The traditional workforce is undergoing a massive shift, and AI and automation have a lot to do with it. This transition has played out over the past few decades but is now moving at breakneck speed. As automation and AI evolve, these technologies will have a major impact on work as we know it. Find out what companies are doing to prepare for change.
What the Data Says
Automation and AI have touched nearly every industry — from restaurants to manufacturing — so employers are tasked with working with this technology, rather than against it. According to the World Economic Forum report “The Future of Jobs 2018,” AI will replace 75 million jobs, but create 133 million new ones, for a net gain of 58 million new jobs. While industries like manufacturing and agriculture have used automation and AI for quite a while, several more industries will be impacted over the next decade.
It’s clear that, although some jobs will be eliminated by AI or automation, others will be created. Technology powered by AI still requires human input to function, and AI still lags far behind the human brain for most functions. Jobs that require high levels of creativity, empathy, and personal connection will likely never be replaced by AI. For example, therapists, social workers, and teachers will likely always be human jobs. In addition, people may not want certain jobs performed by a machine, even if the technology can handle the job. Finally, machines have a difficult time matching human dexterity. Companies have tried to build robots that cut hair, for instance, with poor results.
Instead of worrying that AI and automation will eliminate jobs, we should instead ask ourselves how these technologies can help workers, and how people and organizations can best prepare for a world where humans and machines work in concert.
How to Prepare the Workforce for Intelligent Automation
Automation and AI are poised to increase the efficiency of the human workforce. Based on data from Deloitte, more than 90 percent of 523 executives surveyed fully expect AI to increase the capacity of their workforce. Specifically, they expect an increase of over 25 percent in back-office capacity and 17 percent in operations capacity over the next three years.
Although this data paints a positive picture of business leaders’ beliefs about AI, many companies haven’t begun to determine how they can implement AI or automation in their organization. Deloitte’s report revealed that 44 percent of organizations haven’t yet considered exactly how their workforce and operational procedures will change as a result of AI. In addition, about two-thirds of organizations have not narrowed down which employees will need to update their skills
Retraining and encouraging the development of new skills (“reskilling”) are key aspects of embracing AI and automation at work. Companies must begin to audit employees’ roles to see how humans currently interact with machines and how new technologies will directly impact workflows going forward. To fully reap the benefits of AI and automation, it’s critical to evaluate processes and update role descriptions. However, Deloitte reports that 38 percent of organizations have not even started the retraining process for employees whose roles have already changed.
Aside from evaluating roles and workflows, companies also need to help employees see intelligent automation as a help and not a hindrance. Stakeholder support is extremely important to the success of AI and automation adoption. Fortunately, the Deloitte survey indicated that nearly 75 percent of organizations said that their stakeholders — including employees — are supportive of their efforts to integrate intelligent automation into their operations. For the remaining percentage, showing employees how AI and automation can work for them is critical. This also includes formulating reskilling plans for those whose jobs will change the most.
The Deloitte report noted six characteristics of organizations that successfully integrated intelligent automation into their workforce at scale. These characteristics include:
- an enterprise-level strategy for intelligent automation to produce higher returns in revenues, cost reductions, and workforce capacity
- combining RPA (robotic process automation) and AI
- having technology, infrastructure, and cybersecurity in place
- mature, fully developed process definitions, standards, and procedures
- clear understanding of how to capture value
-radical simplification driven by a need for cost reduction
Shifting Mindsets and Concepts of Work
The Deloitte report also identified ways that organizations will have to redefine the concept of work, given the possibilities and opportunities presented by intelligent automation. To fully realize these benefits, it may be necessary for organizations to undergo a major shift in mindset about the nature and purpose of work. According to Deloitte, work in the future should be defined by:
- the problems the workforce is able to solve and its productive output, rather than the tasks completed.
- the teams and relationships employees build and maintain, not the people they supervise.
- the technologies that automate work and augment the workforce to increase productivity and value for customers.
- the integration of learning, professional development, and new experiences into daily work.
Many of these ideas represent major changes, but AI and automation are such fundamentally disruptive and valuable technologies that this redefinition is warranted.