The digital era is bringing big opportunities for businesses to do "business" better. To provide workers with tools that improve efficiency, productivity, and ultimately save on costs. But as much as technology innovation is helping people get things done quicker in their day-to-day, and even rid themselves completely of mundane and repetitive tasks, it's also creating uncertainty among employees around job security.
As factory workers in the first industrial revolution feared that machines would replace them, modern office workers are facing a similar dilemma with the arrival of robots and automation. A recent study found that 42% of US managers believe that they will be replaced by automation, and just this past May, a union of 50,000 Las Vegas employees organized a strike, with protection from automation being their central demand.
There is no question that white-collar work will change drastically in the coming years, and it would be ignorant to deny or ignore this. Many activities that are seemingly inherent to our roles will be handed over to digital "robot" counterparts. But what's important to realize is that this doesn't mean that people or jobs necessarily are going to be replaced. What we will see is a radical shift in the job roles and functions of people within the workforce, and with this, greater value being placed on different or new skillsets.
So how do we set ourselves up for success, and safeguard our jobs as the digital revolution is sweeping the business world?
1. Knowledge is power: Know your industry, inside & out. With all of the scare tactics surrounding the “rise of the robots”, it can be easy for people to feel helpless with knowing how they can adapt to secure their role within an automated future. While it can be tempting to sit around and ignore what is happening in our particular industries, employees who take a different approach will fare much better during this transformative period.
Businesses are constantly strategizing around the rapidly evolving tech landscape, figuring out what solutions to adopt to stay relevant, and which processes need to change to ensure their survival. Employees should be doing the same, regardless of department or specific role. Study how automation will affect your industry, and use this knowledge to better understand where the opportunities will emerge. Follow business, technology and trade news to stay one step ahead, setting yourself up for future success in your industry.
2. Learning is lifelong: Develop skills for the future. The degree to which automation will impact jobs will vary, but we will undeniably see a shift in the skills required from workers down the line. According to a recent report by McKinsey, staff whose roles feature repetitive, manual and administrative tasks will be the most susceptible to automation in coming years, but with the rapid rate of innovation, everyone’s roles will change in some capacity. Once you have a solid understanding of what new roles will become important for your industry, it is time to go back to school.
Depending on the needs of your particular industry, build the skills that are hard to digitize and focus on becoming an expert in them. Whether these are people-focused of business-focused abilities, sharpen these skills with classes and trainings to make yourself irreplaceable.
A major upside to the influx of automation and robotics technology? Pretty soon, manual work that is mindless, repetitive and error-prone will be a thing of the past.
3. Know your enemy: Become a technophile and automation expert. As you grow your skillsets and understanding of how new technologies will affect your industry, be sure to make this heard to your employer. By asking the right questions, you can start the conversation around automation, regardless of how far the business is in their digital transformation process. By articulating your tech expertise and helping the company strategize around automation, you become invaluable to the business, and can more easily start to carve out what your future role looks like with the decision-makers themselves.
As automation becomes integral to business success, it is critical for leadership and staff alike to communicate, collaborate and usher in the change together. Speaking up can go a long way.
While fear-mongering around the digital revolution has been a constant in our day and age, mass joblessness is not likely to be an outcome of these tech advancements. In fact, American job openings now outnumber the unemployed population. At the same time, the types of jobs employers are looking to fill and their correlating skillsets are subject to change exponentially.
Those of us who are engaged and take the time to learn about these new technologies and how they will impact our respective industries will be the ones who have no problem course-correcting our careers. Through vocalizing your knowledge and planning for disruption, you can come out of the digital revolution on top.
Dennis Walsh is President, Americas and Asia Pacific, for Redwood Software.