The Impact of Automation on the Workforce and Jobs that AI Can’t Replace
August 31, 2022
Although replacing human labor with robotics is not new, AI takes this concept to a new level.
Whereas earlier industrial machines were designed to supplement humans’ physical capabilities, AI-based automation can now increase our cognitive abilities. While organizations are turning to AI consultants to cut costs, improve efficiency and streamline decision-making, some service industry employees will have to learn new skills or look for other jobs.
The impact of AI on the future workforce
AI mostly nudges the decision vector in the right direction, resulting in shorter decision times and greater accuracy.
For example, computer vision allows magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tools to detect problems in soft tissues hundreds of times faster than human specialists. In this case, AI does not make surgeon skills obsolete but helps medical professionals achieve the same results more efficiently. In finance, AI can simulate the market situation so that humans can test different scenarios. Being an inherently more accurate mechanism than the human brain, it reduces the risk of error and the time it takes to analyze, draw conclusions and take action.
Such examples are common in most industries that are currently in the process of implementing AI. Initiatives such as finance or health care are simply becoming more efficient through streamlined data analysis using AI. In such cases, workers will need only a little extra training to adopt the new AI tools without losing their jobs. However, as AI matures, it will have a much more significant impact on the workforce, depending on the nature of the work being done.
Most of the products we can’t imagine our lives without requiring workers to perform the same set of tasks routinely for many hours. Regardless of human skills, AI-assisted robots will achieve better results faster, using fewer resources. This is why jobs in industries such as manufacturing and transportation are the most threatened by automation in the long run. These include crane operators, installers, handymen, inspection technicians, machinists, and electricians.
According to a McKinsey study called The Future of Mobility Is at Our Doorstep, autonomous vehicles will account for 40% of new car sales in 2040. This means that many tasks, including physically allocating resources in construction or remotely controlling emergency vehicles, could be fully automated, redefining the development of fleet management as we know it.
According to IDTechEX, more than 100,000 autonomous forklifts and trucks will be sold by 2030. Since humans operate more than 95 percent of forklifts, and the return on investment is achieved in an average of 18 months, such navigational skills will be mostly obsolete in about 20 years.
It’s worth noting that industries that rely on human interaction will never be fully automated, no matter how advanced AI is. For example, the competence of education professionals is determined more by social intelligence and empathy than by any technical skills. Sales and marketing require a deep understanding of people’s backgrounds and candor, characteristics that AI naturally cannot boast. Human input is fundamental to the performance of many industries.
The shortage of AI-ready talent: what to do?
The job losses resulting from AI automation will largely be offset by creating new jobs requiring AI-specific skills. According to LinkedIn, over the past four years, the hiring growth of AI professionals has reached an astounding 74%. In early 2020, a LinkedIn search for AI-related jobs could yield more than 230,000 jobs worldwide. According to the World Economic Forum’s report on the future of employment in 2020, AI could result in 97 million new positions by 2025.
Even today, however, the global demand for AI talent does not match the supply. As technology spreads, AI-related jobs will be created faster than people can adapt. This will cause the already in-demand AI professionals to become more in demand.
Looking closely at the future job market, attracting a lot of new talent will only make economic sense for industry giants. Existing organizations must develop new strategies to help their employees retrain and upgrade their skills.
Hiring new talent is inevitable when companies need to create precise, highly customized solutions using AI. However, the expertise needed to work and interact with such systems can usually be found among existing staff. By focusing on upskilling and retraining existing staff, organizations will not only solve an ethical dilemma but also reap significant economic benefits. It’s a win-win situation for both employees and their companies.
Contrary to popular belief, AI automation is not intended to reduce costs by reducing headcount. In most cases, it supplements existing human capabilities and frees up workers’ time so they can focus on more creative tasks. From a business perspective, organizations that view AI only as a way to streamline processes will likely miss the opportunity to realize the technology’s full potential. The approach to AI implementation should focus on adding value through the powerful symbiosis of human thinking and computer intelligence.
However, no matter how hard companies try to prepare their workers for the AI revolution, there will still be people without the right skills. To mitigate potential unemployment, governments should also take an active role in leveling out the economic destabilization caused by automation. For example, many experts are calling for universal basic income schemes to maintain the well-being of people affected by automation and digitalization.
AI-assisted automation will inevitably change the nature of many jobs and displace some of them entirely. Although the headlines tend to make things as dramatic as possible, the current pace of AI adoption leaves employers and their employee’s plenty of time to prepare. Overall, to minimize the negative impact of AI on the workforce, everyone from workers to business leaders and policymakers needs to be involved.
Workers in industries such as transportation and manufacturing need to become more flexible in their training and be ready to implement AI to remain relevant in the job market. While personal interest should be at the heart of any professional development initiatives, they should also be encouraged and incentivized by their respective employers and government and educational organizations.
Companies should retain existing staff as much as possible and resort to hiring new staff only when necessary. AI must gain cultural acceptance and credibility, but this can only happen when all economic actors work cooperatively.
It is assumed that the job losses resulting from automation will be offset by creating a whole range of new AI-related jobs.