“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” – Bill Clinton
The world around us is rapidly changing and it is changing at a dynamic and ever increasing pace. The progress in the field of science and technology is transforming our lives fundamentally, impacting everything we do – be it the way we shop, order food, pay, transfer or borrow money. The advent of AI and robotics has led to massive disruption across industries, revolutionizing business models and has forced businesses to transform themselves for the sake of survival.
From self-driving cars to intuitive automatic vacuum cleaners to self-propelled lawn mowers that know the difference between overgrown grass and carefully maintained flower gardens, new age shopping technology such as Amazon Go which are free of queues and check-outs, accurate legal advice from virtual assistants like IBM’s Watson, tasks that once took up so much of your time will soon become the responsibilities of intelligent systems.
However, there is also tremendous fear and anxiety around job displacement and the unknown effect on business and society. The Bank of England has warned that machines could take over 80 million American and 15 million British jobs over the next 10 to 20 years. That’s roughly 50% of the workforce in each country. Insurance companies are increasingly replacing actuaries with complex statistical tools like R, SAS. As computers become more sophisticated, they are putting jobs previously thought of as “humans only” at risk of automation.
Undoubtedly, automation is going to hit the job market — but in a more targeted way than most pessimists think. Machines are invading the workplace, but in many cases as tools to make humans more productive, not replace them. Infact, automation and technology have always been a net creator of jobs all throughout history.
An HfS report states that though “low-skilled” jobs will fall by 30%, “medium-skilled” jobs will increase by 8% and high-skilled jobs will rise by 56%. Low-skills are defined as those that follow a set process and are repetitive and do not require much in the way of educational qualifications. Medium skills are those that require some amount of human judgement in the process, dealing with more challenging problems. High-skilled jobs require creative problem solving, analytics and critical thinking.
The problem that automation creates is not of unemployment, but of moving people from one profession to another, getting them re-skilled, getting them out of their comfort zone, and take up more sophisticated roles. The skills of today may be not needed, but people will always be in need. There will be more jobs in healthcare, food tech and production, fin tech, construction, teaching, infrastructure, law enforcement, entertainment, waste management, pollution control, and information technology.
A more optimistic outcome than automation leading to mass unemployment is to see these technologies as a catalyst that will allow people to achieve more. Organizations must ensure their people are prepared to take full advantage of the change that lies ahead and are empowered to embrace new ways of working. It also means investing in innovation and new skills, and creating an environment of experimentation, opportunity, and growth. But first, it requires a shift to a digital mindset and culture where the relationship between humans and machines can fulfill its potential as essential co-workers for the digital age.