The robots are coming for your job. You need a plan. Automation has infiltrated industry and sector and machines are taking over the menial, humdrum and repetitive tasks that were once the remit of humans alone.
According to McKinsey Digital, the figure for this take-over sits as high as 45%. That’s around $US2 trillion in annual wages moved to machines that don’t sleep, don’t argue and don’t need HR.
“The implications are enormous: leaders from the C-suite to the front line will need to redefine jobs and processes so that their organizations can take advantage of the automation potential that is distributed across them.” – McKinsey Digital. The Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation.
Are jobs really disappearing?
Does this research, along with so many other statistics and alarming numbers, mean that jobs are really about to be displaced? Does this mean that the workforce has to be pivoted sharply into new roles and responsibilities? The answer lies in two very simple words: tasks and advantage.
The machines are not coming to take over jobs. They are coming to take over tasks. They can’t engage with other human beings, make creative and intuitive decisions, or think outside the box. They can do the mundane and the repetitive. And yes, they can do it well.
Actually, the robots are already here
In a recent Vice article entitled ‘The robots are coming, and they want your job’ the author, Matt Blake, pointed out that algorithms have already usurped the roles of university graduates with degrees in business and finance. Equity trading floors hum with aircon as algorithms do the jobs of sweaty, shouting people driven by adrenaline and market demand.
The tasks undertaken by doctors, accountants and lawyers are already being taken over by machines and codes. It’s a challenging, confusing mess that has one side stand up and shout for the end of the machines that ruin lives while the other says that all that’s needed is the ability to adapt.
The dark side is peppered with facts about how graduates aren’t prepared, how organisations aren’t helping their staff, and how skills need to evolve, but nobody really knows how that is supposed to happen.
The problem is that the light side has some valid points too: jobs will be lost. However more jobs will be created; skills will change but mundanity will be eliminated. Opportunities will abound, in other words, but people aren’t preparing for them.
No easy answers
The hard reality is that there is no cut-and-dried answer. Automation adds immense value to the organisation. It can significantly cut operational costs, improve processes, reduce errors, reduce overheads and streamline operations. It has a tangible return on investment and is powered by strategic importance. It makes sense to replace humans with robots that just do as they’re told.
But it also makes enormous sense to keep people on the front lines because they are the new value proposition for the organisation.
The Future of Jobs Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum points out that in spite of all the statistics that showcase the loss of jobs – an estimated 75 million – around 133 million new jobs will be created. Human skills are still very much in demand.
The wave of automation that’s sweeping the world is opening up new opportunities for people and companies, they just need to look forward to how they can take advantage of these opportunities.
Invest in your people
Organisations need to invest in their people and their skills development. There is no getting around this. If the company is set to invest into automation for the menial roles, there should be a measure of responsibility for them to take the people whose jobs will be culled and give them the chance to redefine their skill sets and grow into new, much needed roles.
There will be those who say farewell to the humans as they embrace the machines, sure. It happened in the past two technological revolutions and will just as likely be the cause of casualties in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) too. There will always be those that cut costs at the expense of others.
However, as organisations sit on the cusp of 4IR, they should be looking at how to reinvest into their talent because that talent is already invested into the business.
Take a call centre, for example. Basic questions and sections are already automated in most modernised systems and bots are taking over quite a significant portion of the grunt work. However, the people who no longer need to do the tedious stuff are already trained, already know the answers to most customer questions, and already understand the business.
By providing them with training and new roles, they can provide deeper customer support, manage call centre operations and so much more. They can remake and remodel their careers and find ways to leverage the technology to build new roles. This isn’t the end.
People are ditching traditional jobs anyway
Already the ‘gig economy‘ has more than 36% of the U.S. workforce and many people are ditching the idea of a traditional job anyway. Why do 9-5 when you can do 2-1 or whatever fits your lifestyle and fancy?
The flip side of the coin is that while automation shakes foundations and makes people nervous, it also empowers people. They can do more within their roles and in the business. They can use automation to focus on high-value tasks, using it to their advantage.
Using the call centre example above, the empowered call centre employee can spend less time dealing with mundane and repetitive customer requests and more time focusing on customer delight.
And that’s important, because the latter has become a critical differentiator in the market today.
Take a step
There are enormous benefits to automation for both the organisation and the employee, but it requires that both take a step towards the advantages and away from the negativity.
The business should take a human-centric approach to its automation strategy, offering training and space for people to grow.
The employee should look to how they can add value within this new world of automation, using the technology to their advantage. It is certainly possible for everyone to benefit and to have an engaged workforce, it just needs focus.