The 2018 Future of Jobs Report from World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that the rise of the robots and breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) are set to have a beneficial impact on the global workforce – potentially creating jobs as well as replacing them.
The latest edition of the biennial study, published Monday, forecasts that by 2025 robots will handle 52 percent of current work tasks, up from 29 percent today and potentially displacing as many as 75 million jobs globally in the process.
“This is the key challenge of our time,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF of the report’s findings. “It is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling.”
Yet, the Swiss non-profit organization is likewise convinced that as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold within different business sectors, it is going to generate and augment far more roles than it removes. By 2022, it estimates that as many as 133 million new jobs will be created, meaning a net gain of 58 million positions within companies around the world.
Further, these roles are not confined to data science and software development. It will also lead to huge demand for people with “human skills” such as to fill customer service and social media roles.
Within the BPO industry, Sitel Group has been a pioneering presence in terms of applications of AI and automation for a number of years and has applied these technologies to enhance the capabilities of its customer experience (CX) professionals.
“Automation should be about freeing employees from tasks that make them feel like they’re robots so that they can use the skills that make them human,” says Laurent Uberti, President, CEO and founding partner, Sitel Group. “It’s our position, and one supported by this report’s findings, that there has never been a greater premium on creativity, problem-solving, the power of persuasion and emotional intelligence when it comes to delivering differentiated customer experience.”
The rise of robots and the negative impact of advances in AI have been high on the media agenda in recent years. Although this is understandable when a subject is new and highly disruptive to society as a whole, opinions are clearly starting to change. Even the WEF, in its 2016 The Future of Work report, was warning that we could be heading towards the end of work.
“Too many people think of The Terminator when they think of artificial intelligence and machine learning, even though enterprises are already working daily with AI and automation,” points out Uberti. “If we must use a movie metaphor, it should be The Six Million Dollar Man – the augmentation of humanity rather than its destruction.”
Two years is a long time in the world of hi-tech and now with more relevant data for analysis, the WEF believes the future is one that can be approached with cautious optimism, as long as businesses and employees remain proactive.
“Companies need to complement their automation plans with comprehensive augmentation strategies,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the WEF. “For businesses to remain dynamic, differentiated and competitive in an age of machines, they must in fact invest in their human capital.”
The research, based on interviews with HR officers and executives with a strategic remit at 300 large multinational corporations across 12 industries and 20 developed and developing economies (representing 70 percent of global output) finds that while almost half of those surveyed believe their current workforces will begin to shrink by 2022 due to automation. However, 40 percent expect to expand their existing workforces over the next five years and over one quarter expect automation and AI to create new roles within their companies.
But, the transition is not going to be smooth. Businesses in all industries interviewed for the study said they expected skills gaps to open up as existing employees won’t be able to work in their roles alongside these technological innovations without re-skilling and without creating and recruiting for completely new positions, they won’t be able to start the transformation process that will allow them to adopt these new technologies.
When asked about how they would be proactive in this situation, 90 percent of companies said that they were likely to consider outsourcing business functions as a strategy as only 46 percent of businesses polled believed they face no reskilling needs between now and 2022.
As for adopting and leveraging the technological capabilities of the fourth industrial revolution, 75 percent of businesses said that they would look to a professional services firm for managing the integration of new technologies and for workforce transition.
“A digital transformation is not about digitizing your entire business, it’s about looking at how the different elements of that organization would function in the digital age and then moving towards that goal,” begins Uberti. “But that goal should be a transformed business focused on its core expertise. Aligning with a partner like us can bring your organization the elements it needs – data insights, differential CX, access to the latest technologies and innovation or simply current industry best practices – at the scale you need them, regardless of how the fourth industrial revolution continues to shape your enterprise or business sector.”