Machines, computers and algorithms could offer opportunity, rather than misfortune, for humans in the workplace. Fears of being replaced by robots are unfounded, according to research by the World Economic Forum. Their research suggests that 75 million people will lose their job because of technological advancements – but that 133 million jobs will be created.
The WEF report is the latest in a series of efforts to assess the impact of new technologies on employment. There will be winners and losers in the new labour market. The Swiss non-profit organisation has calculated that by 2025, robots will handle over twice as many work tasks as they currently manage. However, this is not necessarily bad news for human employees: machines, algorithms and computer systems all still require ‘people power’ if they are to function, and the continued growth of technology will, therefore, mean new and exciting opportunities within the job market.
That is not to say that human workers will not have to adapt to the robot economy. They will need to develop a range of new skills, and demand for roles such as software developers, data analysts and social media specialists will rise. This will not be easy, and it will undoubtedly come at a cost. The study concludes that by 2022 over 50% of employees will require considerable retraining, with many requiring six months’ worth (or more) of upskilling.
But with almost 25% of companies appearing unsure whether to retrain their existing staff, it would appear that most businesses expect their employees to acquire these new skills themselves. And translating reskilling into viable jobs will undoubtedly require considerable thinking around workforce planning.
The report does sound alarm bells for some sectors. Client management, postal and secretarial services and accounting are particularly vulnerable as they are most likely to be allocated to intelligence-based technologies. But WEF’s Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All is clear that there will be a parallel rise in demand for the very human skills involved in, for example, sales, marketing, customer service, e-commerce and teaching. The study highlights the need for human intervention, especially in the areas of creativity, persuasion and critical thinking.
The shift towards a robot economy has been under way for some time, and few workers would now want a return to the days of calculating machines and typewriters. Automated transport is already with us, and this development has given us a glimpse of the excitement – and the disruption – to come.
What is most clear is that the rise of the robots will create a new Industrial Revolution, and fear of these developments is a waste of human energy. Instead of focusing on long-term predictions and fearful scenarios, smart governments and smart businesses will prepare safety nets for the many employees who will experience a significant shift in the type, and permanency, of their roles.