As Automation Accelerates….

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Automation using Artificial Intelligence is increasingly being adopted in the workplace. Studies all noted that its increase will wipe out many of today’s jobs, especially those in the middle. Moreover, they are going to change the way everyone works – from blue collar worker to the CEO suite – as they replace some of the activities that these people do which are either routine or can be done faster and/or more accurately by algorithms.  As a teacher and executive coach, I raise this issue early in my engagements, so that the college students – whose careers depend on proper forecasting – and corporate leaders – whose careers and companies depend on it, increase scenario planning.

Look around and you’ll see it happening daily. Bank tellers were replaced by ATMs and now online banking and mobile payments.  Retailers, like Target and Walmart are changing their business models so they can operate smaller stores (Target is prototyping one as much as 15% of the original size.). A reporter for the PBS Newshour visited Eatsa, a healthy fast-food retailer in San Francisco, and noticed that there were 15-20 customers, no cashiers to take the orders, and just one visible employee. Amazon bought Kiva, a robotics company and now has 30,000 robots in its fulfillment warehouses. Foxconn, a manufacturer that assembles Apple iPhones and other electronics, replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots.

McKinsey recently reported that 59% of manufacturing work could be automated in the next decade, including 90% of what welder and cutters do. In South Korea, heavy industry robotics are now being used in the medical industry, helping nurses move patients, assisting doctors with surgeries, and helping physical therapists with walking rehabilitation.  In Silicon Valley, there are lots of experiments in automation: robots at Lowe’s home improvement store that check inventory; “robot butlers” in hotels, driverless taxis.  Software is eating white-collar jobs, too – including bookkeepers, shipbuilders, doctors, lawyers, and pilots – are increasingly automating production, research, communication, analysis and other functions.

As the current job market changes, it’s not all bad news for those who want meaningful work. With early planning, today’s workers and those of tomorrow can take on more of the creative, thinking and planning activities, and let the machines complement them to produce the final product. The challenge is for us to take charge through proper forecasting. We need to forecast the jobs/activities that will disappear and identify what will be needed; we need to build training programs now to train them for the future jobs. We need to restructure our organizations in terms of skills needed, space used, communication methods, and collaboration systems. In general, we’ve been slow to act, which creates the great dislocation that’s impacted our economy.  For instance, as truck driving becomes automated, many of the 3.5 million drivers will lose their jobs. When are we going to start planning to meet the needs of current drivers and those who thought that was a future career path?

Think about it and then share with us: how has automation affected your current job and your future career? What are you doing about it? If you’re a leader, engage in future forecasting:  how will these trends change your business… and what are you going to do about it? Industries change and die. Virtually all the 19th century carriage and buggy-whip manufacturers are out of business.  Don’t let it happen to you!