Why is now the time for machines to replace some work

The world of careers and work is changing rapidly. The idea that we spend the first 20 years of our life training for a profession that we will practice until our retirement is far behind us. As society changes, old professions disappear and new ones appear. The skills we acquire during our formal education are likely to be obsolete by the time we reach second or third grade. twelve jobs that we could hope to have during our working life, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, machines are becoming increasingly capable of performing complex tasks that require thought, rather than just the heavy labor they have contributed to since the first industrial revolution. Stir the “big resignation” in the mix and drastic changes to the employment landscape brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it becomes clear that the scale of transformation the workplace is going through is unlike anything we have seen before in our lifetime.

So how are organizations responding to this? And, just as important, how do we as individuals prepare and perhaps rethink our approach to work and employment so that we don’t just keep our heads above water, but thrive in this “new normal”?

As with many things, it seems that flexibility is key. Those of us who are comfortable with the idea of ​​lifelong learning – switching between education, part-time work, full-time roles and self-employment or “work on demand”, according to the best opportunities that present themselves, will be in the best position to do it well. And, of course, how well we are able to adapt to working alongside new technologies – especially artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are likely to be a strong differentiator between success and failure.

From an organizational point of view, the situation is just as difficult. Training a workforce in the new high-tech skills needed to compete in today’s markets can be a costly and complicated process. And these workers should have more freedom than ever when it comes to changing employers, careers and work models due to new workplace dynamics that are rapidly becoming the accepted norm. If an organization accepts that there is a need for retraining and upskilling, how can it minimize the churn that sees these newly acquired skills disappear from the business?

When we talk about AI, one of the main concerns is employment. It is feared that certain occupations and human professions will become superfluous and that this may have repercussions on society. Cashiers, cashiers and production line operators are already being replaced in many companies, even before AI enters the equation. “Thinking” machines are expected to signal a reduced need for humans in many other professions, including driving (self-driving vehicles), call centers and customer service (chatbots). Even tasks now considered highly technical and skilled, including data analysis and computer programming, are increasingly performed by machines.

However, rather than causing layoffs and unemployment, there is a tendency to interpret this as a chance to create new opportunities for people. Taking the routine and mundane elements of a job – any job – away from humans and off to a computer means people will have more time to focus on the aspects that work best for them.

Computer programming is a good example. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of so-called low-code or no-code software development tools. These can remove the need to spend hours sitting and manually typing code from the software building process. But they certainly aren’t capable of building the next big business app, productivity tool, or even video game on their own yet. They still – and for the foreseeable future – need a deep understanding of a wide range of aspects of the software creation process that machines alone simply aren’t capable of.

These include the relationship between a program or application and the human who uses it, the high level problems – professional or personal – that it is designed to solve, how users will integrate it into their busy lives and how it will differentiate itself from competing apps. which might seem to do the same task.

Recognizing these human elements and identifying where human intervention is essential is one of the challenges companies face. Recently, I had a conversation with Ravi Kumar, president of Infosys, to talk about the need to ensure that people skills and technology are in place.

Kumar told me, “Take manufacturing – a lot of things can be automated with robots and automated technology. However, the key is to take that workforce and re-skill it for high-value jobs. .”

As an example, he mentioned an Infosys customer who, during the pandemic, moved 3,000 call center employees to remote work. During this process, they took the opportunity to create a new platform, which gave workers better access to customer data and analytical information.

“It basically meant that when the calls came in…a lot of the repetitive work was done by machines while humans were empowered to make decisions for customers. They have dramatically increased productivity.

Understanding and adapting to this new model of the relationship between the human workforce and technology is essential, and we need to prepare for hybrid workplaces and hybrid jobs: “I think part of the job of Problem solving will move to machines, while humans start looking for more useful jobs so that machines and humans can work together to solve them.

“Workplaces will become humans more machines, and full-time workers more gig workers.”

Kumar told me that improving skills has also played an important role in his company’s mission to build the workforce of tomorrow. A “bottom-up” overhaul of hiring and people management has been carried out with a greater focus on the potential of candidates and the existing workforce – rather than their experience or qualifications .

“For me, the importance of a degree in the future will be less, as we move to an economy where this continuous development of skills becomes more and more important. Companies have a responsibility to provide people with continuous training along with their career,” he tells me.

Kumar also foresees an increase in the number of people employed outside of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) roles in companies. With problem solving being increasingly delegated to machines, people will have the task of identifying issues and problems that affect humans, whether they are workers or customers. Companies like Infosys will employ more people with expertise in the liberal arts, humanities, sociology and anthropology. “Workplaces will become a lot more empathetic,” he said, “Some of the people we’ve hired with a background in hospitality or checkouts have said to us, ‘Look, if our employers had given us a path. .. to become a supervisor or a manager, we would have stuck to those jobs. We showed up at your place because you gave us access to a learning infrastructure – you hired on potential.’”

The “great quit”, the beginning of the “gig economy”, the growing preference for working from home and remotely, and the encroachment of technology on many jobs previously considered the domain of humans alone, can be interpreted by companies as a huge problem. . Alternatively, it can be approached as a huge opportunity. It’s becoming increasingly clear that replacing humans in mundane, repetitive, low-value jobs means people can be given more rewarding, high-impact tasks. In addition to creating more value for the company, it allows them to improve their own lifestyle as well as their career prospects.

Click here to view my webinar with Ravi Kumar, President of Infosys, where we discuss many other issues, including the impact of technology on the runaway inflation we are seeing around the world and the impact of “decentralization of labor on society and the environment.

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