Workforce in the age of automation

With automation upgrading every industry, there have been concerns about the loss of jobs, as machines are set to outperform menial human tasks
Modernisation of workforce is necessary to counter challenges posed by automation(istockphoto)
Modernisation of workforce is necessary to counter challenges posed by automation(istockphoto)
Published on Dec 12, 2018 04:06 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent

With the dawn of the age of automation upon us, the industry landscape is all set to face innumerable changes. Organisations, in the FMCG, warehousing, BPO, BFSI, healthcare, logistics and automotive sector etc. are already riding on the next phase of technological advancement and investing heavily in automating regular, repetitive and mundane tasks. For example, according to a study by Capgemini Research Institute, India ranks fifth in adoption of automation technologies at scale. Businesses could achieve up to USD 165 billion in cost savings by 2022 through wide-scale adoption of automation across sectors like automotive, retail, utilities, manufacturing, among others.

Recently, Uber had a self-driving truck make a beer run, travelling 200 kilometres down the interstate to deliver a cargo of Budweiser from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. A person rode in the truck but spent most of the trip in the sleeper berth, monitoring the automated system. The self-driving truck developed by Uber’s recently acquired Otto unit reflects remarkable technological achievements.

With automation upgrading every industry, there have been concerns about the loss of jobs, as machines are set to outperform menial human tasks. Will technology kill jobs? Will robots replace humans? Or will automation bring about new collar jobs?

As per a report by Gartner, 1.8 million jobs will be lost by 2020, but 2.3 million new jobs will also be created by then. The report also adds - starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025.

So how do you deal with this situation? The answer lies in pressing the button of workforce modernization. Organizations across industries and sectors have started investing aggressively on upskilling and reskilling their active workforce and this will only increase as we move on.

The ‘good’ of automation

It has become the need of the hour for organisations, academia and the government to ‘re-think’ and ‘re-strategize’ to stay abreast and relevant in this age of technology. As traditional methods and skills become irrelevant, both academia and businesses, are investing to recalibrate the essentials again.

Advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning haven’t been integrated into higher education quickly enough. This has created a huge skill gap for graduates, especially for students applying to technologically advanced fields. A recent research by Element AI shows that only 90,000 people globally have the right skills required to match today’s artificial intelligence/machine learning needs.

Educational institutions need to draft curriculums with a focus on emerging technologies so as to hone and develop essential skills required by the next-gen employers. The computer science graduates are in turn required to delve deeper into programming languages and businesses will have to rethink the skills essential for recruitment.

However, the requirement for technologically advanced vocational training has also led to the creation of ‘new collar’ jobs. As per a study by ZipRecruiter, tech employers are becoming more and more open to applicants without a bachelor’s degree as long as they have the necessary skill set to do the job. With a rise in skill-oriented professions, we further anticipate this trend to not only continue but also a steady growth in the demand for such professionals in the future.

We can already witness the birth of this transition in India as well. The organisations have already started paving the way for automation by introducing future-proof cultures of improving skillsets

through requisite training and developmental modules. The transition can also be seen through the rise of agile corporate structures and more collaborative environments. Millennial students and young professionals are increasingly moving towards such focused training, with the help of online learning platforms which offer specialized courses and degrees required for upskilling them.

Amalgamation of machines and humans

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain etc., can be used to augment human capabilities rather than replacing them. A great example is the healthcare sector today. Modern oncologists are capable of treating cancer patients by using AI-based technology by providing individualized cancer treatments for their patients. The technology not only aids in providing deeper expertise but also enables them to perform the same research faster and with more accuracy. Various global applications and websites are also being used to provide medical consultancy and treat serious conditions. Such applications not only utilize AI to give medical consultation based on personal medical history and common medical knowledge but also help the doctors apply their own expertise to identify the most appropriate treatment options.

Another interesting example is the role of automation in the utility industry. AI in this sector is not just enabling in cutting down the time spent on each activity, but also aiding them in becoming smart about energy usage. Moreover, while there will be a reduction in the menial labour tasks, the introduction of AI will eventually give way to technologically enabled jobs which require analysing the data for further manipulation.

As technology evolves further, AI and robotics will increasingly focus on replacing the routine aspects of blue and white-collar jobs, leaving the non-routine, creative and agile work to humans. This, in turn, challenges the very essence of what most organizations retain as human work. The reconfiguration of these non-routine activities will yield new and different types of jobs, giving way to a modern, optimized and more a creative workforce of the future.

What will the future of work look like?

As we talk about embracing technology at the workplace, the biggest question remains – what will the future of work look like? To put it simply – though the ‘new collar’ and the best jobs of the future are yet to evolve and catch up, the need for unique and human skills, like demonstrating emotional intelligence, creative problem-solving, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to adapt will remain. We will also witness humans seamlessly communicating and working in-tandem with machines. A more evolved workforce will not only be capable of enabling the technology but also be able to drive better and more opportune results from it. As a result, a new workplace – the ‘intelligent workplace’ will evolve and academia, business and the government have to work together to enable this. The Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 has already begun, and to leverage the next frontier of growth we will have to accelerate reskilling of the workforce now!

(The author is MD, Barco India. Views expressed are personal)

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