The Future of Work: Can AIs and Humans Coexist in the Workforce?

In September 2018, the World Economic Forum released The Future of Jobs Report 2018. This year the report has a particular focus on the potential for automation and algorithms to augment existing jobs, and the importance of human capital investment to maximize the benefits from this transition. We’ve read through the report and discovered four key points worth sharing.

 

Key Point 1: AIs are rapidly becoming standard practice for tasks that are repetitive, procedural, data-driven, and large scale.

“By 2022, according to the stated investment intentions of companies surveyed for this report, 85% of respondents are likely or very likely to have expanded their adoption of user and entity big data analytics.”

Workplace transformations have been accelerating since the first report was published in January 2016, and are set to accelerate even further over the next four years. Businesses are harnessing new and emerging technologies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to improve efficiency, expand into new markets, and compete for a global consumer base composed increasingly of digital natives. By 2022, 73% of companies will be utilizing machine learning. The report lists many jobs that will decline over the coming years, including data entry clerks, business services and administration managers, accountants and auditors, telemarketers, cashiers, bookkeeping and payroll clerks, operations managers, and postal service clerks. The traits that all of these roles have in common is that their tasks are repetitive, procedural, data-driven, and large scale. The report describes the need to augment human staff with technology, such that “they are freed of the need to perform routinized, repetitive tasks and better able to use their distinctively human talents.”

 

Key Point 2: Human roles will change to become more focused on human strengths of communication, empathy, common sense, and creativity.

“The findings of this report suggest the need for a comprehensive ‘augmentation strategy,’ an approach where businesses look to utilize the automation of some job tasks to complement and enhance their human workforces’ comparative strengths and ultimately to enable and empower employees to extend to their full potential.”

As one would expect during periods of such technological change, demand is high for staff with proficiency in new technologies, including technical skills such as analytical thinking, technology design, programming, reasoning, problem-solving, and systems analysis. Key technical roles include data analysts, data scientists, software and applications developers, and E-commerce and social media specialists. But technical roles are only a part of the increase in demand, as human skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will increase their value. Emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence, as well as service orientation, see an increase in demand.

The report findings suggest the need for a comprehensive “augmentation strategy,” in which businesses look to technology to enhance their staff’s human strengths, empowering staff to extend to their full potential. Responses from the employers surveyed for the report provide evidence supporting the effectiveness of such an augmentation strategy.

These report findings come as no surprise to DataRobot, as we have always believed that AI Will Enhance Us, Not Replace Us.

 

Key Point 3: Businesses need to invest in structural changes to remain competitive, and that includes adopting AI and restructuring human roles to take advantage of human strengths.

“This report finds that as workforce transformations accelerate, the window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast and business, government and workers must proactively plan and implement a new vision.”

To prevent an undesirable lose-lose scenario — technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment, and economic stagnation — it is critical that businesses take an active role to invest in structural changes. By 2022, 59% of employers surveyed for the report expect that they will have significantly modified how they produce and distribute by changing the composition of their value chain. We saw in Key Point 1 that businesses need to adopt machine learning and AI in order to remain competitive. But the required strategy includes supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling. Rather than narrowly focusing on automation-based labor cost savings, a strategy should take into account the broader horizon of value-creating activities that can be accomplished by human workers, often in complement to technology.

By 2022, 38% of businesses surveyed expect to extend their workforce to new productivity-enhancing roles, and more than a quarter expect automation to lead to the creation of new roles in their enterprise. The report predicts that 133 million new jobs will be created, resulting in a net increase in employment.

 

Key Point 4: To increase job security, employees should develop their human skills: communication, empathy, selling, problem-solving, common sense, etc., as these will increase in demand and importance, particularly for customer-facing roles.

“For workers, there is an unquestionable need to take personal responsibility for one’s own lifelong learning and career development.”

The skills requirements for emerging roles frequently look very different from those of roles in decline. Employees seeking to thrive in the new economy need to take action to reskill, and develop their personal abilities to target the skills required for the 133 million new jobs. By 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling, and they will not always be able to rely on governments and employers to help them through this transition.

Research shows that customers want to deal with human staff. When banks moved customers from using tellers in bank branches to using ATMs and internet banking, customer satisfaction levels reduced. The report expects growth in roles that leverage distinctively ‘human' skills, such as customer service workers, sales and marketing professionals, training and development, people and culture, and organizational development specialists as well as innovation managers.

“‘Human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving. Emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence, as well as service orientation, also see an outsized increase in demand relative to their current prominence.”

The report lists trending skills such as active learning, creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, leadership and social influence, and emotional intelligence. By strengthening these inherently human skills, employees will be better positioned for the growth in job opportunities.

 

Conclusion

Despite some of the scare-mongering headlines in the media, the report sheds a positive light about the likely outcomes for humans. Businesses will need to restructure to remain competitive, but to be truly competitive they will use AI and machine learning to augment their human staff, not to replace them.

You can download a copy of the report HERE.

 

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About the Author:

Colin Priest is the Director of Product Marketing for DataRobot, where he advises businesses on how to build business cases and successfully manage data science projects. Colin has held a number of CEO and general management roles, where he has championed data science initiatives in financial services, healthcare, security, oil and gas, government and marketing. Colin is a firm believer in data-based decision making and applying automation to improve customer experience. He is passionate about the science of healthcare and does pro-bono work to support cancer research.