Automation … is it your new competition?
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Automation … is it your new competition?
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates
Yesterday, I was just about to put my fingers to the keyboard and write about the anticipated impact of automation on certain careers when the power went out. No problem I thought, I’ll simply call the hydro company to see if there is a power outage in my area. Unfortunately, this was a more challenging task than expected. My cell phone battery dipped into that anxious red zone of very low power while I was speaking with a very slow automated voice system.
The automated customer service system was so sensitive that every time I coughed, sighed, or a bird outside my window chirped in the background the automotive service would abruptly pause and ask “Can you please repeat that?” I crept into a bathroom, away from the chirping birds outside my office window, to verbally verify my phone number to this patient robot. I was dumbfounded when it repeated a string of random-seeming digits back to me. Not one accurate digit. Eventually, I gave up and pressed zero finally hoping to speak with a human. Within 5 seconds, a polite woman on the other end confirmed that the power had gone out in my neighborhood but would be back on within the hour. As I hung up I had to chuckle. The irony that I was just about to share my thoughts on the pervasive presence of automation was rather amusing.
“In many cases, jobs that used to be done by people are going to be done through automation. I don’t have an answer to that. That’s one of the more perplexing problems of society.” – John Sculley
I fully understand why automated services exist. At times, automation can be extremely cost effective for businesses. The downside is that many workers are being replaced by automation. It’s unrealistic to undo technology or deny the benefits associated with automation. But, there needs to be some preparation for the inevitable job loss that will occur in the future because computers and robots have taken those jobs. We have already seen workers in the manufacturing sector lose their well-paid jobs to machines. It’s now anticipated that technology (especially, artificial intelligence and machine learning) will start to replace white-collar professions too. Once more, it would be foolish to assume some jobs are somehow immune from this trend toward automation. You just have to look at the history of industrialization in the last century to confirm its existence is as rapid as it is widespread.
“Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.” – Carrie Snow
I often work with clients who are facing uncertainty in their careers or are concerned about their job security despite having solid credentials and work experience. These professionals often need more nuanced career advice because what may have worked in the past may no longer apply. The impact of automation on white-collar occupations will trigger more employment insecurity for certain people. The fact that provincial and federal levels of government are pilot testing basic guaranteed income benefits reinforces the fact that troubled times are coming.
As a specialist in I/O psychology who offers nuanced career coaching, I have strategies that will be suitable for business owners and HR professionals who are dealing with this growing problem (or trying to adapt/stay ahead of it). Some of those ideas may be addressed in future blog posts. For now, employees who are concerned about how these changes may jeopardize their work I’ll offer a few preliminary ideas. Try to develop skills and knowledge that are difficult to outsource to a robot or a piece of software including:
- managing and developing others
- critical thinking
- strategic thinking and problem-solving, especially in situations where there’s no clear path forward or an existing playbook
- a learning mindset
- an entrepreneurial outlook
No doubt, there’s much to contemplate and plan in order to stay out in front of these issues … and it’s a problem that’s way beyond the scope of what I can address in one blog post. (Note – Since the time that this article was written, I’ve posted another about How to Stay Relevant Despite AI, Automation, and Technology and the Globe and Mail has published an article on the threats to Canadian jobs and a need for an action plan).
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