Automation: 3 ways to ease job loss fears

Automation doesn't necessarily mean job loss. Consider these three guiding principles to help your team get comfortable with the future of digital work
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After experiencing huge economic disruption during the pandemic, many people worry that automation will make things worse. History shows that ever since the Industrial Revolution, automation has indeed disrupted employment and the wage structure, but it has also created more jobs with time. In fact, according to a World Economic Forum report published last year, 97 million jobs will be created by 2025, significantly exceeding the 85 million it expects will be lost.

Automation will reengineer processes, reorganize tasks, and eventually create more jobs – many of which we’ve never done before. These jobs will require new higher-order skills that will be in great demand and in short supply in all parts of the world.

This situation presents an opportunity to tackle both automation-related job loss and the global skills shortage at the same time. But doing so will require new skills and learning models from job seekers as well as education providers, business organizations, and other members of the employment ecosystem. Leaders must also address the automation-related job loss worries directly.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

How to address job loss anxiety related to automation: 3 tips 

Keep the following three principles in mind to help your team members become more comfortable sharing jobs and workplaces with software-powered machines and automatons.

1. Emphasize the value of problem-finding

New talent and seasoned employees alike need to focus on discovering and articulating problems. Intelligent digital technologies are already proving to be better than humans at resolving well-framed issues. But what they cannot do is find and frame problems that are yet unknown; these capabilities remain the exclusive domain of human beings.

Educational institutions, often bound by rigid curriculums designed to impart information about defined solutions, must pivot to inculcate creative thinking, curiosity, and exploration among students from an early age. Similarly, corporations should strive to develop an innovation culture as well as training programs such as design thinking workshops that inspire employees at all levels to become problem finders.

In the WEF research, 94 percent of the business leaders surveyed said they expected their employees to acquire new skills on the job; employees who show initiative in exploring new areas to expand into and deliver value will simultaneously upgrade their skills to improve their chances of moving up in their careers, despite automation.

[ Automation can help you hold onto talented people. Read also: How automation strategy can help you retain IT talent. ]

2. Reskilling for life

The best way to find employment even when jobs are being automated is to stay employable. With the half-life of jobs shrinking fast across industries (especially at junior levels), employees will need to upskill and reskill to move up.

This will happen not once or twice but several times in a typical career, turning employees into lifelong learners who are constantly learning in bite sizes. Since each employee will have unique learning needs in terms of content, timing, intensity, and duration, a one-size-fits-all solution will never work. Instead, individual employees should be empowered to decide their own terms of learning. Digital platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, Google Career Certificates, and others will be able to deliver modularized, personalized, micro-learning at scale.

3. Learning for all

One reason for the pervasive skills gap in our economy is that too many people have no access to digital education. To address this, policymakers, academic institutions, and industry leaders must come together to democratize education. They need to make higher education more inclusive so even those from less privileged backgrounds can benefit from it.

This is another area where digital learning platforms, with their flexibility and accessibility, can help. Corporations can also expand their talent pools by including candidates with non-STEM education by hiring based on skills – not only degrees – and by employing candidates from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to a recent survey from PwC, many workers continue to be concerned about losing their jobs to automation and believe their positions will become obsolete soon. Reskilling is the solution. With AI taking away menial tasks, people need to develop new higher-order skills to improve their confidence and readiness to take on bigger, more strategic roles. The interaction of digitally skilled workers and automation will unlock and expand human potential.

To prepare for this, companies should strive to create a culture of always-on, lifelong learning, including job rotations and training/apprenticeships, to ensure that their employees are better equipped for a digital future.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

Balakrishna (Bali) D R
Bali is a senior vice president and heads the delivery for ECS business unit of Infosys catering to energy, utilities, telecommunication, media, entertainment, and services industries.

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