As businesses quantify technology’s impact on employment- advanced applications in robotics, telemetry & communications, wireless & sensor systems, Internet of Things, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence among other technologies are revolutionizing the employment landscape at workplaces across the globe. The quest for cost optimization, improved product quality, reliability, enhanced productivity, better working conditions in addition to enhancing the competitive advantage of the firm are driving development and implementation of these new technologies at work. Companies are embracing this new reality, assessing its effects and adapting to the changing landscape across industries, especially in developing countries.
A direct fallout of implementation of automation at work is the reallocation of resources and jobs. According to a report by Boston Consulting Group, automation in manufacturing will increase from 10% to 25% in a decade while ~1.2 million additional advanced robots are expected to be deployed in the U.S alone by 2025. Some clear benefits of using automated systems are replacement of human operators in jobs that involve intensive physical labor, dangerous environments with temperature extremes, radioactive, toxic atmospheres, and monotonous work. Lowes’ Oshbots can speak 7 languages to help customers find anything in the warehouse and help managers track inventory. Best Buy’s Chloe can sift through music, movies, and games, bringing customers what they want.
Companies are employing automation and big data to improve their marketing systems through data mining; while human resources are reassigned other tasks. In banking for example, ATMs have reduced the need for bank tellers. However, it has also exponentially helped in the proliferation of banking outlets across a region at a reduced cost. Thus, the bank employees instead of aiding customers in tasks like depositing or withdrawing money can now focus on other aspects such as sales and customer services. Similarly, an increase in jobs has been observed in healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors.
In the financial sector, many trading jobs are being scrutinized by servers that run trading algorithms. Data preparation & analysis of a company’s financial reports for potential investors, which were previously handled by investment bankers, is now being executed through an automated program. While these computerised systems don’t cover the entire gamut of wealth management & financial services, they surely are a harbinger of things to come.
In real estate, agents are using the ‘Marketing Automation Software’ to personalize the entire buying experience based on a customer’s individual preferences & interests. Apart from data mining, it allows the agent to evaluate probability of lead conversion.
According to a study by the World Bank, automation could threaten as much as 69% of the jobs in India and 77% in China while ILO claims a dip by 56% in employment across ASEAN workforce. Here again, the fall is being viewed in low-skilled/repetitive/routine jobs across hospitality, retail, construction and manufacturing sectors- be it textile or electronics. Medium skilled jobs, which require judgement in difficult situations and highly skilled jobs that include analytics and critical thinking remain unaffected. Meanwhile, education, healthcare and social work sectors are projected to remain unaltered despite advent of automation. Recently, Infosys has released 9000 employees over the last one year due to automation of services. These employees are being trained in other areas for new and advanced assignments. Critical thinking, management, insight, social skills and creativity are some of the skills that are yet to be replicated by robots/ AI (Artificial Intelligence).
It is evident that automation is leading to an efficient combination of man and machine, where the skill sets are complimentary to each other. The need of the hour is to assess the impact of automation on industries and respond by way of education and training the displaced workers. This would enable the workforce to sustain and not disrupt growth across levels- be it individual, organizational or nation-wide.