Robot rubbish: Most workers don't fear automation

Chris Jones
Scottish Firm Develops Bionic Hand
Only a quarter of general employees said that a machine could do their job (Source: Getty)

The robots are coming, or so say experts, pundits and commentators. The World Economic Forum predicted that expanded automation and artificial intelligence (AI) would mark the fourth industrial revolution, which could lead to the biggest upheaval in the labour market in a century. Meanwhile, the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane has hypothesised that up to 15m jobs could be automated, and PwC anticipates the world’s first fully automated, robot-served hotel by 2022.

It is clear that such advancements could bring economic benefits: boosting productivity and efficiency, and reducing costs. But they could also bring uncertainty in the job market, especially if business leaders who participated in City & Guilds Group’s Skills Confidence report are to be believed. Nearly three quarters believe that automation and AI will replace a number of jobs in their organisations in the next five years.

With such predictions, you may assume that many employees would be worried about their futures, and fearful that a machine will take their job. But conversations about the changing nature of the labour market appear to be stuck in the boardroom.

Don’t believe the hype

In contrast with business leaders’ confidence in the potential of machines, only a quarter of general employees said that a machine could do their job. And less than half believe that automation and AI will replace jobs in their organisation within five years.

Read more: Stressed out Brits want robots and virtual assistants to pick up the slack

This trend isn’t limited to the UK. The research showed similar results across the US, India and South Africa. Only India’s employees seemed more confident about the rise of automation and AI, which is perhaps an indication of a workforce in an economy that is heavily dependent on the tech sector for growth.

Impact for Britain

So what does this mean for Britain’s workforce, and the skills they need to succeed?

It’s clear that the skills employees need will change. As technology develops and automation and AI become the norm, the challenge of managing this new technology will grow and require a different skill set. I don’t just mean technical skills; it will also be key to develop the uniquely human skills that simply cannot be matched by robots, such as leadership, entrepreneurialism, people skills and communication.

Part of the challenge is that employees’ confidence in their own skills can be misplaced. While 67 per cent of UK employees recognised skills gaps in their organisations, over half believed they were over-qualified for their job.

Confidence is great, but employees can’t afford to be blinded by it. They need to pursue meaningful conversations with their managers about how their jobs might change in the future so they can future-proof their skills.

Proper preparation

But the onus isn’t just on employees. Business leaders have a responsibility to prepare their staff for the future world of work as well. This means closing the awareness gap between the boardroom and the shop floor. It also means planning ahead and telling the story about what the future workplace could look like, and supporting employees today to develop their skills for the future.

Read more: Can robots be victims of harassment in the workplace?

Fortunately, research shows most people are aware of training within their organisations, and most are actively developing their skills. But it’s vital they are developing their skills in the right areas.

We are living in ignorant bliss about our skills and job security. If we let this continue, such false confidence will only deepen our weaknesses and prevent businesses from being both productive and competitive in the global market. We cannot let that happen.

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