Dramatic headlines with dystopian predictions are what we usually hear when discussing the rise of robot workers or automation. The worry is understandable, but not entirely warranted. Job security is of paramount concern for most of us and even if the economy is booming, change could be just around the corner.
But the true value that people bring to a job isn’t our ability to do menial or repetitive tasks. It is out problem solving, innovative ideas and creativity. This simply can’t be replaced by machines. Recently Deloitte released some interesting research that found soft skill-intensive jobs – emotional judgement, professional ethics, problem-solving – will account for two-thirds of all jobs in just over 10 years.
So, if this is the future, why aren’t companies focusing on embedding these soft skills into their workforce, rather than worrying about keeping jobs that are unproductive, low paying and lead to low morale?
Automation in the nation
Automation is the latest, and possibly greatest, in a long history of technological innovations that have changed entire industries and birthed new ones. From the loom to the computer, technology has been replacing jobs done by humans for hundreds of years.
What’s missing in the simplistic narrative around automation taking jobs is that it presumes that humans, with our abundance of creativity and intelligence, won’t come up with new and better jobs to replace them. It is what we have done for centuries – why would we be any different now?
There has never been a time in history when technology has entirely wiped out jobs. For example, when ATMs were first introduced, bank tellers feared for their jobs. But what actually happened was that due to the operational benefits gained from ATMs, banks were able expand their operations, open more branches and hire more people, outside of just tellers.
Technology is a tool and we should use it to make our lives easier. Automation allows businesses to save time, money and boost productivity. Not only that, I’d argue automation lets us lean into our humanity. It lets us focus on what we are good at – empathy, problem solving and creativity. These are the kind of skills that cannot be replicated by machines.
And it’s already having an impact on many businesses in New Zealand and Australia.
There has never been a time in history when technology has entirely wiped out jobs
ANZ bank wanted to be more agile in managing workload variability, reducing risk from error and helping employees acquire new skills. In the first six months of deploying about 100 “digital workers” or bots, the bank experienced cost savings of over 40 percent and an overwhelmingly positive employee response to opportunities to learn new skills and improve their productivity.
Still, people are spending much of their days just keeping the lights on. From marketing to HR, IT and finance, teams are being held back by unnecessarily arduous processes and working on low-value but in-the-moment necessary tasks. Just think of what we could do as a nation if we were able to use that time to innovate.
AI is only as good as the people who drive it
AI and machine learning have been much-hyped over the past five years and finally the tech is good enough to be usable without an advanced degree and hundreds of man hours, and it is affordable enough to be implemented at scale.
It presents a huge opportunity for New Zealand businesses. In fact, AI Forum predicts that by 2035 AI could add $54 billion to the New Zealand economy. Consumers love it because it makes their day-to-day lives easier and businesses love it because it supports their workforce without expanding headcount. The key to AI and machine learning has always been the people that teach, guide and program it. AI is the perfect example of how tech works best in the hands of creative and innovative humans and vice versa.
Last month, Automation Anywhere released a major academic study conducted by Goldsmiths, University of London that uncovered the business benefits of freeing employees from repetitive tasks and allowing them to concentrate on creative and strategic work — the bits of the job they enjoy most.
The study found that workers in augmented environments were 38 per cent more engaged than those in non-augmented environments, while 70 per cent of respondents said augmentation had improved the wellbeing of their team.
On the business performance front, the study also found that by investing in automation technology and simultaneously in the wellbeing of its workforce, augmented organisations achieved 31 per cent better financial performance and were 30 per cent more likely to prioritise strategic goals.
Technology will continue to be a key driver in the changing workforce. Companies can either dig their heels in and be left behind, or they can invest in upskilling their employees for the jobs of the future. We need to focus on the opportunity that automation presents – both for businesses but also for people to have better, more meaningful jobs.
Honestly, no one can really predict what jobs will be needed in the future. Automation is going to change everything, and the horse has well and truly bolted. Those who see this as an opportunity to create new, value add jobs, will have the competitive edge. The truly innovative will invest in both technology and their people. They’ll create an agile workforce that is continuously being upskilled to take advantage of technology innovation. It’s about futureproofing your business and now is the time to do it.
Adrian Jones is executive vice president - Asia Pacific and Japan, Automation Anywhere
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