How Job Automation Is Shaping the Future

By Robert Half July 2, 2019 at 5:00pm

Job automation is, and has been, shaping how we work. The change that automation brings to jobs, companies and even entire industries can be rapid and wholly disruptive. In other cases, it’s more subtle or slow to take hold. In either situation, it can cause uneasiness.

The upside for many professionals is that job automation gives them the opportunity to move away from routine, predictable tasks and focus on more creative, innovative and value-adding projects for the business. To make that shift successfully, workers need to stretch their abilities in new ways. Otherwise, they’ll face a significant job automation risk: becoming irrelevant in an increasingly tech-driven workplace.

Fortunately, there’s a strong chance that many employers recognize the need to help their employees adapt to changes related to job automation and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

Only 1% of the 1,200 U.S. managers surveyed by Robert Half for our new report, Jobs and AI Anxiety, said it is solely the employee’s responsibility to gain the skills needed to work with new technologies. Thirty-seven percent said it is primarily the company’s responsibility to help employees adapt, while 31% said it’s a two-way street. And more than one-quarter (26%) of managers said employers are completely responsible for helping workers reskill.

Proactive learning and transparency can ease the transition

When asked how they expect to upgrade their workers’ technological skill sets, 64% of managers we surveyed cited training as the solution. But many managers also see barriers to their team members adapting smoothly to new technologies — with employees’ resistance to change topping the list.

Often, resistance is rooted in fear of the unknown. That’s why it’s critical for workers to proactively ask questions about their company’s job automation plans — and for companies to be as transparent as possible about changes that may be on the horizon.

As the Jobs and AI Anxiety report notes, it’s never a good idea to wait for change to happen. That means managers should take steps now to better understand how technology is transforming their workplace.

Another message in the report is that workers who want to counter job automation risk should start doing what they can to future-proof their careers. That includes being receptive to the positive changes that technology can bring to their work.

Consider robotic process automation (RPA), for instance. The technology can boost employee productivity by letting bots (software robots) handle basic and time-consuming tasks such as data entry and accounting records reconciliation. RPA is a rapidly growing area of job automation.

As a way to prepare for change, professionals should seek to answer questions such as, “How could RPA impact my job?” and “If I had more time, what else could I do in my role and for my company?” Most important: “What skills will I need?”

Also, workers (and employers) should think about the new jobs that RPA could create. The Jobs and AI Anxiety report points to one example: an HR tech director, who would be responsible for maintaining and updating RPA and other tools used by the HR department for activities such as travel and expense management, onboarding new employees, and IT user provisioning. Keep in mind that RPA is already being used for those processes, so expect the HR tech director role to emerge soon.

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For employers, a clear strategy for job automation is key

There is a job automation risk that employers will want to avoid: not taking a thoughtful approach to automation, whether it’s RPA or business process automation. (The latter relates to using software to improve and streamline how business processes are performed by people across an organization.)

Several of the technology and business experts interviewed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report emphasized the importance of having a clear plan for any type of job automation — and for introducing other new technologies into the organization, such as AI and machine learning. That strategy can help to increase the success of digital initiatives, especially from a change-management perspective.

Creating roles that help oversee job automation is another tactic to consider for managing change. For example, an intelligent automation director could advise and support internal business teams on new applications of intelligent technology, using computer vision, neuro-linguistic programming, machine learning and RPA to drive efficiencies.

An opportunity for workers and employers to adapt together

The HR tech director and intelligent automation director jobs, as well as other positions described in the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, are just a sampling of the many new roles likely to emerge as a result of job automation — as well as AI, cloud computing and other disruptive technologies.

To be sure, job losses will occur, too — that’s a common side effect of technological change. The World Economic Forum (WEF) projects that 75 million jobs could be displaced worldwide by 2022 due to the new division of labor among humans, machines and intelligent technologies; however, the WEF also estimates that 133 million new roles could potentially emerge.

No person is fully equipped with all the skills necessary to succeed in the new world of work that job automation is helping to create. It is a newly level playing field for workers right now. That reality presents a unique opportunity for professionals and their employers. By working together to both anticipate and adapt to technological change, workers can stay productive and relevant, and companies can ensure they have the skilled talent to help them stay productive and relevant, too.

Based on our research for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report, it appears many employees are ready to seize the moment: Nearly half of the U.S. managers (45%) we interviewed said they believe their teams are very eager to learn about new technologies.

So, the question for employers and workers is this: What are you waiting for? Not getting on the same page now to meet the challenge of disruptive change together could prove to be the greatest job automation risk of all.

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