Despite its massive promise, the rise of automation is one of the most significant sources of anxiety for modern workers who see it as a threat to their current jobs and prospects.
While many predict that the widespread adoption of new technologies will lead to job losses and a robot workforce, automation stands to create new roles and opportunities.
In this article, we'll look at how jobs are changing—from healthcare to customer service, sales, and manufacturing.
How is Automation Already Changing the Workplace?
As it stands, automation has already "disrupted" a wide range of industries, from financial services to sales, marketing, and even HR.
Human resource pros are increasingly looking toward automated recruiting tools such as dystopian robot interviews designed to screen candidates before meeting with a real person.
Customer support teams are tackling multi-channel communications with the help of chatbots, while sales teams are leveraging smarter tools that help them sort through incoming leads and deliver personalized solutions to buyers. And then you have things like marketing automation tools, which allow users to set campaign parameters that put complex sequences into play automatically.
In all of these instances, automation relieves workers from time-consuming tasks and allows them to spend more time on tasks that add value to the organization. For example, salespeople might spend more time talking to prospects or putting together custom solutions when manual reporting is no longer part of their job description.
Real estate agents waste less time talking to prospective buyers who don't qualify for a mortgage, while marketers can access detailed audience insights on demand for more relevant communications.
Which Jobs are Most at Risk?
According to a recent study by the Brookings Institute, the most vulnerable areas include production, office administration, food preparation, and transportation. Jobs were labeled "high risk" if 70% or more of their tasks could be automated, and according to the findings, that designation represents about a quarter of all positions.
According to another report from MIT Sloan, the threat level of automation comes down to two key factors: the type of value offered, and how that value is delivered. As a point of reference, “value delivery” refers to things like a college professor teaching classes online versus in the classroom.
The report noted that this idea that low-skill jobs will be replaced, while high-skill positions are safe, is a myth. Librarians and pharmacists, for example, face displacement threats just like
Instead, they point toward a different model for assessing threats based on core skill sets.
The Brookings Institute also found that the most secure jobs span a wide range of pay grades and occupations. This includes technical roles demanding advanced degrees, as well as creative work, which spans industries as vast as finance, media, arts, entertainment, law, community services, and more.
Additionally, low-paying domestic and care work remains in demand due to the interpersonal and emotional nature of the work.
Automation & Humanity
Automation is really good at performing repetitive tasks with speed and accuracy that humans can't compete with. Where robots lose their edge is in the realms of creativity, empathy, and critical thinking.
We're starting to see a shift in traditional office-based roles, where automation is used to enhance job performance, with easy access to insights, streamlined workflows, and integrated, cloud-based tools.
Look at any sales, marketing, or support desk software, and most have a similar selling point.
They bring multiple data sources into one place and automate menial tasks that take workers away from the creative or interpersonal aspects of their job.
Because of these new capabilities, there's a renewed focus on soft skills like communication, empathy, and leadership. A recent report from Information Age found that strategic planning, communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills rank highest among in-demand soft skills.
Employers are increasingly realizing the benefit of soft-skills, even in more technical roles. Ultimately, an organization's success hinges on hiring inspiring leaders, skilled communicators, and those with the flexibility and passion for learning required in the age of automation.
Automation & Technical Expertise
Another way that automation is transforming modern work is that it’s reshaping more technical occupations. AI can help programmers perform tasks like bug fixes, program writing, and more accurate delivery estimation for development projects--though it’s worth noting that despite reports to the contrary, AI won’t be replacing programmers anytime soon.
That said, there’s a growing demand for technical expertise in more specialized areas such as IoT, cybersecurity, data science, and machine learning/artificial intelligence.
According to Udemy’s Workplace Trends Report, learners are seeking out AI and data science skills, as well as cloud-computing and IT certifications to keep pace with the changing tech landscape.
As manual tasks become more automated, we'll start to see new jobs emerge involving the design, maintenance, and use of AI-driven tools.
For example, if you look at the financial services industry, you’ll see the widespread adoption of AI tools from online banking to automated wealth management. In this case, banks and financial services firms will likely need more highly-skilled technology experts to implement, update, and maintain these applications.
Continuous Learning Becomes Essential
Thanks to AI, life-long learning is becoming the norm—successful workers will learn to embrace new tools and technologies and evolve throughout their careers.
Retraining is becoming an increasingly common solution for displaced workers or those looking for new opportunities. But, that doesn't necessarily mean that workers need to return to school for more formal education.
One of the most significant changes brought on by automation is how quickly skills become obsolete.
As such, it doesn't make sense for workers to earn an extra bachelor's degree. Instead, organizations and individuals alike should look toward alternatives like micro-credentialing programs, certifications, and digital badges (think Facebook Blueprint, Google Ads Partners, or HubSpot's digital marketing certifications).
Other options include things like data science boot camps or cybersecurity programs that allow workers to gain marketable skills in short order. Ultimately, targeting high-growth sectors that need workers is your best bet, here.
What's Next for the Future Workforce
Research suggests that roughly half of today’s workers operate in industries that are vulnerable to disruption. In some cases, machines will replace human workers--think tax preparers who have already been displaced by software or truck drivers who may soon be replaced by self-driving robots.
Other industries like medicine, law, and education are in the midst of a transformation, where machines and humans work side-by-side (examples include AI-based cancer screenings or data-driven personalized learning strategies).
Automation promises to unlock opportunities for workers to leverage their empathy, creativity, and problem-solving skills, so long as they evolve along with the tools of the trade. While there will no doubt be growing pains on the road to adoption, work in 2030, 2040, and beyond could be a lot more meaningful.