SmartRecruiters Blog

Skills to Survive the Automation Revolution

Actually, the revolution is already upon us, but arming yourself with some basic knowledge can save your career from robotic annihilation.

“The machines are coming and they’re going to take your job.” It’s a common enough refrain these days, and an eerie callback to robots taking over assembly lines in the 20th century. Now that we’re living through the 21st-century digital age, the next job-stealing tech set is upon us, and understanding what’s already underway is the best way to avoid a career apocalypse.

Companies can and will be able to further increase efficiency and accuracy while decreasing the cost of human talent. Automating routine tasks reduces the chances of errors while handling complex tasks, and robots don’t take sick days. But instead of wringing your hands and ranting into an indifferent sky, making a few pivots to stay relevant isn’t as tough as you think.

The Highest Impact: Robotics

The first mental image most of us have of “automation” is a big mechanical arm riveting doors onto a chassis. Intelligent machines have evolved from functions like building cars to assisting surgeons in the operating room. These days, robots serve as security guards, and still do a pretty decent job of vacuuming the house. Many people worry that automation will result in mass unemployment, and yes, automation will eliminate some jobs. The flipside is that the automation revolution will also require heretofore undefinably skilled workers.  

In a poll of 200 senior executives conducted by the National Robotics Education Foundation, 81 percent of respondents listed robotics as one of the top five industrial sectors creating jobs for the country’s young workers, with over 150,000 unfilled robotics positions, expected to increase to 500,000 by 2020. Many of these jobs will be classified as robotics engineers or robotics technicians.  

What types of skills do these workers need? Robotic engineers need to be analytical, critical thinkers, and since technicians are expected to troubleshoot and conduct preventive maintenance, they also need to be expert problem solvers.

Part of the mental shift needed in the automation revolution is not thinking only of physical robots, but computer programming.

In “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?” a report by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER,) and the Rural Policy Institute’s Center for State Policy, automation is much more likely in such areas as administrative support, transportation, logistics, and sales.

According to the poll, four questions to determine the risk of automation are:

  1. Do you need to come up with clever solutions?
  2. Are you required to personally help others?
  3. Does your job require you to squeeze into small places?
  4. Does your job require negotiation?

Many healthcare occupations are at a low risk of automation because they involve highly specialized functions. In many cases, social skills such as being able to provide mental support and assistance, and being able to react to impulsive and spur of the moment emotions, are required and highly valued.

This is consistent with the findings in “The Future is Not What It Used to Be,” a report by Citi GPS, which found that employees with the ability to discover novel approaches to solve problems will always be in demand. Service orientation is another sector relatively safe from automation. Anyone with voice-activated devices knows computer voices are flat and monotone, and their range of responses are limited. However, consumers prefer human interaction with someone who can be empathetic and show appreciation.

Changes in Human-Computer Interactions

One skill workers will need to survive the automation revolution is the ability to tinker with the very systems that stole their old job.

Burning Glass and Oracle Academy conducted research that revealed out of 26 million online job postings, a full half of well-paying jobs required some level of computer coding skills. And this includes jobs that are not in the technology field.

It’s an old refrain that hasn’t lost its relevance: Workers who want to decrease their vulnerability to automation need to get tech-savvy and embrace opportunities to learn more about computers and computer programs.

Companies that want to future-proof their employees against their own automation initiatives should start tracking employee management and skills capabilities within a performance management software, and use this data to fill skills and knowledge gaps before looking to recruit outside the company. Combined with analytical and customer service skills, workers with historical knowledge of the company and automation-proof soft skills will be in the best position to not only survive, but thrive during this automation revolution.

Terri Williams