The Reality of Automation and the Future of Work

The threat of automation is not a new thing, nor are the worries that come with it. In the early 19th century, textile artisans in the Luddite movement fought automation for fear of losing their jobs and livelihood. They worried that newly developed automation (think basic machinery) would leave them jobless. While it’s true that changes did occur, by the time the 20th century came along, employment-to-population ratios rose despite these technological advances. The workforce generally is good at adapting to new technology, and while automation will continue to take over new tasks as it evolves, humans don’t have as much to worry about as they may think. As a job seeker, here are three things to know about automation: 

Very few jobs can be fully automated

A recent study by McKinsey & Company showed that while it is estimated that half of all paid activities could be automated, under five percent of jobs could be replaced entirely by machines. This means that automation is more likely to transform jobs than eliminate them. In fact, automation will actually allow an employee to be more efficient, opening up opportunities to be more creative and active with their teams. 

Studies have shown that the design and implementation of automation will create more than 50 million new jobs. The sectors that will experience the most growth will be STEM-related careers like healthcare, scientists, educators, engineers and IT professionals, executives, managers, builders, and unpredictable manual labor jobs that cannot be done by machines.

Advanced technical skills will be important in the next decade, but soft skills are key

While it won’t take over our jobs, automation will change some of the day-to-day aspects of them. Manuel tasks such as reporting, bookkeeping, and even basic communication will be done by computers, which will free up time for employees to take on new tasks, many of which will include using new forms of technology. This is one of the reasons why studies suggest that by 2030 the amount of time American workers spend using advanced technological skills will increase by 50 percent. Many of these new skills will require training, which companies will need to provide in order to keep their employees relevant. Interestingly, along with the need for more technical skills, studies are suggesting that this growth will be matched with an increased need for workers with finely tuned social and emotional skills. These soft skills will be key for navigating a technological world and maintaining a human element for a company both internally and externally. Consumers are wary of companies that lack a human touch in their messaging, so in the age of automation the idea of a finely-tuned human message is going to be very important for businesses. 

Companies will adopt automation at their own pace

People tend to view automation as a giant wave that will wash over businesses simultaneously. The truth is, automation will come in many different forms and companies will likely adopt at their own pace. It’s important to remember that no one system can completely automate an entire business. Companies will need to invest in different programs to handle different aspects of it, whether it be financial bookkeeping, online services, or customer service. Companies will invest in these technologies when it becomes viable and cost-effective to them and, even when they do, it may take a while to integrate.

Automation is not to be feared but it is something that you need to be prepared to manage. While companies will continue to train for new technologies on the job, it is always good to be proactive and keep up with the new technologies being used in your field. If you are a job seeker looking to get a leg up in a particular field or job, it’s worth doing your research and investing in  training that will make you a more attractive candidate.

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