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Social Implications of Upskilling as Robots Take Over

Posted by  Ton Dobbe

Concern over job automation accompanies every significant technology innovation, so it's no surprise many people worry about what will happen when intelligent machine automation becomes widely adopted in the business world. Robots have the potential to replace up to 5 million jobs by 2020, according to Digital Trends, but new positions are developing in this technological landscape. These posts require higher skill levels, as automation highly impacts low-skill jobs.  Such a drastic workforce shift leads to social implications, which need to be addressed through upskilling and cultural changes. This was a topic discussed during a roundtable debate recently hosted by Unit4.

Prepare for the Future with Upskilling

Automation reduces or eliminates the need to address repetitive and mundane tasks. For instance, the time people spend sorting through leads or working on inventory can become a robot's job. These machines parse large data sets, process information quickly and use a logical workflow for decision making, providing a lot more time to devote to tasks requiring the human touch. According to Phil Wainewright of Diginomica.com, “The thing that machines do really really well is analyze and repeat patterns, and automate. The things that they do very badly is adapt to change. That’s what humans are good at.” This ideal state usually isn’t achieved in today’s workplace.

Upskilling improves the current skill sets of employees so that they can thrive in an environment where automation handles most low-skill duties. Both businesses and educational institutes need to develop the skills required to interact with smart machines, and the critical thinking skills needed for new roles. Chris Dial, Business Development Director for Apps at Microsoft said: “The new skills are going to be BI, data management, data understanding, and also machine learning. Learning how to write code, learning how to think and process the rules.” With proactive training opportunities people can adapt to this new robot-heavy environment, so they leverage the robots rather than being fearful of the changes.

Create a Tech-Forward Business Culture

One social impact on your workforce is addressed through upskilling, but you also have to adapt your overall business culture to a high-tech world. For instance, you should examine ways to change your current business culture so that it's more tech friendly. You might also consider expanding your BYOD policy to make it easier for employees to improve their productivity, or implement Internet of Things devices to streamline business processes. Create an environment where technological advancement is welcomed instead of viewed as a job-stealing monster.

Less Tool Time

There is a lot of focus on the adverse impact of intelligent machines. In today's society many people are defined by the job they do, and widespread automation will affect this. While new jobs get introduced to develop, maintain and interact with these machines, they won't keep up with the volume of low-skill jobs phased out. However, you can encourage a focus on the positive changes created by artificial intelligence.

This technological shift allows people to spend more time doing their core business duties instead of wasting time working with tools. Tom Olberg, a partner at Herbert Nathan & Co says he believes that: “People centric software may help organizations to spend more time on what they are hired to do and less tool time.” The reduction in tool time allows employees to leverage their knowledge and skills in a way that can't be automated. You move away from tedious tasks that lead to employee disengagement, which is only possible when machines handle that part of the workload. Higher employee engagement leads to a better customer experience, improved productivity and many other benefits.

Innovation in intelligent machines causes many social implications on a business and societal level. Shift away from what these machines are replacing and instead look at what the robots are bringing to the table. Ultimately, their purpose is to make human lives easier. Upskilling now helps your employees adapt to the coming changes and position themselves as critical players in this new world.

Ton Dobbe

Ton joined Unit4 in 1991 as a partner manager before moving to the product team and subsequently taking the position of product manager. He became global head of product marketing in 2015 and has since been responsible for some of Unit4’s most successful product launches. He took on the role of chief evangelist in 2016.