Automation is here to stay.
As an integral part of any digital transformation project, automating the repetitive, the manual, and the unnecessarily time-consuming is no longer a potential future strategy, but an immediate imperative. The productivity gains now being achieved by these projects mean that organisations who do not yet have an automation strategy risk being left behind by the competition.
Deloitte’s most recent Global RPA Survey found organisations reporting payback within 12 months, with over 90% benefiting from increased accuracy and compliance, and 86% seeing gains in productivity.1
Inevitably, with seismic technology shifts come equally radical alterations in the labour market, both in terms of the numbers of people and the types of skills required. New processes demand new ways of working and managing, and transformation projects of every size need people who can take advantage of the continually expanding possibilities of emerging technologies. Without the right knowledge and skills in place, automation projects are doomed either to fail, or to require many years’ investment before the requisite returns are achieved.
Finding and recruiting the right people is always a top-of-mind challenge for the C-suite, but this issue is more urgent and less tractable than before, and playing out against a backdrop of scaremongering headlines about robots ‘stealing our jobs’. In the US, the number of workers available per job opening fell to 0.88 at the end of 2020, its lowest level in 20 years . So how can enterprises close the skills gap quickly and effectively, while maintaining a fair and just working environment for all their people? We think the answer lies inside the organisation: re-skilling and up-skilling the people you already employ, rather than searching for increasingly scarce external talent.
The perception of workers being replaced by robots does not reflect the reality of automation. Automating repetitive tasks speeds up productivity and reduces the burden on employees. This creates opportunities for enterprises to leverage economies of speed, rather than economies of scale, freeing up employee time for them to concentrate on the complex tasks that can only be done by humans. Nor is it an either/or equation for many roles: people working hand-in-hand with intelligent automation can do the job better, quicker, and with less effort.
But does this higher productivity mean that fewer people are required overall? This fails to take into account all the new roles being created to build, manage and scale automations for organisations. McKinsey’s 2020 report on the future of jobs in Europe found that:
“….the effect of automation on the balance of jobs in Europe may not be as significant as is often believed….While automation adoption will grow over the next decade, a shrinking labor force on the continent means that, by 2030, finding sufficient workers with the required skills to fill the jobs that exist and are being created in Europe may be challenging.”
“Even if there is a net decline in jobs, filling available positions would nonetheless be challenging for European employers….Even with a decline of 9.4 million jobs…from the pre-pandemic levels, employment rates would stay stable.”
The most important benefit of automation is not reducing costs by reducing headcount: it’s doing more, better, and more quickly. The real problem for the enterprise is how to ensure the right skills are in place to carry out the new technology-related jobs. The most sought-after skill in IT right now is automation, and the demand for tech talent generally is so high that relying on people to expand their skills and move around the job market naturally will inevitably lead to scarcity of talent and runaway wage inflation.
At this year’s World Economic Forum summit, the Future of Work was a core theme on a challenging agenda that also sought to tackle issues such as climate change and inequality. (The irony of discussing the future of work at a summit being conducted virtually for the first time due to the world of work having undergone rapid and fundamental change was not lost on the participants.) The Future of Work is not a new topic: the WEF and many other organisations have been warning of fundamental changes coming to the labour market for many years. In its report modelling eight future scenarios in which the key variables were education, workforce mobility, and technological change, the WEF drew the conclusion that to avoid the more dystopian outcomes brought about by fast technological change, educating the workforce in new skills will be of vital importance.
“ The quality of and access to reskilling, upskilling and re-training support will determine how three billion people already in the world’s workforce will fare in the transition underway and engage with new opportunities in the labour market.”
If we take a sector-based approach, the Financial Services Skills Taskforce6 in the UK has indicated that over the next ten years although the overall size of the sector will remain relatively stable, the structure of job roles, specialisms and professions willl ook radically different because of trends in Automation and AI. The introduction and adoption of new technology to improve customer experience, managing risk, meeting regulatory requirements, and providing new products requires a varied blend of skillsets, knowledge, and behaviours.
The 2020 Future of Jobs Survey published by the WEF shows that the Financial Services sector is not the only one that is experiencing these shifts–there are similarities across all industries in strategic and redundant job roles reflecting the acceleration of automation and other emerging technologies. Growing in demand are roles such as Data Analysts and Scientists, AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Robotics Engineers and Process Automation Specialists all of which will require a well-defined career path and learning journey to support employees with their long-term development.
Tackling these trends means not leaving anyone behind. Workers carrying out low-skilled tasks must be given the opportunity to re-train into new roles, but building new skills into the workforce requires effort from a number of different sources. Governments have a responsibility to predict changes coming over the horizon and ensure that the workforce is fit to respond, through the education sector as well as through industry schemes, policy and funding.
In Singapore, the SkillsFuture7 initiative was created to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life, regardless of their starting points. It provides information and training for employees at every level to increase their skills, as well as working with organisations such as the Institute of Banking and Finance to map the skills that particular industries will require in the future. As the Singapore Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo pointed out at Davos:
“It won’t be possible to save every job, the transformations will continue…but we must all try our level best to save every worker.”8
Singapore Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo
The scheme also encourages individuals to become responsible for driving forward their own learning. Technology acceleration means that skills become obsolete in very short timeframes, so it is important to view training as a lifelong work in progress.
The third part of the jigsaw is the employer. There are significant incentives for employers to take an active part in re-skilling and up-skilling their workforce rather than relying on the market to provide. The investment required to train your own people in new roles more than repays itself in terms of securing hard-to-find skills. As Gartner advises in its look at how finance teams can use RPA:
“Consider using new RPA responsibilities as stretch opportunities for high-potential employees whose responsibilities will become obsolete with greater RPA adoption. This supports meaningful finance transformation instead of just cutting costs or head count.”9
Adopting a successful skills strategy requires identifying the right capabilities, competencies, and curricula for the workforce. This is often a time-consuming effort on the part of HR and L & D departments since there is no industry standard, but employers do need to approach this futuristically and clearly articulate future roles in their business, skills required and tasks that will be performed. Employers also need to conduct a skill gap analysis to help their people with a pathway for refreshing their skills and offering continuous learning opportunities. This means thinking laterally and broadly about the kinds of roles people can train for:
“Skills adjacency is defined as the proximity between the skills required for two different jobs. Among students at Udacity, a for-profit educational organization offering online technology courses….a significant 33 percent found a new job with only medium or low skills adjacency, indicating that reskilling someone from a non-tech role to a tech role can succeed.”10
This success is made even more likely by the fact that all the automation partners we work with embrace the low-code approach, committing themselves to producing robots that can be created, managed and scaled by administrators with minimal coding skills.
The cost benefits of training your own people are clear:
“Reskilling is cheaper than hiring. While reskilling an internal employee may cost $20,000 or less, the cost of hiring often costs $30,000 for recruitment alone, in addition to onboarding training. And new hires are two to three times more likely to then leave.”11
As well as the savings made by not having to onboard new people, retaining your existing workforce also means holding onto the cultural understanding that existing employees hold about an organisation, which value should not be underestimated. Investing in training your people into more interesting and fulfilling roles reaps benefits in terms of loyalty and has the potential to create lasting strong relationships between employer and employee.
This is why at Roboyo, we take a Human+ approach to building the workforce of the future. Our consultancy services are designed to embed skills and expertise in our clients’ organisations, establishing Centres of Excellence and robust governance to build employee capabilities. Our change management programmes support the culture to shift towards automation, and our training Academy provides skills training and certifications delivered by experienced industry professionals. Its time to get people learning.
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Over the last 12 months but process automation (RPA) and its more ingenious cousin, intelligent automation (IA), have quietly moved from interesting pilot experiments to the top of almost every CEO’s to-do list.
In an era of radically transformative change which is disrupting and redefining traditional business models, a clear understanding of the following topics can make the competitive difference between winning and losing.