06.01.2021

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Job automation: the transfer of workers and the evolution of skills

Work automation has been making the headlines. Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly sophisticated and powerful, causing considerable fascination and more than a little fear: how many jobs are at risk? So: what is work automation and what real impacts can it have on the evolution of jobs and skills?

 

 

Job automation: what are we talking about?

 

The notion of job automation, closely linked to robotization and artificial intelligence (AI), refers to the total or partial execution of technical tasks by machines capable of operating alone, without human intervention. Automation therefore brings to mind the image of the intelligent machine, designed and programmed by Man to work in his place.

 

Job automation is nothing new, but the current pace of change is unprecedented. While the steam engine and electricity were major disruptions in our great-great-grandparents’ lives, those tech revolutions were only the beginnings of a greater journey. Since the mid-2000s, several factors have combined to drive exponential progress in automation through artificial intelligence:

 

  • huge computing resources – both in terms of data processing power and storage capacity
  • powerful algorithms made available to the public
  • computerized analysis of huge amounts of digital data

 

Related: What is job automation?

« Companies expect 984,000 jobs to be lost by 2022, which should be more than offset by the creation of 1.74 million positions. »

Job automation doesn’t mean job destruction

 

You can read everywhere that the machines are taking over. Many fear that the supermarket cashier’s job will disappear completely as customers switch to self-checkouts, that train station counters will be replaced by vending machines, that our stressed-out fastfood waiters will turn into friendly, talking robots, and so on.

 

The World Economic Forum predicts that, by 2025, more than half of the tasks currently carried out in the workplace will be performed by machines, up from 29% today. This will have a tremendous impact on the global workforce – but not necessarily a bad one. In fact, the outlook is positive, with no less than 133 million new jobs expected to be created by technological progress, while 75 million of these will be transformed.

 

The World Economic Forum also states that while half of companies expect their full-time workforce to decrease as a result of work automation, 40% expect it to increase and 25% expect to create new professions. This is referred to as the transfer of jobs from some activities to others.

 

In the automotive industry, for instance, the advent of 3D printers and computer systems has reduced staff levels in car plants. But while the number of workers on the production line has dropped, this technology has created new jobs in automotive engineering. Today, IT enables computer-aided design, software powers the simulation of highly complex scenarios, and vehicle data leads to the deployment of ever more efficient safety systems.

 

 

Job automation: a vector for the development of skills?

 

Thanks to automation, simple and repetitive tasks can be accomplished by machines and algorithms. Conversely, humans will continue to perform tasks requiring creativity, social intelligence or complex interactions. Automation therefore bears the promise of letting people focus on more innovative, less monotonous tasks, empowering them. But to achieve this, employees must acquire new skills. And this is where human resources come in.

 

The anticipation of jobs’ evolution should enable employers to close the skills gap as quickly as possible through training. Companies must invest in human capital. New skill acquisition programs are the only way to guarantee that employees maintain consistent levels of productivity and self-fulfillment. However, the intensity of professional training activities we’re seeing today is not sufficient to transmit the necessary level of skills. Given the short lifespan of skills, currently considered to average five years, it is more important than ever for companies to target employees in jobs at a high risk of being partially or fully automated.

 

Related: Training in the face of skill automation

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Illustration credits: https://www.istockphoto.com/fr/portfolio/sabelskaya