Mitigating the Effects of Automation on the Workforce | DCR Workforce Blog

Mitigating the Effects of Automation on the Workforce

There’s no doubt that robotics and automation are changing the way businesses operate and impacting workplaces and job descriptions in myriad ways. Given the ability of automation to reduce costs, improve quality as well as output all at the same time, its adoption is set only to increase. In fact, the adoption of automation replacing jobs is predicted to gain momentum in 2017, with twice as many employers (at 31%) embracing automation compared to 2016 (at 15%). Will its growth affect employment and will the growth in productivity come at the cost of workers and their jobs? This is a major concern haunting all those who are closely watching the advance of automation and robotics.

As of now machines are not expected to exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years. But the machines will continue to evolve and manage to reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks. Increased productivity could cut back on working hours, improve pay rates and lead to more leisure and better living standards. The major concern here is that this prosperity may not percolate evenly to the different strata of society.

McKinsey believes that 49% of worker activities can be automated, while a survey by PwC found that 58% of CEOs plan to cut jobs over the next five years because of robotics, while 16% of them also plan to hire more people because of robotics.

Undoubtedly, tasks that require human labor are bound to need someone to operate the machines that handle those tasks. The skill sets needed will be entirely different, so we’ll see current livelihoods being disrupted and income inequalities increasing further. According to a report on the effect of automation on the economy, we see that the jobs that will be the most affected by these changes, explained in the graphs below:

workforce automation

The report states that:

  • 83% of the jobs that pay less than $20 per hour may be replaced by automation
  • 9% to 47% of jobs may become irrelevant due to technological change – with most threat to the less educated
  • Self-driving vehicles may eliminate between 2.2 and 3.1 million driving jobs, along with cashiers, fast food workers, customer service representatives, people who stock supermarket shelves and many others

Irrespective of its blue or white collar status, the real test of how a given job will be affected will be the ease with which some or all of its tasks can be automated and on the predictability and repeatability of its tasks. Much like bank tellers and photographers, some workers are bound to be replaced by kiosks or robots, undeniably an effect of automation on employment. Of course, new jobs will go to those involved in the development and supervision of artificial intelligence and automation.

What can administrators do?

  • Ensure that workers are compensated appropriately
  • Create a better social safety net and emergency aid
  • Expand access to healthcare
  • Put strategies for job creation in place
  • Recognize that human beings need work for more reasons than just survival and universal basic income is really not what people want
  • Consider taxing the robots on the worth of their work – as suggested by Bill Gates – so employers can weigh the capital costs and the benefits from automation better

What can employers do?

  • Expand the availability of job-driven training and opportunities for lifelong learning
  • Provide workers with improved guidance to navigate job transitions
  • Partner with educational and training institutes to ensure that they teach relevant skills needed by industry

What can workers do?

  • Remember that human beings have the capacity to offer creativity, intelligence, agility, thinking skills and communication; capabilities that machines can’t match anytime soon
  • Upgrade existing skills because working for low wages may soon be passé
  • Adapt automation, instead of fighting it or getting discouraged, to get better work
  • Know that there will always be jobs for humans in programming, maintaining, fixing and managing the machines or in other areas that can never be automated
  • Use soft skills such as empathy and understanding that no robot can imitate
  • Shed complacency and be willing to learn new things at all times
  • Choose jobs that have the least susceptibility to be replaced by a machine

Even if a percentage of job activities may be automated, few jobs may find all their tasks being automated. This would mean a restructuring of job descriptions than the job being axed completely. If that will mean less work at better wages or less work at low wages is question that only time will answer. Keep watching this space, as we bring you the developments on this burning issue which is changing the world of work around us!

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.