Automation and AI in the Workplace: Should You Be Worried?

When considering the future of work, many people think about the effects of technology—specifically automation—on their profession.

How will it affect the future? What jobs and industries will still be viable in 20 years? Should I be worried about my job?

The truth is, the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies into the workforce will indeed impact jobs, requiring retraining, changes in skill, and adaptability in workers. But this doesn’t have to mean thousands of workers will end up jobless. Instead, we should look at AI and automation as the key to opening up the workforce and potentially adding trillions of dollars to the global economy. It’s time to start embracing the potential of automation and AI to change the workplace as we know it.

How Is AI Being Used Now?

Automation has already begun to work its way into our workforce, with AI not too far behind. In fact, artificial intelligence is already a part of our everyday life in many ways—think of automated voice prompts when you make a phone call, the GPS-optimized route your delivery driver uses, and the facial recognition software you use to unlock your smartphone.

Companies like Censia, a firm focused on matching recruiters and hiring managers with talent, utilizes AI regularly. AI is an integral part of its Talent Intelligence Platform; instead of using a keyword search as on LinkedIn, Censia’s AI solution sources candidates for a job by modeling what an ideal candidate looks like.

Using AI solutions for tasks like these can actually place the focus back on humans—while AI takes care of the basics, human recruiters are free to use their emotional intelligence to explore the people at the other end of the applications.

What about Automation?

The McKinsey Global Institute, an organization that researches trends in the global economy to help employers make important decisions on policy and management, conducted a 2017 study that explored the potential for automation to replace humans in specific jobs.

The data shows that between zero and 30 percent of hours worked across the world could be automated by 2030. The industries primarily at risk for losing jobs to automation include physical labor in predictable environments (operating machinery, fast food preparation, factory work) and collecting and processing data (accounting, paralegal work, back-office transaction processing). It would be preemptive, however, to assume that the increased use of automation would result in a complete loss of jobs; rather, it is more appropriate to expect a shift, in which workers would move into new jobs and utilize new skills that cannot be replicated by automation.

automation

Other professions have little to fear from automation. Jobs that involve managing people, having social interactions, and applying some specific form of expertise cannot be replicated by AI or machine automation with our current technology. Physical work in unpredictable environments (such as gardening, child and elder care, and plumbing) are similarly unlikely to be replaced with automation. These jobs are technically challenging to automate, and often, automating them doesn’t offer a high enough return on investment.

Incorporating automation depends on much more than the technical feasibility of its implementation. Though that is often the most visible factor when considering the potential for automation to take over jobs, it is also important to consider the overall cost of implementing automation; the benefits of automation (for example, superior performance); the scarcity, skills, and cost of the workers who might perform a particular task; and the consideration of regulatory or social-acceptance factors.

The Potential for Growth

The use of automation and AI in the workforce offers significant potential for growth in our economy. It also comes with the need for changing skillsets among workers and a substantial shift in the workplace as humans interact with machines more and more. The McKinsey Global Institute modeled skill shifts going forward to 2030 and found that generally, the need for workers skilled in developing and implementing technology will only grow.

Advanced AI and automation technologies necessitate hiring workers who understand how to improve this technology and fix problems that may arise. In particular, the need for advanced IT and programming skills could experience a 90 percent increase over the next decade.

Demand for skills that machines can’t replicate, like empathy and advanced communication, will continue to increase as well. Entrepreneurship and leadership skills will also experience increased demand and growth. These changes will necessitate training to help employees develop these new skills.

E-commerce giant Amazon is already on board with this upcoming change. The company recently announced a massive $700-million-dollar effort to retrain around one-third of its employees to perform higher-tech tasks. The program aims to move employees just one or two levels up the skill ladder (for example, taking low-level coders and turning them into data scientists).

What Now?

The role of employers in retraining employees will become increasingly important over the next decade, as data suggests significant disparities in job growth based on economic areas. In the next decade, the country’s 25 megacities could account for as much as 60 percent of job growth, although they house just around 44 percent of the population. Meanwhile, displaced workers in more rural areas will need opportunities for continued education, retraining, and finding new jobs that will match their skill set. Programs like Celia’s Talent Intelligence Platform could prove to be extremely useful in the future.

Automation and AI will cause significant shifts in the workforce, but these changes need not be the end of an era—rather the beginning. As jobs are displaced, new ones will be created, and a change in the place of technology in our world could cause a radical and exciting shift in the global economy.