busy and often distracted with other priorities or work tasks. Speech technology allows them to revisit information from training sessions they may have attended previously to help them refresh and recall that information.

The same holds true in other, non-training contexts. For example: recorded meetings can be re-watched to recall key decisions and the surrounding context; hiring managers can re-watch or re-listen to interviews to refresh their memories on candidates that start to blur together over the course of many interviews.

Support for Diversity and Inclusion

Speech tech can also be extremely useful for those with disabilities, helping companies be more inclusive and supportive of those individuals and help them achieve their full potential.

“Using speech and voice technology in employee trainings is a huge innovation that is extremely helpful in ways some people may not understand,” says Jeremy Scott Foster, Founder & CEO of TravelFreak. “For one, depending on the type of job you have an employee doing, speech and voice technology opens opportunities up to those with disabilities to go out for jobs and to easily be trained. This is also great for those who struggle to take in and retain information when reading. This technology really offers the best of both worlds to those who are ready to take the job and be trained.”

AI and Other Speech Technologies

While traditional recorded training sessions don’t always work well for interactive training needs, speech technology is continuing to evolve with exciting new tools being developed and improved constantly. Natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) and are great examples.

NLP allows computers to understand human speech as spoken by humans. In other words, a human can speak to a computer, and the process of translating those human thoughts and words into binary computer code the computer can understand happens within the application instead of being carried out by a human. Common examples of this technology include virtual personal assistants like Alexa and Siri.

AI, when combined with NLP, allows computers to not only ingest human language and speech but also to comprehend and respond in advanced ways. For example, an employee could theoretically ask a computer application empowered with AI and NLP how to fix a troublesome piece of equipment, the location of the first aid kit or the process for uploading invoices into an accounting system. Such applications can even be supplemented with video. The global economy has been in a near constant state of flux over the past several years, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing through the Great Resignation, historic inflation, and the most significant armed conflict in Europe since World War II. Companies of all sizes are struggling to keep up and looking for ways to make their training programs more agile, efficient, and effective. Advances in speech technology may present a tremendous asset to these companies, as many industry leaders have already discovered for themselves.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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