Topping up human intelligence to complement advancements

By Samuel Schofield
Samuel Schofield, VP EMEA, Udacity, speaks about adapting to automation

Automation is real and it’s here. The reality is that its influence will only continue to grow, as McKinsey Global Institute estimates 800 million jobs will be lost over the next decade as a result, and an additional 375 million people will need to change their jobs. Evolution is nothing new, and evolving labour markets are inevitable. 

It’s up to us as humans - workers, employers, policy-makers, educational leaders - to recognise and mitigate the growing deficit in our collective skillset, as alternative, mechanised solutions gain traction. 

The key is knowing that automation is not an adversary to human workers. It is an incredibly powerful enabler that is already complementing human intelligence to a vast extent. We need to give ourselves the tools to forge ahead and make automation work for us - not without us.

Automation’s influence is transforming job roles and enterprise success

Automation and intelligent technology systems are becoming more and more prevalent across businesses as leaders look to capitalise on increasingly agile solutions for the future. Indeed, according to McKinsey, two-thirds of surveyed executives stated they were growing investment into automation and AI solutions either ‘somewhat’ or ‘significantly’.

With digital transformation efforts catalysed by the arrival of Covid-19, the workplace continues to evolve at pace. We will continue to see automation and intelligent solutions play an enabling role in all functions of enterprise, as remote working, virtual transactions, ecommerce and more, become the norm. Many of these transformations, whether or not temporary at the outset, will become permanent, and human workers will have to adjust.

For example, organisations like Ocado, Amazon and Walmart have continued heavy investment into robotic process automation (RPA) alternatives, which are three to five times more efficient than human workers. They are also more often than not more cost-effective than human workers in the long term. 

Many jobs focused on repetitive processes will eventually be swept away by automated alternatives. In transportation, manufacturing and storage industries, the introduction of intelligent automation continues to speed up manual labour and predictive data analytics processes, and more. According to PwC, 30 percent of developed economies’ finance and insurance jobs are at risk of automation by 2029. Innovative solutions like remote diagnosis in telehealth are also gaining momentum. 

Workers can thrive alongside technology with a change in mindset

However, despite adoption of these innovative processes, organisations still need people. The reality is that skill sets and roles will - must - gradually adapt alongside innovation.

In reducing human involvement in monotonous and highly standardised processes, workers will have more room for dynamic productivity, creativity and a greater sense of wellbeing.  Introducing new intelligent systems and software unlocks the potential of businesses as well as that of their employees.

Smart tech requires humans to guide and exploit its processes; it learns and adapts accordingly. Chatbots remember responses selected by employees for the future, while language and visual recognition software are continuously being iterated upon for best accuracy. Workers must learn and hone the requisite specialised skills to fully benefit on an ongoing basis, as innovations continue to be iterated on and improved.

Changing mindsets to embrace career-long training opportunities will help to transform workers’ capabilities alongside technology innovation. According to ManpowerGroup’s employment outlook survey, 49% of employers predict that the coming year will see hiring return to pre-pandemic rates. Focusing on skills training will ensure these new hires, and existing employees, are equipped to maintain their jobs in the digital reality.

In acknowledging, for example, that the top three jobs increasingly in demand are data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, and Big Data specialists, employers and employees will begin to realise the value of these skills. They can then introduce and participate in relevant training, and in doing so both become more agile, resilient and valuable themselves. 

Without action, skills gaps will continue to grow across industries, and businesses will get left behind.

Employers must prioritise career-long upskilling initiatives to ensure resilience

Employers have a responsibility to recognise this value and act upon it by introducing robust upskilling and reskilling programmes. Effective change management strategies like these will allow employees to grow and to transform their own careers while enabling organisations to prepare their businesses for the future. 

Without the requisite digital skills among the workforce, organisations will fall short of full potential. Indeed, 70% of respondents in a Capita study found that while the Internet of Things was relevant to their business, three-quarters were unable to capitalise on the technology’s potential due to the skills in their workforce being inadequate.

Online and practical learning opportunities represent a meaningful and effective solution. Compared with traditional, classroom-based learning, they allow for scale, self-paced learning and targeted project-based scenarios. With mentorship programmes and features too, learners can stay engaged, receive valuable personalised feedback and build confidence.

Upskilling initiatives should be approached with a long term view. Indeed, where previously the average lifespan of a ‘skill’ was 30 years, Deloitte has found this figure has decreased to just five years. Technology innovations continue to advance, and project-based courses can supply concise training windows filled with up-to-date, relevant content - keeping workforce skills current and effective.

Equipped for the future

Humans are intelligent and flexible in ways that technology might never reach. Yet intelligent automation advancements continue to offer solutions we can benefit from. 

 A change in mindset across the economy, from employers and workers right up to governments, will help to counter growing skills gaps across industries. Embracing the idea of continuous, career-long learning and setting up relevant upskilling initiatives accordingly will serve to transform individual and enterprise capabilities, equipping workers and businesses to thrive in an ever-evolving digital future.



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