Effective Automation Re-skill Strategies

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Technology is evolving at a breakneck pace. Organisations know that they must keep abreast of change to build more resilient operating models and to better prepare for future disruptions. But even while many companies are gladly adopting Business Process Management platforms, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), machine learning (ML) algorithms, and smart Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, there are many others that don’t understand what it takes for successful technology-led transformation: put people at the centre.

This means implementing “human in the loop” automation solutions that take people’s input to improve their own performance over time. It also means implementing automation re-skill programmes to prepare the workforce for the new world of work. Many companies are struggling with the second area.

So what is hampering organisations from implementing automation re-skill programmes?

And how can they overcome these barriers to better adapt to new realities and an uncertain future?

Let’s take a look.

The Current and Future Impact of Technology Adoption on Organisations and Workers

Worries around automation technologies eliminating jobs are not new. The adoption of technology does eliminate some existing jobs, specifically, jobs involving routine, predictable, and repeatable tasks. In fact, by 2025, automation will disrupt 85 million jobs in 15 industries and 26 economies. But it’s also true that over time, new technologies will be net creators of jobs.

In the long run, automation technologies and what the World Economic Forum calls the “robot revolution” will transform the workplace in positive ways. They will create 97 million new jobs that require human creativity, analysis, critical thinking, and agile responses to unpredictability. No machine will be able bring these skills to the table – no matter how smart or “intelligent” it may be.

Further, in companies that adopt AI, ML, RPA, and other technologies, workers will increasingly interact with machines to help create business processes where “human” and “machine” augment each other’s capabilities. Over time, such interactions will bring numerous benefits to the company, including higher productivity, efficiency, and profitability.

The Key Barrier to Technology Adoption: The Automation Re-skill Gap

In 2020, 66% of organisations were actively pursuing automation compared to 57% just two years previously. Other research also reveals similar trends: 80% of business leaders said they were accelerating plans to deploy new technologies and 50% of companies expected to accelerate the automation of some roles. Clearly, many firms acknowledge the value of adopting technology and digitising the workplace. And yet, many also struggle to take full advantage of its potential.

One of the key reasons for this challenge is the automation re-skill gap. In one 2020 survey, 87% of company leaders said their organisations were seeing skill gaps in the workforce or expected to see them in a few years. Even more worryingly, less than 50% had a plan to address the problem. These facts explain why only 61% of companies had met their automation targets at the time. Unless companies find a way to close this gap, they will continue to struggle to achieve automation success.

Why Companies Must Close the Automation Re-skill Gap as Priority

In the years leading up to 2030, more companies will adopt advanced technologies to automate straightforward tasks where human inputs are not required. As a result, the demand for workers with only basic literacy, numeracy, and cognitive skills will decline while the demand for people with advanced skills will increase.

These include digital skills like IT, programming, engineering, and cloud computing, as well as finely-tuned social and emotional skills such as empathy, communication, reasoning, leadership, problem-solving, and people management. Human workers will also be required for higher cognitive skills such as complex information processing and decision-making, and the demand for workers who can fill jobs in the green economy, data economy, and AI economy will surge.

In this landscape, it won’t be enough for companies to simply adopt technology. By 2025, almost 50% of workers in the fourth industrial revolution will need re-skilling, which is why companies must also focus on people – in particular on re-skilling people. They must ensure that their business strategy stands on two key pillars: technology and people. A strategy that leads with automation, digitization, AI, and other technologies must have the right people in place to effectively capture value from the investment. And this requires investing more time, energy, and funds in re-skilling the workforce for future-fit jobs.

How Companies Can Re-skill Workers into Future-fit Jobs

Companies that invest in automation re-skill programmes will have the right resources in place to successfully adopt new technologies and get the competitive advantage of being “early adopters”. Moreover, their workers will be more motivated, more productive, more willing to learn, and less inclined to leave.

But to achieve these goals, companies must first overcome barriers like an outdated HR infrastructure and the inherent tendency to resist change that prevent companies from successfully adapting to technology. They must also identify which routine tasks and manual work processes can be successfully automated. This is crucial to ensure that automation is applied in the right areas.

In addition, companies must provide options so workers can continuously learn and adapt to the new world of work. They must understand the current “skill supply” and explore ways to raise the skill capacity of the existing and future workforce. They must redesign processes to make better use of workers’ skills and to make better hiring decisions to onboard people with the right skills for future-fit jobs. Finally, they must look beyond short-term pressures to instil a culture of lifelong learning to help their employees close the skills gap and confidently take the next step towards the future.

Conclusion

To achieve success with their automation and digitisation investments, companies must make technology a strategic priority. But the story doesn’t stop there. While implementing automation-related changes, they must also invest in automation re-skill programmes. To this end, they must:

  • Proactively look for skill gaps that need to be closed on priority
  • Strengthen their talent acquisition programme to close these gaps
  • Assess where re-skilling is required to build workers’ automation-related capabilities

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