How Automation is Changing Learning & Development Needs


Posted In: Workforce Insight

Sep • 13 • 2017

Advances in automation historically affected manual workers, but computers, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are affecting more jobs than ever.

Frontline customer service roles and financial services jobs are undergoing a transformation. Data entry and bookkeeping can now be done by software. Self-service stations can replace waiters in quick-service restaurants, and artificial intelligence chatbots can perform menial customer service tasks.

Even some highly skilled white-collar jobs in health care, such as analyzing human X-rays, can be done more efficiently by machine learning systems than humans. In an article by Michael Morgenstern for The Economist, artificial intelligence researcher Andrew Ng explains,“As a result, […] a highly trained and specialized radiologist may now be in greater danger of being replaced by a machine than his own executive assistant.”

Automation is opening a gap in the skills needed by today’s workers

Automation is augmenting what human workers can do, while requiring them to possess increasingly advanced skill sets to perform their work. A factory worker can be more precise and productive with a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, for example, but it requires her to have computer programming skills.

In a recent report titled Harnessing Automation for a Future That Works, McKinsey Global Institute analyzed the automation potential of more than 2,000 work activities across 800 occupations. They found that fewer than 5 percent of all occupations could be automated entirely using the technologies available today. However, 60 percent of all occupations could be partially automated by about 30 percent, according to McKinsey.

While few jobs are in danger of being entirely automated out of existence, most will see changes in the level of skills required to do the job. In the report, McKinsey estimates that the jobs with the highest automation potential are those with predictable physical activities (81 percent), data processing (69 percent), and data collection (64 percent).

According to a 2015 survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the Markle Foundation, 83 million people work in jobs that require an average or above-average level of education, experience, and job training — a 68 percent increase from 1980, when the number was 49 million.

Both employers and workers are aware of the shift. In that same survey, 35 percent of workers say they lack the education and training required, and 45 percent have pursued extra training to maintain or improve their job skills in the past year.

Related reading: Building Soft Skills and Employment Pathways

Training workers for the jobs of tomorrow

Technology can sometimes move so quickly that skills learned in traditional degree programs aren’t up to date even a few years later. Much like their parents before them, students graduating from high school or college may find themselves working in jobs a decade from now that we can’t even imagine today.

Additionally, as technology replaces existing roles, those who are already in the workforce often can’t afford to take years off and go back to school. Neither can most employers afford to start from scratch with a new workforce.

Training — both internal and external — is one of the most popular ways employers are augmenting their workforce’s skills, according to workforce solutions company ManpowerGroup. In a report on digitization and skills, ManpowerGroup surveyed 18,000 employers around the globe about how they’re preparing their companies for the impact of automation. They found that companies are using a combination of upskilling current workers and recruiting new ones.

To upskill, 74 percent offer internal training, 62 percent offer external training, and 39 percent hire outside experts to transfer skills to employees. In contrast, 44 percent are recruiting people with additional skill sets, 29 percent are replacing their workforce with people who have the right skill set, and 23 percent are outsourcing business functions to third parties.

Upskilling workers in place is an effective solution for companies that want a workforce already familiar with their mission and procedures, and, more importantly, are better equipped for new roles.

Related reading: 6 Ways Companies Can Support Degree Completion for Employees

Employers must upskill their employees as jobs shift

There are many reasons to welcome automation. It reduces human error and can speed up transactions. It can provide more precise diagnoses and more accurate data entry. It can remove humans from unsafe work environments. It can lead to greater productivity for both businesses and their human workers.

Automation can elevate the work that humans do. But to do that, humans need more training. This includes training in new technical skills required to work alongside machines, as well as advanced cognitive and critical thinking skills needed to make informed judgment calls and deal with more complex issues.

Machines have regularly reshaped the job landscape. The challenge lies in being open to seeing those opportunities, and prepared to address skills gaps in workers.

Looking for effective training solutions for your employees? Explore skill development programs that prepare your workforce for the changing job landscape.