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Robot-proofing jobs: how to mitigate the AI threat

Robot-proofing jobs: how to mitigate the AI threat

Companies aren’t doing enough to support employee development and ensure they’re keeping pace in the face of AI.

Advancements in automation have created a new threat to jobs. Robots are no longer confined to replacing humans in assembly lines; the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is now impacting the role of humans in the cognitive space, and that’s cause for concern.

Inevitably, AI will impact all of us in one way or another. Unfortunately for many employees across a wide range of industries and roles, companies aren’t doing enough to support employee development and ensure they’re keeping pace in the face of AI.

A study by recruitment agency Randstad indicated that 84 per cent of Australians aren’t concerned that automation will impact their future jobs, while a staggering 77 per cent believe they will not need to change careers in the next 10 years despite technology advancements.

Many of these Australians are wrong.

According to University of Oxford researchers, 47 per cent of workers may be at risk of losing their jobs to automation. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has predicted that the top three jobs which will be impacted include transactional sales workers (86.6 per cent), machinery operators and drivers (79.6 per cent), and clerical and administrative workers (79.3 per cent).

While a McKinsey report declares a smaller percentage of jobs will be at risk of being completely replaced by machines, there is no denying that the majority of jobs will see some of their tasks replaced by automation. The expectations and need among employers for “soft” and technical skills are rapidly evolving, making the skills people learn relevant for a shorter and shorter amount of time. The more AI advances, the more this trend will accelerate.

We need to learn how to adapt faster than ever - and we need to learn how to teach adaptability better. Previous disruptions have shown us that these changes also create opportunities and new kinds of jobs. While there is no silver bullet to solve the problem, I’d like to suggest a few areas for change that will help us “robot-proof” our workforces.

Raising our standards

To start, organisations need to adopt a continuous learning approach to their professional development initiatives, ensuring they are supporting employees’ education and skill development in a way that will help them be agile, learn new skills quickly and allow them to keep pace. Companies which fail on this front will lose their competitive edge, and could contribute to broader consequences like unemployment and disruptions in the global economy. 

Unfortunately, the current model of education and training is, in most instances, only aimed at developing young people at the beginning of their careers, despite the fact that learning, especially in today’s landscape, is truly a lifelong endeavour. It’s not enough to train (and provide performance feedback) once a year. Employers need to meet employees’ ongoing and real-time needs.

The higher education connection

Additionally, we need a greater connection between higher education and the labour market. This means aligning courses to skills and competencies that are in demand. In part, this could be accomplished through more partnerships between corporations and institutions of higher learning.

Humans possess incredible capacity for innovation and creativity. These qualities are increasingly in demand as AI approaches, and our higher education model should reflect this change. Some universities have taken note, and are building curriculums to be more cross-disciplinary. For example, Arizona State University has created a wide range of career-focused departments, such as its “School of Earth and Space Exploration” which incorporates elements of earth sciences, astrophysics and environmental engineering.

At the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our own education. We need to own our personal and professional development, and not wait for parents, teachers and employers to hand out opportunities. Self-directed learning and adult learning are two rapidly growing segments in education, and for good reason. We need to encourage self-directed learning and focus our recognition efforts on those with the right skills and competencies, not the right alma mater.

As AI and automation continue to seep into the workforce, organisations must become more devoted to providing ongoing professional development while encouraging employees to take ownership of their knowledge and skills development. Taking a continuous approach to learning will not only ensure workers are able to keep pace and remain relevant, it will also help to create a culture of engagement and retention and allow companies to navigate the rapidly-evolving demands of the marketplace.

Geoff Thomas is vice-president, Asia-Pacific at D2L.

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Tags jobsAustralian Bureau of StatisticsRandstadskills crisisdrivermachinery operator

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