06 June 2019 ... min read Listen

Will our jobs be taken over by robots?

In my previous article, we discussed the future of labour in terms of changes that the workplace would undergo and what it means for an organisation to be future-proof.

Another important topic on the future of labour is directly related to technology: With the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution, what will happen to our jobs? Will we be replaced by robots?

To answer that question, we need to dig deeper into the bond between human beings and technology.

A glimpse at the past

The truth is this is nothing new. Since the first industrial revolution, people have believed that machines would replace humans, and that better processes would "kill" jobs. 

One interesting example of how humans react to this is the history of the Luddites, a group of English workers who destroyed machines in the 1800s, as they believed their jobs were in danger. Nowadays, it is even common to use the word Luddite for someone who is opposed to new technology or ways of working.

Luddites raging against textile machines in the 1800s. Source: Mary Evans Picture Library/Tom Morgan/Everett

The conversation has been accelerated not only for the apparent rate of technological development we have experienced in past years, but also because the present technological revolution involves entirely new elements, such as machines that perform cognitive tasks.

But what does this all mean? Taking a deeper look at this discussion, there are two main changes we must keep in mind:

#1: Work as we know it will never be the same.

By 2030, 16% of occupations will be automated. This mostly applies to professions in the field of data collection, data processing and physical labour, according to research from McKinsey Global Institute. In 60% of those professions, almost 30% of activity will be automated.

All is not lost, however. The main outcome from these predictions is that occupations will be mixed. That is to say, certain job-related nuances will be replaced with new ones. There will also be new occupations on the horizon, as new technologies will bring about substantial new opportunities. How could we have known that data protection, digital marketing, or even blogging/vlogging would be considered professions one day? Jobs will never be the same, and they will continue evolving.

#2: Soft skills will be key.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released The Future of Jobs Report, which reveals the top 10 skills needed by 2020. And guess what? Many of them are not what you would expect! The skills that will be most valued are soft skills, such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and negotiation. The main reason for that is simple: machines can't do any of this. Can you imagine going to a university or work event and, instead of talking to real people, discussing your ambitions and concerns with a machine? That wouldn’t make sense, right?

It is worth noting that the occupations which are growing are mostly connected to soft skills. However, these occupations haven’t had the highest wages, historically speaking. Therefore, we will have to reconsider the potential impact on incomes and wages.

Transitioning to a new future

The reality can be quite daunting, but we are definitely not there yet. In terms of education, many schools are behind, still offering curricula from the 1900s. Organisations are also not always investing in employees, or if they are, HR departments might struggle to define a starting point.

What is the way forward, then?

There will be a lot of (re)training and (re)education needed for workers. The role of companies is relevant, and flexible education and/or training need to increase. I am happy to see that ING is taking steps, providing many new opportunities for both hard-skill and soft-skill development.

Last but not least, vocational training must help young people gain more clarity to acquire the skills they need for the future.

Changing the discussion: from Human vs. Tech to Human + Tech. 

In a nutshell, even though there is still a lot of fear that we will be totally replaced by machines, there is no evidence that this will happen. As a matter of fact, every day we spot new opportunities to use technology in our favour. One example is a project I am currently working on. A back-office agent usually has to manually check every single mortgage application that comes in. With the help of artificial intelligence, however, we aim to make this process automatic. Instead of spending hours behind a screen checking documents, these agents will be able to focus on making strategic decisions and making customers happy by delivering a faster process. Everybody wins.  

If part of our jobs will be automated, that leaves us more time to focus on what only we can do—be creative, connect to each other, and create disruptive ideas. In the end, we should change the perspective from Human vs. Tech to Human + Tech, and dive into a whole new way of working.

Doesn't that sound more exciting than spending half of your day scanning documents and filling excel sheets?

About Dafne

Dafne is a bit of a sports freak – she especially likes lifting weights. Experimenting new types of food or travelling with friends to new places and living like a local as much as possible are also high up on her list of favourite things to do. And as one book does not satisfy her curiosity enough, she likes reading three books at the same time! That same curiosity comes in handy at work. She is constantly exploring new tech and running pilots to see how it can benefit the customer. You can find her on Linkedin.

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