The Impact of Automation on the Future of Work

Image: graphic of gears turning to represent automation background: yellow

Headlines everywhere read that new technological advancements—namely artificial intelligence (AI) tools—will take real people’s jobs, and these articles are causing uncertainty across the labor market. According to a survey of roughly 10,000 people by PwC, 37 percent are worried about how automation will affect jobs, and 60 percent believe that the future provides stable and long-term employment for few.

But this isn’t the first time job automation has been seen as a disruptor to the labor market. And disruption isn’t an inherently bad thing. For decades, new technologies and developments have been introduced, and panic among workers has set in.

The good news is that workers and employers learn how to adapt and integrate these technologies into their workflows and processes to create efficiency and streamline processes.

Learn more about the history of job automation, where it’s going, and ways you can integrate this new wave of automation into your company’s workflows.

The History of Job Automation

Fears surrounding human jobs being replaced by machinery or technological advancements have been around for hundreds of years. The Industrial Revolution and ensuing worker riots are an example of anxiety surrounding the introduction of mechanization to what were once fully manual jobs. However, these advancements made it possible for work to be done quicker and cheaper.

Another example of how automation changed production methods can be found in the car manufacturing business. Toward the end of the 20th century, robots were introduced to the car manufacturing lines for conducting repetitive and simple tasks. As technologies improved, the tasks passed to robots increased, but jobs were not fully lost because workers had to supervise the machines doing the work.

While it may be initially unnerving, history goes to show that automation can be integrated into the workspace, and workers are not totally overrun or replaced.

The Future of Job Automation

In modern times, automation no longer just refers to developments on assembly lines or manufacturing facilities. The massive advancements in technology have made it possible for automation to touch many different facets of every industry. The most pressing and forefront automation is artificial intelligence (AI).

A March 2023 report from Goldman Sachs explored how the latest AI developments may affect labor markets around the world. It stated that these AI advancements could expose 300 million full-time jobs to automation and that about two-thirds of U.S. jobs are exposed in some capacity to automation through AI.

Although these revelations may seem startling and worrying at face value, AI cannot fully replace jobs, as cited in the Goldman Sachs report. It shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but a tool to complement workers’ capabilities.

RELATED: Jobs AI Won’t Replace In The Near Future

 How Can Leaders Address Automation

Although it’s arguably too soon to know exactly how AI will affect the workforce, automation will have implications for work in the future. Some economists believe automation will increase productivity, create new jobs, and improve workers’ quality of life, while others are wary of the technologies for fear that it will cause job loss.

With the verdict out on exactly what will happen, leaders should take the reins, figure out ways to integrate and embrace AI, and lead by example for workers.

As you learn more about modern job automation and artificial intelligence, consider some of the following strategies to help prepare and lead your workforce toward successfully working with AI instead of working against it. When workers see leaders being confident amid uncertainty—particularly when that uncertainty is brought by something new that’s not well-understood, like AI—it can help put fears at ease, which is essential for moving forward.

Find Out Where Automation Fits into Your Company

One of the first things you should do as a leader is evaluate the possibilities that AI can bring to your organization. Perhaps this is in the form of automating portions of the recruiting process, such as candidate screening or initial interviews. Or, maybe AI can automate mundane parts of development workflows. Until you decide how to successfully incorporate AI into your organization, it will be difficult to lead and encourage your teams to get on board with the changes.

This isn’t something that sits solely on your shoulders—it should be a task for all leaders within your organization. Ask each team to research AI software and capabilities and report back on their findings. You may be surprised at what is uncovered. Empowering others to embrace AI will help send a ripple of curiosity throughout your company.

Prioritize Education and Upskilling

Despite how every individual person may be feeling about automation, AI is here to stay. It’s time to learn more about what AI is, how it can affect each person’s role, and what skills need to be learned. Be proactive in encouraging employees to learn more about automation and provide them with the necessary upskilling to remain relevant in the changing job landscape. This will help you stay ahead of the changes and calm employees’ nerves.

Preparing employees and investing in their reskilling ensures that they’re properly skilled for changes that automation may bring. Plus, it shows that you care about their development and job security. This duality can support your attraction and retention efforts, as employees value employers who provide ongoing training and career development opportunities.

 Demonstrate You’re a People-first Organization

One of the most important things to focus on amid this new wave of automation is that your workers are real people who have real, tangible fears about their job security. You can help foster a sense of putting people first by prioritizing the employee experience, focusing on holistic well-being, and asking employees how they’re doing. Checking in and gathering feedback will give you insight into how employees are doing and what they need to feel better supported by you.

Remember, your people are your biggest asset, and high levels of employee turnover can be costly. By taking extra steps to focus on and support your employees, you can help boost your retention efforts.

Confidently Lead Your Team Through Job Automation

In short, the prospect of job automation and AI is here to stay. As a leader, be on top of your game and well-prepared for the upcoming changes.