The impact of technology on the workforce is nothing new. Many of the jobs that young professionals do today didn’t exist when their parents entered the job market. Likewise, the workers of the future will be entering fields that don’t yet exist.
One of the major driving forces behind change in the workplaces of tomorrow is artificial intelligence (AI). In an age when machines will start having capabilities greater than the human mind (at least in some respects), business success will increasingly depend on leveraging AI to drive efficiencies and innovation.
But what does this mean for employees and businesses? How can both prepare for the ‘new normal’? Working at Accenture, we look to help businesses solve this exact problem, and the key, we believe, is human and machine collaboration.
Will AI end the workforce as we know it?
Many people see the evolution of AI as the end of the human workforce. On the contrary, business success will increasingly depend on people and machines collaborating rather than competing with each other. AI will elevate people’s capabilities, as workers help train and continuously improve intelligent machines and deal with higher value activities that machines can’t resolve.
68 percent of Australian executives say they plan to use AI to automate tasks in the next three years. This, you may presume, will result in large scale job losses. But interestingly, 71 percent of the same executives suggest that intelligent technologies will result in a net gain in jobs for their companies in the same period.
Reducing the workload while increasing workers may sound paradoxical, but AI offers unmatched opportunity for commercial growth. It will not only drive efficiencies, reducing the amount of work required to complete a task, but will also create new forms of growth and innovation — and in turn, job opportunities.
To succeed, however, organisations must reimagine work, pivot their workforce to new growth models, and ‘new skill’ their people to do more valuable work.
The AI-ready industries that must lead the charge
While the technology is constantly evolving, the strength of today’s AI is in automating administrative and laborious tasks; it is less adept at tackling ‘human’ tasks that rely on creative capacity, social interactions, complex judgement, services and experiences.
With this in mind, the sectors that are expected to be the most impacted by AI within the next decade include industry, manufacturing, customer support, accounting, postal and delivery services. Businesses working within these spaces are — willingly or not — becoming AI pioneers, which comes with a certain amount of responsibility. For both the business and its staff, it’s crucial that this transition is handled correctly.
To leverage AI, and mitigate its negative ramifications, organisations need to:
- Assess tasks, not jobs: Allocate work to machines and people, balancing the need for automation and augmentation.
- Create new job roles: Free people from function roles and build agile, project-based teams.
- Map skills to new roles: Assess internal capabilities required for new roles, then match these to existing skills, or source new talent when required.
Pivot the workforce
- Foster a new leadership DNA: Cultivate leaders at all levels to help pivot the workforce to new growth models.
- Recognise the business case: Use automation to fuel growth by reinvesting profits in the future workforce.
- Pivot the workforce to new business models: Orientate teams to support new customer experiences.
- Organise for agility: Create flexible processes; manage the workforce to support both the core business and the new.
Scale up new skilling
- Prioritise skills for development: Strike the balance between technical skills, judgment skills and soft skills.
- Target ‘new skilling’: All employees will work and learn differently. Cater to different levels of skills and willingness to learn.
- Go digital: Use VR, AR and Al to accelerate the speed and scale of effective training.
There will always be a certain amount of confusion and apprehension when dealing with such a new and potentially revolutionary technology, but a business in an industry at the forefront of AI innovation must be pragmatic, lest it be left behind.
How can employees prepare for the future of work?
Workers may not have much say in how businesses approach the adoption of AI, but they do have control of their own destiny.
Employees must be smart risk takers. By taking risks, professionals open the door to new possibilities, including new markets, new customers and new innovations. But they must also be smart about managing these risks. They need to mine data and analytics to understand the facts, and then develop strategies that deliver superior results.
They must also be curious and adaptable, and understand that unprecedented change is the new normal in business. All professionals must accept this reality and be comfortable with the art of navigating an environment of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Finally, being relevant and staying relevant is the name of the game. Employees must be open to new ideas, new skills, listen and ask questions, and importantly — never be satisfied with the status quo.
The art of being human
The next decade will mark a turning point for AI: when it transitions from a somewhat abstract concept to a powerful tool at any business’s disposal.
The focus, in the short-term at least, will be on enabling machines to carry out the repetitive and routine tasks within an organisation, leaving employees with more high-value work that requires emotional intelligence — to be the humans that AI cannot.
Naysayers might see doom and gloom, but for those with a forward-thinking approach, the artificially intelligent future looks incredibly bright.