How to get staff on side with automation and AI

better jobs

Discussions about the future of work can sometimes sound a bit like something out of a sci-fi movie – one featuring shots of factories pumping out hundreds of glistening, chrome androids, ready for the robotic revolution.

But for Jenn Gustetic, Harvard Kennedy School, digitalHKS fellow, whose work focuses on visualising the impacts of technology on jobs and, more importantly, the people performing them, the outlook isn’t so bleak.

Rather, thanks to time- and labour-saving advancements, as well as other non-technological factors driving change in the workforce, Gustetic says we now have “an opportunity to build better jobs for the future with the human workforce’s overall wellbeing in mind.”

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The changing workforce

As co-founder of Moran Howlett Financial Planning, Cameron Howlett anticipates significant changes to his industry and business over the next five to 10 years, thanks to the rise of so-called robo-advisors and other developments in artificial intelligence (AI).

“My view is that AI is going to replace those jobs that can be automated easily, not anything that requires emotion, or human interaction,” he says.

“I feel pretty safe, because a lot of what I do is dealing with people’s lives and working through what they want to do. But back office support that can be done more efficiently with better process, and advisors who just deal with the investment/management side, those sorts of roles will likely be replaced.”

To tackle job insecurity in his firm, Howlett does what he can to help get staff on the front foot.

“I think it’s important as an employer to explain what’s happening to those staff members whose roles might potentially be replaced eventually, and to get them thinking about retraining and upskilling,” he says.  

It’s a savvy approach – especially since, as Gustetic points out, a recent report by the World Economic Forum found that by as soon as 2022 the majority (54 per cent) of all employees will require significant retraining and upskilling.

On the bright side, less time spent on repetitive jobs will allow people to focus on more rewarding aspects of their work, or branch out into more interesting roles.

“Co-identify opportunities to automate labour intensive and routine tasks, so that staff’s time is freed up to complete more complex and higher value work,” suggests Gustetic.

Getting staff on board with AI

You can’t just “introduce” automation and AI into your workplace and expect it to go down well, Gustetic warns.

Gustetic advises business owners to work with their employees on the introduction of these technologies if they are to get the most value from it, suggesting each employee take on work and solving problems suited to their different skills sets.

“Allow staff to identify areas where their capacity to deliver on the mission of the organisation could be enhanced by providing them better tools or offloading some of their tasks,” she says.

“And show commitment to this by providing continuous learning opportunities, changing the mindset of the organisation to a digital and learning organisation, and empowering staff to make their own jobs more effective through the application of technology.”

As well as making discussions about the future of jobs more accessible, visualisation and storytelling can “help employees and employers to understand – in a more visceral way – what potential jobs of the future could look like so we can move towards them as a goal,” Gustetic says.

“Think about this as an opportunity for employee engagement, where employees are part of the design process for the future of work.”

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