Automation has struck fear into many employees in the past decade or so. Machines replicating human actions and smart algorithms programming systems to do what humans can do in a fraction of time. That means a load of people being laid off, right? Yes and no. Automation can streamline processes and reduce time-consuming manual tasks but it also frees up staff to spend more time on projects to boost business growth. Although jobs displacement will occur, many jobs will evolve while others will emerge to meet new demands. In this blog, we look at automation in the workplace and how it’s transforming business and influencing the future workforce.
An introduction to automation
If you think that automation is a new technology, think again. It’s been around for hundreds of years, with automatic controls put in place within machinery used in the likes of mills and steams engines. The term automation, first coined in the 1940s when Ford established an automation department, comes from automatic and automaton. It describes a machine being set to carry out tasks on-demand or according to a set of triggers.
There's been automation in the workplace ever since. From its humble beginnings, carrying out basic tasks through simple automatic processes in machinery, the technology has moved on and allowed companies across a wide range of industries to improve sophistication. Automation is now an integral part of business, with Marketing and Sales to HR and Finance teams using automation tools to increase business efficiency.
Embracing automation in the workplace
There are many reasons to embrace automation rather than fear it. The main one is that in our digital era, businesses need to be efficient to thrive and survive. Automation in the workplace helps companies to operate better. And that can only be better for consumers.
However, the reality is that jobs will change and be lost. Employers, employees, as well as future workers (currently in school), need to plan for the jobs of the future.
37% of workers worry they’ll lose their job due to automation. (PWC)
Workers are right to be concerned, especially in the US. The World Bank's World Development Report 2019 revealed that 47% of US occupations are at risk from automation. This is a scary stat on the face of it, but there are many factors involved and caveats to the relationship between automation and job displacement.
This quote from the report adds more perspective:
“In some sectors, robots replace workers. In others, robots enhance worker productivity. Technology creates jobs as it shapes the demand for new goods and services.”
The new jobs that are generated as a result of automation in the workforce will actually outweigh the losses. People should be aware of the need to evolve, prepare for future jobs and, in some cases, re-skill or make a career change.
What are the top benefits of automation for businesses?
Automation offers companies lots of great benefits, taking different forms depending on the industry. But here are the main benefits of automation in the workplace for business:
- Time-savings on manual tasks - this is the most prominent benefit and reason to implement automation.
- Streamlined processes - automation completes tasks faster and without the need for human intervention.
- Enhanced reporting - automatic activity tracking and reports configuration give you information about the metrics most important to your business.
- More strategic capabilities - automation turns data into insights, helping businesses to optimize and improve performance.
- Better quality and consistency - well-designed automation generates more predictable results and consistent output.
- Increased productivity and cost-savings - automation helps work get done faster and more efficiently, freeing up staff to deliver on other tasks to increase productivity.
- Improved security - automation and AI enhance security, especially in IT, to monitor systems and identify patterns to improve protection.
- Safer work environments - automation capabilities can help companies to get around hazardous environments to carry out work that poses health risks for humans.
- Going beyond human capabilities - machines using automation often deliver tasks that are beyond the abilities of humans, due to physical restrictions.
The best examples of automation in the workplace
There are countless examples of businesses and industries using automation. We’ve outlined some of the best examples of automation in the workplace delivering a real impact.
Automation has a number of different purposes across IT networks, infrastructure, hardware, and software. The most transformational use of automation is in cloud computing. The innovative possibilities of cloud computing and the sharing, storing and synchronization of data files has created a seismic shift in how businesses operate in this digital era.
By 2022, public cloud services will be essential for 90% of business innovation. (Gartner)
Retail and eCommerce
eCommerce stores that enable online payments are a form of automation, while the leading retailers use automation for their warehouse picking, for faster deployment and delivery. Other recognizable uses of automation in Retail include self-checkout systems in supermarkets and ordering systems in fast-food restaurants.
The impact of automation on Logistics is huge - think inventory management, warehouse picking and packaging, and goods transportation. The benefits include higher storage densities and better space utilization, automation-guided vehicles moving items to a human picker, conveyors, palleting, and distribution.
Here are some examples of automation in the workplace impacting Logistics:
- Motion check weighers
- Conveyor line product kit checks
- Radio data terminals
- Automation machinery management and maintenance
- Container management and storage navigation
- Order fulfillment, and assignment of stock to outgoing trailers
- Order dispatch/retrieval/delivery success receipts
- Identification via barcodes and RFID tags
Fully autonomous vehicles have been the pipeline for a while and the topic sparks debate over both safety and jobs. On the safety side, there are some fears over large unmanned lorries bombing down the highways. Meanwhile, there are positive messages around how self-driving vehicles will prevent long-distance drivers from fatigue and endangerment, plus prompt a reduction in emissions.
Another area of the transport sector influenced by automation is apps like Uber and Lyft. Automation plays a role in the efficiencies of these on-demand services, generating these disruptors that fuel our gig economy.
Marketing and Sales
Automation transforms the way marketers and salespeople engage with consumers. Brands use our online behaviors to give them insights that dictate the content they show us, via digital ads, email and social media. Automation triggers content, based on the actions we take online.
Marketing and Sales teams also use automation to streamline their internal processes. Business process automation (BPA) is all about workflows and automated triggers that set certain tasks in motion, depending on various predetermined criteria.
Automation enhances surveillance capabilities. Think automated detection, sensors based on heat, movement, and other criteria, and drones. There is already a large-scale network of automated video surveillance that monitors people and vehicles in real-time within busy environments. Some are more controversial than others...
Healthcare and Pharma
Automation is essential for many scientific and clinical applications, with laboratories across the globe using the technology. Modular laboratory automation (MLA) helps clinical and pre-clinical studies by optimizing and streamlining the laboratory workflow. Examples of laboratory automation include autosamplers, clinical diagnostics for sample preparation, distribution, screening and archiving, liquid handlers and robotic arms.
Here are just some of the ways that automation in the workplace improves processes in the Healthcare industry:
- EHR systems enabling real-time patient data
- Smart patient billing, including pre-authorization
- Adaptive staffing to ramp up support when its required and reduce waiting times
- Automated blister-card/prescription preparation
- Automation-powered surgical devices and health-check machines
Robotics is an area where automation and AI transform the development and distribution of products. The new World Robotics report revealed more than 2.4 million industrial robots operate in factories worldwide. Some of the common uses for robotics include automated labeling solutions, manufacturing, kit building and production line packaging.
IoT and smart home devices ushered in a whole host of different ways of working and living. Smart devices, both in and out of the office, enable synchronization of systems and machines to carry out tasks based on our preferences and needs.
When people think of smart technology, they often relate to voice recognition, personal assistants and smart home devices pre-programmed to monitor, manage and optimize certain responsibilities to reduce human intervention.
Preparing for the jobs of the future
We’ve outlined the many benefits of automation in the workplace and we’ve considered the fears of change, job loss and displacement. So, what we must do is prepare for the Future of Work. Job seekers and companies need to be aware of how roles in different industries evolve and what the future workforce will look like.
By the mid-2030s, up to 30% of jobs could be automatable. (PWC)
The Future of Work is not just a prospect; it’s an inevitable evolution (or revolution). Some call it the 4th Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0), which encompasses automation, IoT, cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Just let this following stat sink in:
Around 36 million Americans are at jobs threatened by automation, with up to 70% of their tasks to be performed by machines using the current technology. (Source: Brooking Institution)
Some sectors are more at risk than others but roles in food services, manufacturing, short-haul driving, and clerical office work have a high-risk of job losses at the hands of automation.
Unskilled workers at risk
Many of the so-called “unskilled” jobs are at risk, with automated solutions reducing time-consuming manual tasks and expanding capabilities with machines that can replicate, enhance and speed up task delivery.
20 million manufacturing jobs will be lost to automation by 2030. (Source: Oxford Economics)
Workers with fewer qualifications, employees in manual roles and those roles requiring less technical skills are most at risk. In fact, PWC expects over 40% of workers with a low-level of education to suffer job displacement by 2030, compared to 10% of workers with high-level education.
If you’re an unskilled worker or you're in a job that’s likely to be under threat from automation, consider upskilling. Or explore educational paths that could help you to learn the skills that will be in demand in future jobs.
The good news about automation
That’s the bad news and the stark statistics about future jobs displacement as a result of automation in the workplace but there is plenty of good news:
The World Bank's WDR 2019 study predicts that although automation will lead to the loss of around 75 million jobs in the next few years, 133 million new jobs will emerge from the added machine workforce.
This means that automation and artificial intelligence will create 58 million new jobs by 2022. So, it's not all doom and gloom, is it?
How do I prepare for the Future of Work?
Employers must plan for the future workforce
In the face of this tech revolution, businesses need to be strategic and proactive. Future workforce planning, assessment of skills shortages and evaluation of the impact of automation in the workplace are all critical. Consider where to apply investment into the growth of your business.
A McKinsey Global report predicts that spending on technology could grow by more than 50% between 2015 and 2030.
Here are some of the key questions that your senior leadership team should consider:
- How will your company operate in the next 3-5 years?
- What systems need upgrading or introducing to increase efficiency, create better outcomes and meet the changing needs of your customers?
- What roles will become obsolete and what new roles will automation in the workplace create?
- How can we manage change internally?
It is important for you to pick the right partners for Resource Planning, Talent Acquisition and Organizational Change Management. pepelwerk can help you with this preparation in a consultative capacity and from a technology perspective with our modern Hiring Hub.
Talent must prepare for future jobs
All employees should think about how automation in the workplace will affect their current job or future career. Now is not a time to put your head in the sand! Why not look into the sectors and job roles that could benefit from your skills in the near future?
It’s the age of IT and investment in IT services and resources will grow massively. But the type of IT roles in demand will change. Architects and engineers will be in-demand to design, develop and build automation and AI infrastructure and frameworks.
Gartner forecasts that by 2025, more than 90% of enterprises will have an automation architect (up from less than 20% today).
Automation often prompts a reassignment of roles rather than job displacement. It doesn’t remove the need for humans, as businesses need people to design the automation purpose, structure, and triggers. People need to adapt to the new labor environment. Soft skills will be more in-demand in the future. Areas of the Healthcare sector in requiring human care and understanding will be more vital in the coming years, especially with the global population steadily aging.
There were 703 million persons aged 65 years or over in the world in 2019. The number is set to double to 1.5 billion in 2050. (Source: World Population Ageing Report, 2019)
Do you think you need to reassess your career and consider reskilling? pepelwerk Career Coaches can help you to plot your career path for the Future of Work.
Summary: Time for Future of Work readiness & future job augmentation
We hope this blog on automation in the workforce was helpful. Future job augmentation and Future of Work readiness are two phrases that should become mantras for companies and employees from now onwards. While technology moves so fast, we can’t afford to stand still. Be proactive and prepare for the changing landscape and future needs and roles in the workforce.
If you’re an employer, check out our blog on how to get ready for the Future of Work and learn more about futureproofing your business: The Future of Work is Here Whether You Like It or Not.
If you’re an employee or job seeker worried about how automation will impact your career, download the pepelwerk Talent app and get access to our Career Coaching services.
pepelwerk is the matchmaker of the working world. Learn more about pepelwerk and how our skills-based job matching platform works. Whether you are a company hiring, a job seeker or someone with the skills to teach others, we can make the right match for you! The Future of Work is here and we can help you get prepared.