Yes, the Robots Are Coming
It doesn’t matter what you do for work: By 2025, your job—as it exists today—will not be the same.
“Within the next few years we will see the redesign of many of our jobs across all industries and around the world,” says Jeff Schwartz, Deloitte Consulting’s U.S. leader for the future of work and global leader for human capital marketing, eminence, and brand. “Entire workforces and workplaces will be reconfigured around technology and new ways of working—think gig and crowd workers.”
The adage that robots are coming for our jobs has been around for years, but Schwartz is doubling down on it. In his view, robots will likely not only change the jobs of factory workers and taxi drivers—they’ll impact everyone: from doctors to WIRED journalists.
But Schwartz doesn’t want you to panic, he wants to get you thinking about preparation and the coming transition. The “robots will take your job” narrative isn’t a call to arms, it’s an admonition that most future jobs will revolve around our relationship with technology. Because of this, a deep understanding of this technology—a tech fluency—is tantamount. Our ability to comprehend and work alongside the technologies that are emerging today (namely AI, robotics, and other automation tools) will not only keep us relevant at work, but could also make us better at it.
The Bright Side of the Human-Robotic Workforce
Working alongside emerging technologies—or even watching them take your job—isn’t necessarily bad news.
“What we often forget is the indirect effect of labor-saving inventions,” says David Tal, founder and president of Quantumrun Forecasting, a strategic forecasting agency. “They enable businesses to lower their prices to be more competitive, allowing consumers to buy more of their product or use their savings to spend on other businesses, spurring new jobs elsewhere.”
Tal points to the invention of the ATM as a prime example. ATMs once threatened to end the job of the bank clerk—but their jobs didn’t disappear. After ATMs rolled out, the number of bank tellers increased, because banks found they could open more branches. Each branch didn’t require an army of tellers, but it still needed some human staff, and the overall employment gains ultimately outpaced those lost to the robots.
Of course, the ATM isn’t a direct foreshadow of things to come in the advent of AI. Job loss to automation is a real phenomenon. Many organizations have already gone through the process of adapting in the face of automation. In a recent Deloitte survey of more than 11,000 business leaders, 61 percent of respondents said they were actively redesigning jobs around AI, robotics and new business models. But rather than embrace the fear this may incur, we need to take steps to prepare for this brave new workforce, fostering tech fluency in employees.
The telecom industry, for example, has seen its business evolve from one that relied on human switchboard operators into to one that managed massive banks of mechanical switches, to one that is now based around wireless infrastructure. One major telecom company’s 250,000 employees have been forced to adapt to each of these changes, so the company recently invested one billion dollars to retrain its workforce rather than replace it. As the telecom industry continues to advance, engaged employees who can work alongside technology should produce a net positive outcome for both humans and machines.
Moving Toward Tech Fluency
While Schwartz believes there is clear benefit to the adoption and promotion of tech fluency in the workplace, he still sees resistance.
“How do we get people and machines to work together?” asks Schwartz. “As individuals, we’re good at adapting to new technologies. We use tech in every aspect of our lives. But as business leaders we simply have lower levels of tech fluency.”
Schwartz believes that change comes from the top: leadership should articulate what the future of the business looks like, and how technology is part of that. From there, the company should re-envision how the workforce can fit in, particularly how tools like automation and virtual reality can be leveraged by these workers. The third piece of the strategy requires redesigning corporate structure.
“Businesses should organize around teams, not departmental divisions, in order to be more agile,” Schwartz adds.
But businesses can’t do it alone. It is incumbent upon workers to take steps to prepare themselves for the future, too. With several years until our jobs irrevocably change, says Schwartz, “all of us have to ask: ‘What do I need to do in my company or industry to have relevant skills to work with new technologies?’ If you’re not spending 60 to 80 hours a year learning and redeveloping yourself, you aren’t going to succeed.”