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Is Automation the Future?

August 11, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

With the great resignation, the labor pricing dilemma for many manufacturing organizations, and the rise of less skilled labor (can anyone find an electrical engineer these days?), the move to automation seems inevitable.  For example, with the rise of artificial intelligence, anyone could be a programmer with the AI predicting the next line.  For DEI professionals it becomes a way to create diversity in the programming ranks.  According to a recent study, 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk to be automated within the next 20 years (that includes HR).

Yet there is a downside.  If programming can be done through AI assistance, programming as a profession could be akin to the level of cell operator in a factory.  Maybe the pay is higher, but growth could be limited.  Programmers in this scenario could be easily replaced.  Getting a foot in the door requires the employer to consider the paths that could grow programmers to see beyond the AI requirements.  If not, it could be a highly paid operative experience, a well disguised career trap for employees.

In the manufacturing setting, automation could solve much of the labor problem.  Automation knowingly encompasses lower production time and higher production volume, less human error, and greater safety.  Less people, less problems.

But reports show that automation may not be the downer that it has been called.  Instead of losing millions of jobs, the reverse could be true.  The Fall 2020 World Economic Forum report predicts that automation would net 12 million new jobs by 2025. Assuming this to be true, automation would likely takeover the repetitive and simple tasks.  Employees could learn new skills, take on more complex jobs, and empower them to move up ladder.

For this to happen, HR and DEI professionals have to recraft the culture and processes of the organization to allow for this type of growth.  Leadership expectations need to be recalibrated for a new paradigm, otherwise they might see automation as a way to reduce organizational expense and increase profits only.  Career paths and lattices have to be redefined and redesigned so anyone walking into the organization, from unskilled to semi-skilled can see the benefits of working at the organization.

Although there is debate as to the positive aspect of automation, the World Economic Forum predicts an increase of 58 million jobs worldwide and expects most will be high-skilled.  If this becomes the case, given the U.S. university situation, more employers will have to create their own path to upskill employees to do these new jobs.  Learning and development in organizations will take on a greater role, while stretching the capacity of HR in smaller organizations. 

Right now, there is a dearth of cybersecurity professionals, electrical engineers, and manufacturing technicians among others to meet the current demand.  Although the unemployment rate is currently at 3.6%, it hasn’t changed the workforce composition even with the number of new hires.  Overall, new hires appear to be more lateral than actual new job creations – filling spots that were left open by a recent employee leaving the employer.  There is an upside though – the potential employees waiting on the sideline. 

Automation could help.  By marketing jobs that work with automation and possibly AI, the job pipeline will open to those otherwise not considered because of job qualifications.  Further, automation should push more employers to consider apprenticeship programs for the “new” jobs.  Although many employers are considering dropping qualifications for job postings (a current fad), they should not. Instead, they should rework qualifications given the skills necessary to learn a new job.  Communication and problem solving, among other qualifications, should be emphasized and pursued. 

HR, given the new labor environment, needs to be proactive in their workforce planning given automation will be prevalent in all aspects of the workforce and especially in their messaging to employees.

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