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Automation at Work - What Does the Future Hold?

Our perception of work has gone through a quantum shift in the last couple of years. This is partly due to the introduction of new technologies such as machine learning, AI, drones, automation, robotic processes, autonomous vehicles, and so on. These new paradigms have been driving significant changes across industries. Experts estimate that within the decade, the traditional notion of work will be completely transformed.

No one knows what our work will look like in the future, but by studying changes today, we can probably develop some excellent ideas. We are experiencing a significant transition. Such transitions bring about tremendous uncertainty in terms of job security, availability, and requirements. Experts weigh in on both sides of the equation. Experts weigh in on both sides of the equation. Some despise the changes due to the potential tsunami of unemployment and the stress it might put on society. Others welcome this transition predicting a future where machines will fulfill our basic needs.

Whether we like it or not, the transformation has already begun, and it is here to stay. At this point, no one can correctly predict what the future holds. But it is certainly interesting to observe the changes we are already experiencing. A closer look at them might reveal how the future of work will shape up to be.

Humans and Machines Working Together

Close to 45% of the jobs performed by humans today can be fully automated. In some industries, such automation has already started. The emergence of these trends makes employees insecure about their jobs. The situation is comparable to the wide adoption of computers. Employees across the planet were skeptical that the introduction of computers and the internet would make them redundant. But the adoption of computers created a whole new set of roles that did not exist before. Jobs that require employees to interact with the computers, fix them, program them, and ensure the tasks are performed correctly. Not to mention the thousands of jobs created in the network engineering industry to keep the internet secure and up and running.

We are watching the same scenario unfold again. Despite 45% of the workforce feel that their jobs could be at risk, the adoption of AI, machine learning, and automation will require skilled employees to interact and communicate with these technologies. Recent studies paint a clearer picture. Despite there being more automation than ever before, there are close to 7 million well-paying jobs in the US alone that employers are finding difficult to fill. The real reason behind the current talent crunch is a skill gap that is being caused by organizations engaging in digital transformations.

As technology progresses, organizations need more and more individuals to fill mid and high-skill roles. To fill these roles, employees must be conversant with big data, OLAP, ML, AI, automation scripting, robot deployment, drone piloting, and other high-tech skills. Exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects is necessary to achieve these skills. But the participation of American students in these high-tech and engineering courses has been dwindling for years.

Some organizations have already identified the challenges and are taking corrective steps. Amazon, for example, is investing close to US$700 million to upskill a third of its low-wage US workforce. As these 100,000 employees are brought up to speed to work with the latest technologies, we expect other companies will organize similar initiatives.

Just as with previous industrial revolutions, the introduction of new and sophisticated technologies does not necessarily strip away jobs. Instead, it creates opportunities that were not possible before. One possibility is for humans to be more human. And for machines to take on the dirty, dangerous, dull, repetitive, demeaning, disliked, detestable, and physically tough tasks.

In this day and age, a modern job seeker needs to have skills that allow them to co-exist and collaborate with machines. But if the current trend is a marker, we can see the skill gap widening for a good part of the next decade.

The only solution is for governments, companies, and educational institutes to adapt to the changing times. Governments to create environments to incubate the talents required for the future. Education to teach cutting-edge and cross-cutting skills are necessary for this new age. Companies will have to share the burden of and preparing their workforces for the technology they have to master.

The Freelance Work Culture

While freelance consultants working from gig to gig have been a part of the economy for many decades, this work model has seen a significant uptick in the current years. Studies show that 75% of millennials now prefer the work-by-project model instead of a steady job with an organization. This is a considerable change in terms of the workforce, economy, and current job market.

Some experts have expressed their concerns over this model since a gig-by-gig career cannot guarantee job security or sustained income. The solution is for gig workers to recognize the skills they need and upskill themselves. With a better and updated skillset, gig workers can win high-skill projects that would otherwise be impossible to secure. This not only translates to better pay for the worker but also allows employers to find the right candidate for challenging to fill positions.

Gig platforms that accommodate employers and employees can detect skill shortages and upskill their members to benefit from emerging opportunities. They provide learning opportunities to their members and monitor their progress via assessments. This allows better opportunities for the worker, high-skilled employees for the employers, and builds commissions for the platforms. By introducing training programs, we can create a win-win scenario where everyone gets what they want and deserve.

Embrace, not Resist

The changes to working as we know it is here, and it is inevitable. The introduction of new technologies and the growth of the gig economy poses challenges, but there are benefits to be derived if we overcome them. History has taught us that industrial revolutions take away tasks and jobs, but it creates far more opportunities to take their place. It is up to us to embrace the changes and choose to adapt to this fast-changing work environment. What the future holds, we don’t know for sure. But it sure helps to stay prepared.