Automation, we keep hearing, is going to take away millions of jobs. Robots are taking over!
Often working hand in hand with AI, automation is the creation of technology to carry out low-value, repetitive tasks. These are tasks that machines are happy to take over, giving us humans more time to face the complex ones that keep us up at night and drive us to innovate.
In a manufacturing environment, this translates to machine or robots doing tasks that were once traditionally performed by humans, such as putting together parts of a door in an automobile factory or sorting medicine in a pharmaceutical lab. In a software context, this could be a script that automatically tests a product, creates a report, and sends it to your inbox every morning. And in an HR context, this could be e-mails being automatically sent to candidates throughout their application process to keep them updated. The use cases are seemingly endless—automation will undoubtedly touch nearly every industry in some way.
Automation will take over some jobs, with some reports going as high as eradicating 10% of jobs that exist today. However, automation will also create jobs, and most importantly, it will leave us with the tasks we really care about: creativity, leadership, judgement and collaboration, among others. Imagine how much more we could do if we didn’t spend a significant portion of our days stuck in administrative tasks!
The most lasting effect of automation may not be that it streamlines processes, saves time and money, or even that it pushes workers out of jobs. Perhaps the most lasting effect will be that it will completely upend the way that organizations are constructed. How will this going to affect the workforce on the whole? And more specifically, how is it going to affect you?
What it means for managers…
According to Harvard Business Review, managers spend more than half their day doing administrative work. Tasks such as managing schedules, approving time-off requests and creating reports and more—most of which could easily be delegated to a machine.
In a relatively short amount of time, managers will be forced reconsider their roles and determine how they will advance in the future. With a new robot colleague suddenly taking away many of the repetitive, low-value tasks, managers will consequently have more time to dedicate to work that machines don’t handle well. Tasks such as strategy, interpersonal relationships, innovation and “judgement work” are best suited for humans, due to their abstract and non-repetitive nature.
How Artificial Intelligence Will Redefine Management, Harvard Business Review
Managerial roles, therefore, will need to take on more of a mentoring aspect. Abstract skills will be critical for these more senior positions, where creativity and judgement will be bring much more to the table than the ability to create schedules. Companies must accompany their managers in this transition, ensuring not only that they can work with machines—that is, knowing which tasks are best relegated to machines, and which are best left to humans—but also that they have the correct skillset for this new age of automation, and consequently, of mentoring.
What it means for employees…
First of all, employees should feel a direct effect of automation in the time that their managers will have to spend with them. With the automation of many time-consuming tasks, managers will inevitably have more time to devote to deepening interpersonal relationships in their team and providing a personalized approach of management.
Just like for managers, companies will need to increase their training efforts for employees, to ensure that they, too, have the right skills to progress. Skills that include creativity, leadership and critical reasoning will be highly regarded and necessary for employees to continue in their careers.
Working with machines, not against them, will be a huge culture shift—one that many older employees will have trouble accepting. Collaboration, thus, will increase between machine and human, and employees will need to think of machines as a colleague that helps them be more effective in their work.
What it means for companies…
No matter the role in the company, one thing is for sure: the skillset required for any given job will evolve in the coming 10-15 years. Training employees, and identifying how automation can best work with employees and help them do their jobs, will be the key to success. Companies must prepare their employees for this transition and provide training for them on a continual basis over the course of their time with the company.
“Midcareer retraining will become ever more important as the skill mix needed for a successful career changes. Business can take a lead in some areas, including with on-the-job training and providing opportunities to workers to upgrade their skills.”
As job duties change and reflect the change in skillsets, recruiters will need to adapt what they look for accordingly. Therefore, the skills employers demand will be those that machines have trouble doing effectively—critical reasoning, collaboration, mentoring, leadership and creativity and abstract concepts, among others.
Overall effect of automation
There is hardly an industry that will not be affected by the rise in automation in coming years. Although this major shift will displace some workers, change skillsets, and push training, there will be many more upsides to than downsides after the initial transition. Repetitive tasks that add no value to employees only take away time from the high-value tasks they are more suited to do—and probably enjoy doing more, too! Employees with specific skillsets will have much fluidity in the labor market, and it is very probable that new jobs will crop up in the job market—with higher salaries to boot.
Organizational structures will need to adapt to better accompany employees as they evolve in their skillsets. Managers who once spent a large amount of time doing administrative work will now need to take on a mentoring role for their employees, focusing instead on creativity, judgement work, collaboration and interpersonal relationships.
Although the initial cost of automation will be steep, companies will ultimately see benefits in several ways: labor cost reduction, overall performance, workplace safety, better predictions on maintenance needs, and productivity of employees and processes, to name a few. Bring on the robots!