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Automation is an important word at the moment. It’s been at work in the background of businesses for a while now (e.g. this 2016 FT article cites research claiming that the US lost about 4.76m manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010 through automation), and prophets are getting paid overtime for what the future of business could look like in ten years’ time (e.g. this PwC research, which claims that 30% of jobs will be stolen by robots within 15 years, only for pretty much the same number to be created in the automation industry, and this HBR article, claiming that 50% of the world economy will be impacted by automation).
It’s no surprise to hear a politician talking about it therefore, namely Yvette Cooper MP in a Guardian column yesterday. A recent YouGov survey she mentions has:
- 23% of workers worrying that their job will not be needed (not too far off the PwC estimate)
- 19% not confident that they’ll be able to change (unsurprisingly this number rises to 24% for older workers)
It strikes me that automation is a great enabler for efficiency and an improved customer experience, as well as business functions like accounting, risk and compliance.
It’s also something that has the power to make life very difficult for those workers who are being affected, which is something that no employers I’m aware of would want to do.
It feels like the right approach to automation is therefore to consider it holistically. Automating a process isn’t simply delivering FTE savings, it’s displacing people, so it should be supported by retraining and career coaching as much as possible.
It’s good news that 27% of those in the YouGov survey agreed that their employer is helping them to feel prepared for change. My hope is that that proportion ought to rise, as more organisations get to grips with what automation might mean for them as businesses and for their people.
Inaction risks greater division and polarisation. That’s why we have to rise to the challenge, and harness the power of technology to deliver a better working life for all.
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