Is Automation Eating Jobs or Creating New Ones


-based on Atul Jadhav’s views in a tweetchat hosted by Rezoomex

Historically technology has always created new jobs by automating repetitive/mundane work with predictable expected results. Human brains evolve as they learn new skills to solve challenging problems. This leads to creation of new job types which are more evolved yet challenging . e.g. Delivery by drones may take up delivery jobs however this automation itself opens up a number of specialised jobs with higher expertise. E.g. GIS experts, geospatial data analyst/scientist, algorithm designer/ developers, control centre operators, security experts etc.

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But hundreds of delivery boys can’t learn these skills – they would lose their jobs unless they evolve. Change is hard especially for the unprepared. But we need to learn from experience. We have come a long way from postcards to emails.

We often come across cases of individuals like a manual tester known to the author. This tester has spent all the 10 years of his career doing manual testing but now he is unable to learn automated testing-as a result he is losing his job. Evolve or perish, that’s the mantra! Some people can’t evolve- either because of inaptitude or inertia.

Not all jobs will have a clear evolution path like typists who evolved by learning word processing as typewriters were being replaced by personal computers. It can be concluded that automation will impact low skilled jobs and create new jobs that use human intelligence and creativity. Upskilling is the way forward for those affected.

Another angle to consider is that we need not work as much as we used to because automation will give us more free time to undertake hobbies or creative and innovative pursuits. But looking at 140 years of data automation has always created more work.

Here are some points to ponder-

1) Examples of jobs that have been made obsolete by automation

In manufacturing robots have replaced workers with significant increase in productivity. Bank teller job is automated, check out clerks in the supermarkets are being replaced by automated point of sales machines. Telephone operators, travel agents , timekeepers, typists, film projectionists, packing labour, stockroom/warehouse managers, farmers, data entry operators, call center operators, weavers, knitters the list can go on.

2) Jobs that are not yet obsolete but are at risk

Research says by 2021,four out of ten jobs will be lost to automation. Tasks needing low skills that are highly transactional can be automated using AI & ML. (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning)

Like delivery boys losing their jobs to the drones, taxi and truck drivers too will follow suit if Daimler, Tesla & Google succeed in their plans to make vehicles driverless. The list can go on- nursing and health care, insurance underwriters, geographers, nuclear technicians, financial advisors, news reporters, loan officers, accountants and auditors. Many of these jobs will have their next version, different set of OKRs to serve much more evolved customer demand and business models. About 40% of the jobs will go away in the next 5 to 10 years. We can’t say for sure if your job is one of those. Hence its safer to assume that all jobs will become obsolete in the next 10 years.

3) New IT jobs that are recently created by automation

Technology is evolving faster than ever,IBM Watson, Google’s Deep Neural Network (Tensorflow) and several other AI & ML platforms require humans with skills to implement various business models and use cases on those platforms. New breed of systems integrators called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) implementers are building systems with optimised work flow. Skills like DevOps are high in demand due to the need to further automate the service offerings via CI & CD (Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery). CD results in effective use of infrastructure resources by reducing the “Time To Market” for new products or services in addition to improving the efficiency and reducing the cost. Also in demand is the skill to convert old monolith applications to containerised microservices. Containerised microservices with container orchestration are taking the discipline of DevOps to the next level.

4) Industry verticals most likely to be Impacted by automation

Businesses today are striving for enhancing their customer experience. They are building products and services which will help them to achieve the same results more quickly and effectively. At the same time businesses – both B2C and B2B – are collecting lot of data about behaviour, productivity and performance issues.

E.g. your car goes to refuel itself from the nearest gas station while you sit in your office focusing on work or spending time with family without worrying much about gas level or spending that extra 10 minutes at the gas station. The data required is sent to the service station 24/7. When the car goes to get the servicing done by a fully automated service robot, it already has the data about all the vitals of your car along with exact issues. And this scenario isn’t as far fetched as it sounds and the day isn’t as far as is commonly believed.

Almost all industries are going to leverage the power of AI & ML. To name a few – healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, customer service, finance and defence are going to be benefit from these technologies.

As a result new jobs will come into existence. Some of the tasks for almost all the existing jobs will need new skills. All of us have to keep learning new skills. We are all running on a treadmill. Running hard to stay where we are! And the speed is increasing continuously. e.g. some years back DevOps skills were in demand . But today developers are writing containerised microservices. They can both build and deploy without any help from DevOps. This way of working called NoOps is making DevOps skills redundant.

5) Opportunities for IT Professionals in Non-IT Sectors

IT departments in non-IT organizations will benefit from the advances in technology. Presently every company does have a technology department however they will be needing serious updates to the latest technology which will be a challenge in terms of costs to be incurred and new skills to be acquired. Consequently technology would become central to the future strategies of these companies.

To build the smart systems mentioned in point 4 above, we will require skilled IT professionals who are not only capable of developing solutions based on intelligent platforms but are also quick learners. As Non-IT sectors start being heavily driven by IT more techies will be needed to maintain existing systems, to cater to new business cases, to alter existing business cases while ensuring the data security. Governmental rules and regulations will evolve based on various learnings resulting from automation initiatives such as driverless vehicles. This will open up altogether new careers for IT professionals in law enforcement departments.

Right now every company is a  software company. Ford sells computers-on-wheels. McKinsey hawks consulting-in-a-box. Fedex boasts a developer skunkworks. IT is employed in every industry today, from manufacturing to agriculture, from logistics to education.

The new breed of millennials joining the workforce will be focusing on analytics and research, data interpretation and insights, intelligent assembly lines, IoT platforms for process automation, CAE & CED , 3 D printing for building prototypes, streaming data collection and ingestion, cloud based machine learning algorithms.

6) Evolution of Non-IT Jobs Complemented by ML,Chatbots & AI

Product Designers, Data Scientists, Digital Marketers, Actuaries, offline auditors and validators, e-tailors, health care professionals, legal advisors. Almost every job in existence today will undergo the next level of evolution. Automation technologies like AI and ML will bring actionable facts or research applicable to a situation or an individual. This information will be leveraged for doing relevant cross-sale / up-sale of products or services. Customer support/ service jobs will be assisted by intelligent chatbots delivering a delightfully engaging and constructively interactive end user experience.  In many cases final decisions still have to be made by humans. But these will be very well informed decisions.

These are the non-IT jobs that involve creative skills, emotional and social intelligence, smart networking that will get complemented by automation. Recruitment and selection process too will change with automated parsing, evaluation and shortlisting of resumes based on priorities.

7) How an Individual Should Evolve

There are ample resources available on the internet,  free and paid, in the form of video, text, guides which can be leveraged by an individual to re-skill or upskill. No doubts are left about learning opportunities open to anyone when you see a thirteen year old delivering a key note address on IBM Watson and actively contributing to AI & ML. Professionals need to start being more curious about the purpose of what they are doing and how it is impacting the businesses they are working for.Anything that is happening anywhere in the world that is likely to bring about the next level of disruption in their jobs. Use this awarenesss to chart the course of skill acquisition well before the disruption happens. It is not very different when we do financial investment to expect certain amount of returns in future. Investment in oneself has to be a continuous process. People have to work towards building creative skills and being versatile. Those having T-shaped skills would find it easier to learn neighbouring skills. Above all thinking creatively about your future is important. Try making the change instead of coping with it. Finally one has to overcome inertia which is the biggest problem. Unlearning old habits is difficult. Old habits die hard!

8) Jobs or Roles that will Prosper

Roles having more cognitively demanding tasks will be valued more than ever. Here’s an example to put it in perspective. Traditional tellers have almost been replaced by ATMs. The individuals who used to be Tellers are now more focused on customer relationship selling products which are relevant to retail/corporate banking customers. This needs more time to be spent to understand the intricacies of businesses that are served by the banks. The new role is to provide designer solutions to cater to the business needs.

This does increase customer satisfaction and business for the banks. This ultimately results in the increase in number of branches and subsequently in the number of jobs.

This logic of automation creating new jobs applies for many roles which are under threat due to automation (Construction, Healthcare, Services etc..). Improvement in tools and automation, increases the effectiveness of emotional and social skills, creativity and judgments. Consider the example of the automated voice response (AVR) system used for handling lost baggage complaints by airlines. If used without any human intevention; it can put anyone off- it simply lacks the empathy an aggrieved passenger needs.

Having said this, let’s not ignore the fast pace evolution going on in AI and ML and cognitive capabilities been built around them making them more and more self conscious. Synerzip was involved in building an iPad app in which an animated nurse could actually recognize facial expressions. We had to use hundreds of thousands of images of happy, sad, painful and smiling faces to train it. It just goes to show how difficult it is to build an emotionally and socially intelligent bot.

9) Management Help for Employees to Evolve with Automation

If automation is a challenge for employees then it is definitely a challenge for businesses who are employing them. Management has to invest on fostering the culture of multi skill acquisition by their employees. Businesses should proactively introduce the disruptive technologies into work environment and provide training to their employees. Recently Webonise got into the business of implementing Robotic Process Automation(RPA) and IoT solutions. This put demands on the employees to acquire new skills required to develop, implement and maintain these solutions. Thus creating learning opportunities for the employees of Webonise.  It was uncertain times for everyone involved. In these times of uncertainty management should develop an atmosphere of fearlessness- do gap analysis and find training needs. Once the training needs are ascertained; they should conduct classroom training followed by hands on reskilling programs. Its an opportunity for the company to develop a learning culture and to motivate every employee to perpetually keep learning and upgrading their skills.

As a part of strategic planning management should tell every employee what his/her next job will be like. Spare no one. There is no one whose job is future-proof. Fearlessness is a pre-requisite for creating a learning atmosphere. Management should measure performance and allow employees to do course correction by providing learning goals and performance objectives. Management should avoid replacing current employees by hiring laterally. Dynamic re-teaming and refitment of jobs would allow cross pollination of ideas and better learning across teams. Finally any good management should set the right employee expectations by making every one aware of the risk of obsolescence and impress the need to continually assess the way automation is impacting our work.

 

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