Workforce automation is one of the big topics currently dominating discussions at prominent corporations, leading business schools and influential government caucuses around the world.

Emerging digital technologies such as intelligent automation and artificial intelligence are without doubt capable of boosting business efficiency and productivity. However, many executives are wary of their possible negative effects on their workforces.

Our research confirms that the spread of workforce automation will change significantly the skills workers will require in future. But that’s not the full picture. We also found that job losses can be reduced substantially if organizations move quickly to retrain their employees. Moreover, most employees are eager to learn new skills and adapt to a digitally-enhanced working environment.

Moves to quickly equip workers with high-demand digital skills and expertise will benefit businesses, their employees and even national economies. Our studies show that by reassigning workers to tasks that require greater application of “human skills”, such as complex analysis and social interaction, the countries we surveyed could reduce significantly the number jobs at risk because of automation. The UK, for example, could bring down the number of jobs at risk of being fully automated to less than six percent of its total workforce by 2035. Germany could pull this proportion down to 10 percent and the US to a mere four percent.

By doubling the pace at which their workers acquire new digital skills, these countries could significantly curb the number of jobs at risk to automation. The UK could reach the six percent mark of jobs under threat within just eight years and by 2035 this proportion could be as low as around four percent. Germany, by 2035, could have a mere two percent of jobs at risk, down from an earlier projection of 10 percent, and the US would be able to contain the level of its jobs under threat at three percent instead of four percent.

Encouraging workers to acquire new skills and work in closer co-operation with digital systems is likely to be easier than may executives believe. Eighty-four percent of the more than 10 000 workers we surveyed around the world professed to be excited about the changes new technology will introduce to the workplace.  Furthermore, 87 percent of them believe such shifts will improve their work experiences in the next five years and 85 percent would be willing to invest their free time to learn new skills.

To accelerate workforce automation, and harness the eagerness of employees to learn new skills, organizations should implement these key steps:

  • Reskill throughout the organization: Especially, don’t neglect senior management.
  • Keep building the skills base: Close skills gaps by continually reskilling and reassigning employees.
  • Nurture a culture of constant learning: Encourage all employees to embrace life-long learning rather than just task-specific training.
  • Use digital technology to build new skills. Artificial intelligence, data analysis and wearable devices, for example, can instruct and guide workers as they learn and apply new skills.

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss why workforce management needs to change to meet the demands of the digital economy. Until then, have a look at this link. I think you’ll find it helpful.

Harnessing revolution: Creating the future workforce.

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