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Relax... robots aren't going to steal your job

Technology will make jobs more productive and meaningful to workers, not extinct
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Relax... robots aren

Relax... robots aren't going to steal your job

24 June 2019

For every problem, there is a job – and the world is in no danger of running out of problems.

The key message of a recent report from Deloitte Access Economics is that fears that automation, robots, etc will take over most people’s jobs are unfounded. Jobs will change and evolve, and on-the-job learning will have to expand substantially for employers and employees to keep up, but technology will make jobs more productive and meaningful, not extinct. As the report says, “it’s about augmentation, rather than automation or replacement”.

The report’s title is The Path to Prosperity: Why the Future of Work is Human.


Key myths busted

The report challenges some common assumptions about the future of work, making the following conclusions instead:


Robots won’t take everyone’s job

While technology progress is accelerating, unemployment levels are falling in Australia, Europe and the USA, in each case to the lowest levels for many years. New technologies usually create as many jobs as they kill, it’s just that the latter are clearly visible and the new jobs aren’t immediately obvious.  As noted above, “for every problem, there is a job”.
 
For example, job titles such as social media marketing manager, data scientist and genetic consultant are now common, but were rarely foreseeable only a decade or so ago.


You probably won’t spend your life changing jobs

Despite widespread debate over the “gig economy” and “insecure work”, there is evidence that employee turnover is actually decreasing. The report notes that about 45% of employees have been with their current employer for at least five years.

The rate of casual employment has remained similar for about two decades and the rate of self-employment is actually falling, and is currently at its lowest level for 50 years.


You won’t be working “anywhere but in the office”

While about 20% (and rising) of employers now provide opportunities to work from home, the majority of work will continue to be performed at centralised workplaces, although flexible work options will continue to become more popular and more creative. Because jobs will become more creative and require more collaboration and support, working in physical proximity to other creative people will become more important.  


From heads to hands to hearts

Automation is best suited to routine-type jobs (manual and repetitive), but non-routine jobs that require “heads instead of hands” have been the growth area of employment in recent years. Coincidentally, many of the non-routine jobs have been in occupations that often employ high percentages of women. 
 
The report predicts that 86% of the new jobs created in the next decade will be “knowledge worker” jobs. By 2030, two-thirds of all jobs will be “soft skills-intensive” and one-quarter of the whole workforce will be “professionals”. Their main work areas will be business services, health, education and engineering.

In summary, robots will be doing most of the boring and repetitive work, leaving the challenging and interesting work for humans.


Different skills required

The report says that the gap between the skills an employer says are required for a job and the skills possessed by its employees is increasing. The skills most often lacking relate to customer service, sales and resolving conflicts, ie “human skills”. 

Almost every job requires time management, organisation and customer service skills, and about 70% require verbal communication skills. The supply of both customer service skills and digital literacy skills is currently a long way short of employers’ demands for them. 

The report notes that the closure of Australia’s car manufacturing industry did not have the disastrous impact on unemployment some people predicted, because it turned out that most of its employees had skills that were transferrable to other industries and occupations, for example drone-making and other small high-tech businesses. However, at the time many of those employees did not realise how transferrable their skills actually were, hence the pessimism. 


Closing the gap: on-the-job learning

The report concludes that the trends identified above require a lot more effort to be devoted to on- the-job learning, both its availability and its quality. Skill requirements are changing faster and becoming more job-specific, which coincides with employees remaining with the same employer for longer. Clearly, those employers that focus on providing more learning opportunities will gain an advantage. 
 
The report also comments that the nature of work is becoming “more human than ever”, which places an onus on organisations to build community trust. The implications of that are that ethical behaviour, diversity and inclusion will need to be embedded in organisation culture and decision-making. 

Investing in training and learning is the best way to address shortages. Focusing on recruitment instead will be short-sighted, as increased shortages will increase the cost of recruitment. Building skills in an employee already known to be suited to the organisation is less risky than hiring an already-qualified person who may otherwise be less suited. 

The report recommends wider use of the apprenticeship model of on-the-job learning.


What organisations need to do now

The report presents a checklist of strategies:
 
  • Identify the human value. Separate jobs that can be automated from jobs with a “human content”.
  • Involve employees in the design and implementation of learning programs.
  • Inspire new ways of working and encourage learning and retraining. Set up roles so that employees can move flexibly into areas that suit their unique skills.
  • Be honest with employees about the impact of technology.
  • Provide learning programs that accommodate different learning styles. 
  • Foster a culture of continuous and genuine employee recognition and reward.
  • Use mentoring and apprenticeships to develop emerging in-demand job skills.
  • Empower employees to speak up.
  • Entrench employee wellbeing in workplace design and working arrangements.
  • Take positive steps to remove bias – merely being aware of unconscious bias is not enough.


Structure of report

The report’s contents can be summarised as follows:
 
  • Overview of employment market trends
  • The shift “from hands and head to heart” and the use of transferrable skills
  • Skills as “the job currency of the future” – instead of occupations and qualifications. This chapter identifies the areas and skills where the greatest shortages exist
  • How on-the-job learning should be implemented and used
  • Moving beyond workplace compliance.


Further information

The Path to Prosperity: Why the Future of Work is Human, published by Deloitte Access Economics, June 2019. Further information available from Deloitte. Free access to full report is available, but note that prior registration with Deloitte is required.

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