How to Robot-Proof Your Job
No, we are not referring to the now-US President Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.
Rather, we are talking about the spectre of job losses now hanging over many employees’ heads.
With the increasing maturity and proliferation of technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is a palpable fear in the air that humans will be displaced by robots in the workplace in the foreseeable future.
(We discussed in our recent blog post For Robots, Death and Taxes Too? that robotic taxes and universal basic income might be required to preserve the social compact that has existed for centuries before the upcoming Age of Extreme Automation aka the Fourth Industrial Revolution.)
All things considered, technologies like RPA and AI should bring net benefits to the society through improved productivity, and consequently GDP growth.
The challenge is that automation will not benefit all segments of our society equally. And while some of the current tasks can and will be handled by robots in a cheaper, faster and better manner, technology will also spur the creation of new jobs, some of which we may not even be able to imagine right now.
Harnessing automation for a future that works
McKinsey Global Institute earlier this year published a seminal piece of research titled Harnessing Automation for a Future That Works that delves just into that. This back-breaking fundamental research analysed around 800 occupations and 2000 work activities across these occupations.
The good? McKinsey found that less than 5 percent of occupations can be fully automated.
The bad? This still translates to approximately 169.2 million jobs worldwide based on the data from the World Bank as of 2014. And for about 60% of the jobs, at least 30% of activities can be technically automated.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute
This then begs the questions – What are the jobs of the future? And how do we future-proof / robot-proof / automation-proof our existing job?
Be flexible and agile
Automation is going to drastically change the nature of jobs as we know them now. Take industrial cleaning. As the technology matures and cleaning robots become more popular, we will increasingly see these robots being deployed commercially. Not to mention at our homes too.
While this might sound like the death knell for all the cleaners out there in the world, the reality is going to be rather more nuanced. Assuming a simple 80-20 rule, it is likely that some cleaners will still be required to clean those areas hard to reach effectively by robots.
More significantly, the job scope of the cleaner is likely to change to include managing these robots and their cleaning schedules. Heck, while they are at it, why not throw in the maintenance of the robots as well.
The bottom-line is this: In the new Age of Extreme Automation, we all need to keep an open mind about what our job entails. Put another way, a cleaner will no longer be just a cleaner. He or she will be a cleaner, supervisor and technician all rolled into one.
The only alternative to coexistence is co-destruction
Which brings us to the next point. The trend towards automation in the workplace is both inevitable and irreversible.
Rather than going through the whole cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then finally acceptance (when it might already be too late), we will do well to remember the adage “the trend is your friend”.
What this means is that we need to embrace a workplace where robots and humans coexist and collaborate to achieve business goals. We need to be comfortable with the idea that the robots are here to make our lives easier and to help us achieve more. And we should be thinking constantly on how to leverage technology to create more value, thus strengthening our own value proposition.
Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it
The need for continuous learning cannot be overemphasized. Jobs are continually being redefined and the skillsets that are valued in the marketplace are constantly shifting. The magnitude of these changes are magnified manifold with digital disruption and automation. Doing more of the same and remaining status quo will no longer suffice in this new world.
So how do we keep up? Adopting the mind-set that our career will be a lifelong journey of ceaseless learning is a good start. More than that, we have to take the initiative to actively acquire new knowledge or tools in order to upgrade and reskill ourselves. Only then we can avoid being the mouse who found that his cheese has been moved.
What makes us human?
Perhaps most important of all, we should focus on human attributes that robots have difficulty replicating. Think Emotional Intelligence (EQ) over Intellectual Intelligence (IQ). Think design thinking (with emphasis on creativity and problem solving) over data acquisition and processing. If all else fails, remember that the robots are meant to serve us humans, and not to enslave us.
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