Will a robot take over your job? Not necessarily – but your job as it is defined today will not be the same a few years down the road.
There’s no question that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will displace some jobs. At the same time, new roles will spring up in response to the shifts in productivity and customer demand that AI brings about. Alongside intelligent robots, new types of workers will ultimately be essential in order to develop, deploy, maintain, operate, and regulate AI. Automation is already sparking entirely kinds of teams and industries.
Of course, sweeping changes have always characterized technological revolutions. This time, though, there are two big differences — at least according says Andrew Walker, COO at BT Financial Group. “First, in previous revolutions, technology displaced some roles in parts of a value chain; now, AI displaces processes in the entire value chain,” he says. “It is unlikely to create opportunities in the same value chain.” As an example, he cites the fact that, historically, a steel welder may have been able to move to another role in the same welding operation with some retraining. In a fully automated steel plant, similar opportunities may not be available.
The second difference is that, for the first time, new technology will affect workers at all skill and education levels, as rather than simply those who perform manual labor. “It’s unlikely that there will be closely related jobs that you can shift to,” says Walker. “You can’t take your existing skill set and shift it over, as you could in the past.”
Equal opportunity: Bots and people
As AI technologies take over many of the functions that people now perform, traditional job definitions will change significantly. It won’t be long before you’ll need to lead and work with teams composed of both machines and people. Findings from a survey that Genpact conducted with Fortune Knowledge Group underscore this fact.
The study of 300 senior executives – part of a three-part research series exploring the impact of AI on businesses, workers, and consumers – shows that 45% of respondents expect their employees to be comfortable working alongside robots within three years. Among AI leaders – those businesses that are seeing the greatest impact from AI – that figure jumps to 79%.
This aligns with the findings from another Genpact study on views from the workforce, which shows workers – especially younger ones – as surprisingly open to working with AI-powered programs and machines: overall, 40% say they would be comfortable working with robots in the workplace. This emphasizes why it is critical that companies and governments invest in reskilling and equipping workers to perform new and different roles.
Yet only 38% of businesses currently offer retraining in light of digital disruption. This must change if organizations are to enhance existing jobs, create new ones, and succeed with AI. And it’s not technical skills that people need (figure 1).
“Leaders need to make reskilling a top priority,” says Tiger Tyagarajan, Genpact’s president and CEO. “Developing a workforce that is constantly evolving alongside technology offers a huge edge in an AI-dominant environment.
A new face for teams
By incorporating bots into its workforce, BT Financial Group is already forming a talent pool that can operate alongside AI technologies. “The way we’re approaching it is through similar procedures as for humans,” explains Walker. “Onboarding is the same for bots. We generate HR reports, compliance with health and safety policies, and so on. We have a team of 50 humans doing payments processing. But when I see the report, I see a team of 60, not 50, as the bots are part of the workforce. Right now, it’s in the very early stages, but we’re trying to get people more used to the AI culture. A bot is just another team member.”
BT’s case illustrates the need for reskilling to be imaginative. For example, one company has found ways to turn displaced coal miners into programmers. Several financial firms have found that as they automate areas like post-trade processing, bankers can shift their focus to higher-value work like research, brainstorming new ideas, and building client relationships.
— Genpact (@Genpact) December 1, 2017
Transforming the business environment
With or without the influence of AI, many jobs will inevitably disappear in the next decade or two because of increased computerization. The key to succeeding in the new era is adaptation, according to Vijay Gurbaxani, a professor of information systems and director of the Center for Digital Transformation at the University of California-Irvine. “One of the essential aspects of AI is that we will be working alongside computers and learning from them,” he says.
Business leaders agree that overall, AI will affect society in highly positive ways, especially through machine-human collaborations. More people will be able to participate in the workforce: for instance, AI apps can help employees with visual or hearing impairments. In healthcare, AI is vital to diagnostics. In finance, just as spreadsheets drove costs down and demand up for calculations, machine learning – applying AI to large data sets – will do the same for predictions, enabling more precise analyses and recommendations, say researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “Prediction about uncertain states of the world is an input into decision making,” they write in a recent paper.
For all this to happen, businesses must take some decisive action to reskill their workers. “The best companies in AI are going to be the ones that have the best HR function, which redeploys people in the best way to suit the new fabric of work enabled by AI,” says Gianni Giacomelli, a senior vice president and business leader, Digital Solutions, at Genpact. “Basically, HR success will drive AI success, not the other way around.”
Five steps to consider
- Build the AI story for your business and share it with employees
- Rewire processes and roles across functions to enable AI
- Map your redeployment and retraining requirements for AI by understanding people’s skills beyond their current roles, the skills you need for AI, and the gaps you have
- Invest in change management to help employees collaborate and be successful in a workforce of robots and people
- Celebrate wins, create case studies, and build on successes
To achieve these results, businesses must create an innovative business environment that embraces change, reduces the fear of AI technologies, and empowers employees to reimagine the work of the future. It is also essential to take some risks because these will lead to significant rewards, including greater competitive advantage, happier customers, and more engaged employees.