Working with robots

Working with robots

Working with robots

Published on October 18, 2019

David Smith

David Smith
Chief Executive of Global Futures and Foresight, Futurist, Strategist and Keynote Speaker

Much has been written about the future impact of automation, with headline numbers or percentage of jobs being replaced the most common. Many of these numbers seem predicated on technological viability and economic rationale. Automation, however, remains a strategic challenge for organisations, not a strictly technological one.

Consider, for example, that 44 percent of organisations have not yet determined how their automation strategies will affect their workforce[i]. Without such an assessment, not only do organisations and their workers miss out on appropriate training and upskilling opportunities, but the challenge of transitioning norms, working practices and culture is also lost.

Over half of employees worldwide currently feel threatened by automation, with 77 percent wanting to learn new digital skills[ii] to be able to learn new roles and jobs that automation will help create. In addition, 73 percent of business leaders cite company culture as the single most important contributor to corporate success[iii]. Unless ‘…executives are proactive in shaping and measuring culture, approaching it with the same rigor and discipline with which they tackle operational transformations[iv],’ it is almost impossible to see how any corporate culture survives almost constant disruption brought about by AI.

Working with and alongside robots (and how this impacts other person to person contact in the workplace) will prove one of the key challenges for workers of the 21st century, from both a cultural and skills perspective. Ensuring digital and cultural readiness amongst the workforce in an appropriate structure will be key in addressing an area that current change management cannot sufficiently cope with.

Some have even suggested that ‘…it’s time for a C-Level role dedicated to re-skilling workers[v].’ It is certainly time to elevate organisational continuous learning to board level priority. Accenture, for example, developed a ‘Job Buddy’ program that has helped to retrain almost 300,000 employees over the four years to January 2019. The program assesses which roles are most likely to be automated, offers advice on which adjacent roles can be learned within the company and provided relevant training. Within 18 months of launching the pilot, 85 percent of employees for whom it was made available had used the system to assess their current job and enroll in further training[vi]. With 76 percent of executives believing internal talent mobility is important, but only 6 percent of companies believing they are excellent at moving people from role to role[vii], such programmes are likely to become more popular.

Digital skills may be vital, but if automation is to yield its true potential, management and leadership skills are the ones most needed, both in crafting win-win proposals and building the core skills needed for tomorrow’s environment.

[i] Source: Deloitte, 2019

[ii] Source: Business Review, 2019

[iii] Source: HR Grapevine, 2019

[iv] Source: The Financial Brand, 2018

[v] Source: HBR, 2019

[vi] Source: Business Insider, 2019

[vii] Source: InnerMobility, 2019

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