“Automation is bringing an incredible amount of opportunities into the workplace, but it's important not to lose sight of those who may be negatively impacted.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are global main-stage players in many industries, with seemingly limitless opportunities. You can have your food made by robots, or even let your car do the driving for you — but what's next?1
This upward trend has been far-reaching, disrupting the ways certain industries operate and shifting how employers hire. With no slowdown in sight, let's explore what's in store for businesses navigating this new era.
Automating Jobs in Key Industries
Automating work isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Certain industries, firms and jobs are more likely to be impacted than others. For instance, manufacturers have long used this approach and tend to seize automatable opportunities whenever possible.
Take the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy for example, which has been investing money into the development of industrial automation for the past few years and shows no sign of stopping.2 This is just one country, but it represents the direction of the industry and process overall — the goal is to keep costs low while maintaining efficiency.
The auto industry has seen similar gains within the manufacturing process, as well as in the production of self-driving vehicles. While there have been fits and starts with this tech, The Verge notes that it's being continuously refined and may soon change automobile production entirely.3
While these industries serve as golden examples of what AI and automation can do, others struggle with implementing key functions of this tech. Hospitality, food service and health care all exemplify this lag: These industries are heavily driven by labor, which makes automating operations tricky. While there are opportunities to embed technology to scale services, not every customer in these industries is ready to have their service automated, as aptly noted in a recent CNN news story.4
Measuring the Impact on Economies and Employment
The idea that artificial intelligence will eliminate jobs is a real fear for workers. It echoes concerns previously heightened in the U.S. in the 1960s regarding the bump in automated processes and unemployment, as MIT highlights.5 However, Lyndon B. Johnson said it best: "The basic fact is that technology eliminates jobs, not work." This distinction and how employers handle role changes is what will make or break many organizations shifting to automated operations.
For developing economies, automating certain jobs could create better opportunities by eliminating dangerous roles or roles that rely too heavily on physical labor. While it may cause some degree of unemployment during the short-term transition, it's likely to open opportunities for other safer, more satisfying jobs for those affected individuals.
It all comes down to a shift in workplace skills. Research shows that the future skills of the workforce should prioritize leadership and other soft skills to remain relevant and competitive. In a recent interview, the CEO of LinkedIn explained the most important skills of the future aren't coding or technical; they're soft skills, such as communication and collaboration, and the workforce will need to readily prioritize these as automated operations grow.6
Aging in an Automated World
The intersection of an aging workforce and increasing automation is a very real threat to today's workers. Those with 30 or 40 years of experience are more likely to be doing tasks that can be automated — a fact that is only more troubling when examined on a global scale.
In certain areas, such as Vietnam and China, between 69% and 76% of tasks managed by older workers are at risk of becoming automated. For reference, in the U.S., jobs held by more senior workers are believed to be about 52% automatable. What's also potentially worrisome is that older populations of workers in areas, such as Japan, are growing rapidly, creating a spiraling effect. The good news is employers are responding by eliminating forced retirement and looking for additional options to alleviate this pressure.
Automation is bringing an incredible amount of positive opportunities into the workplace, but it's important not to lose sight of those who may be negatively impacted. Whether that means prioritizing training in soft skills to ensure a more "future-proof" workforce or looking for more appropriate ways to leverage automated work in highly manual jobs and industries, the truth is this trend isn't going away.
Competition and globalization will continue to push employers to
find new, creative ways to automate processes, but those who seek
visionary ways to reshape their workforce around this technology will
have the real competitive edge.
Constine, Josh, "Taste test: Burger robot startup Creator
opens first restaurant," Tech Crunch, June 21, 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/21/creator-hamburger-robot/.
2 Demaitre, Eugene, "South Korea Spends $14.8M to Replace Chinese Robotics Components," Robotics Business Review, October 20, 2015, https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/manufacturing/south-korea-spends-148m-to-replace-chinese-robotics-components/
3 Statt, Nick, "New documentary Autonomy makes the convincing case that self-driving cars will change everything," The Verge, March 13, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/13/18262364/autonomy-film-review-self-driving-cars-malcolm-gladwell-documentary-sxsw-2019.
4 Andone, Dakin and Moshtaghian, Artemis, "A doctor in California appeared via video link to tell a patient he was going to die. The man's family is upset," CNN, March 10, 2019,https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/10/health/patient-dies-robot-doctor/index.html.
5 Autor, David H., "Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation," MIT: Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 29, Issue 3, summer 2015,https://economics.mit.edu/files/11563.
6 Umoh, Ruth, "The CEO of LinkedIn shares the No. 1 job skill American employees are lacking," CNBC, April 26, 2018,https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/26/linkedin-ceo-the-no-1-job-skill-american-employees-lack.html.