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Robotics, AI and the Meaning of Work



It seems almost a daily occurrence.  Which jobs will be taken over by robots and how long till humans are no longer doing specific types of work? Will the future of work be no work at all?  Business models are transforming, digital is what every company wants to be (even if they are not sure they know what that means) and as the type of work in an organisation changes, so will the skills, competencies, and quantities of employees.

First the good news for HR professionals, most surveys and white papers believe that HR will be one of the harder roles to have filled by robotics.  Roles that have more human interaction such as doctors, customer service staff and other positions that have a high “people interaction” will not be in the first wave of AI and robotics.  Roles that are repetitive, rule-based and predictable will be the in the first wave of robotics.  For example spot welding in automotive production, data collection and bookkeeping parts of finance are all candidates for wave one robotics.

As robotics and AI increase in use and application organisations will need strong HR more than ever.  Workforce planning will be one of the top areas in HR that need to change significantly.  Workforce planning answers four simple questions of: -

What skills do we need?

How many resources do we need?

When do we need these resources?

Where do we need the resources?

While simple questions these questions today are more and more challenging to answer.  The role of workforce planning has never been more important, and the impact on workforce planning will be massive.  Here are a few examples

Change in the work, robotics that performs specific tasks, as an example.  It will be rare that a robot takes over 100% of any given job.  It is much more likely they take over tasks and activities and therefore creating hybrid jobs consisting of both human and robots.

-  Efficiency and effectiveness - how technologies such as AI can allow more work to get done by fewer people

-  New skills and resources - ranging from skills to maintain and maximise the use of robotics through to programme and change management

-  And put more of a focus on hiring and retaining resources who have the ability to be re-trained - as the type of work that needs to be done ten years from now we can only guess.  HR needs to support the business is identifying the core skills, competencies and behaviours that can be “re-trained” for future needs.  Key to success will be the flexibility of the workforce to change over time to meet the current skills and competency needs of the business.

Harvard Business Review created a four box model showing how democratisation and technological empowerment will change the way people work and are organised.  The white paper and the use of these categorisations of work I believe will help an organisation think through what the impact will be on workforce planning.

Another great article on the subject is from McKinsey.  They have produced an excellent infographic entitled Where Machines can Replace People.  This infographic draws on a continuum what types of jobs and in which industries have the highest capability of being done by robotics (and which ones do not). 

Huntscanlon has also published an article entitle How Automation will Alter the Job Landscape that looks at the future of work and references several other pieces of research.  Including the earlier reference in this article to HR being one of the roles that will be less likely to automated in the future.

The future of work is rapidly changing, and irrespective of what industry you are in the role of HR must transform to support the business to address the four major questions around workforce planning.

Article by Mary Sue Rogers

Posted On : 27-02-17

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