I’ve written extensively in the past few months about the impact automation is likely to have on the workplace, in terms of the type of jobs that might be automated, the speed with which automation might occur, and the responses we can make both as individuals and society. To coincide with the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Accenture Strategy have released a new report that also looks at automation, albeit from the perspective of the employer.
Whereas most discussions around the ability of people to compete with machines for work have used a narrative of employers exploiting the technology, and employees frantically scrambling around to learn skills to enable them to compete and adapt. Accenture argue instead that employers should be leading the charge in helping people to re-skill.The paper argues that a sufficient investment in more human, softer skills such as leadership, creativity, emotional intelligence and critical thinking would significantly reduce the number of jobs lost to automation. Indeed, the paper suggests that if investment in training for these skills could be doubled, then the number of jobs at risk from automation would fall from 10% to 4%.“Paradoxically, the truly human skills, from leadership to creativity, will remain highly relevant and winning organizations will strike the right balance – leveraging the best of technology to elevate, not eliminate their people,” Accenture say. “Not only are workers optimistic, but they understand they must learn new skills. Digital can accelerate learning by embedding training seamlessly into daily work – so learning becomes a way of life – helping workers and organizations remain relevant.”
The global survey found a population that was surprisingly positive about the potential impact of technology on their workplace. Indeed, 84% believed it would have a positive impact on both the quality and quantity of work they could do.That isn’t to say that automation won’t make a splash, or indeed that employees are ignorant of the impact. 87% revealed that they fully expect parts of their job to be automated inside five years, but 80% believe that technology will also open up new opportunities. For this to happen though will require leaders to step up to the plate.“Creating the future workforce now is the responsibility of every CEO. Those leaders who make their people a strategic business priority and understand the urgency of this challenge will be the ones that make the greatest gains in growth and innovation,” Accenture say.
The report outlines a number of steps leaders can take to help shape the future workforce.
- Invest more in training – Organizations need to speed up the investment in both technical and soft skills. Employees want to learn new skills, so you have a duty to provide the environment to enable that.
- Redesign the work we do – The report advocates co-creating new, role-based and gig-like employment opportunities to allow employees to experience different roles and departments.3. Develop the talent pipeline – Skills shortages are likely to be common across your industry, so you should be proactive in addressing these by supporting solutions that are long-term and collectively designed. You might, for instance, work with the education sector to ensure curricula matches the needs of your organization.
- There is a need for individuals, and indeed governments, to be flexible and adaptive to the changes happening in the world, but of course, the same needs to apply to businesses. Of course, the report has to be hedged alongside industry figures suggesting that organizations are reducing their spending on training rather than increasing it, so it perhaps serves as the first part of a gigantic kick up the bottom for companies of all kinds.