Five ways to co-exist with robots in the workplace

Robots are no longer just a workplace presence on manufacturing or shipping floors. Through Robotic Process Automation (RPA), they’ve started to enter many different job environments across functions. So, what can we expect from this new and still evolving environment? What could it ultimately look like and what does it mean for the human workforce’s skill set of future?

Software automation is of course already used as a substitute for manual labor, but it also creates new human-machine complementaries, also known as augmentations. These different types of human-robot synergies do not necessarily signal doom and gloom for the human workforce. According to the World Economic Forum’s report Future of Jobs,  AI, robotics, nanotechnology and other socio-economic factors might reduce the need for pure human workers, but those same technological advances could also create 2.1 million new jobs.

The job loss side of this story follows a familiar pattern to other industrial revolutions: manual and clerical work is likely to decrease. Meanwhile, growth is expected in occupations requiring multi-discipline skillsets combining computing, mathematics, engineering, and economics. We can expect both the government and education sectors to make logical steps to accommodate the needs of both the existing and future workforce.

RPA is in effect reshaping organizational focus from people following processes supported by technology to technology following processes supported by people. In simple terms, RPA is helping its human workforce to “remove the robots within them” as my esteemed colleague and fellow blogger Piotr Osipowicz is fond of saying. From this point of view, humans are not pitted against robots. Instead, we cannot see a working environment completely without humans nor completely without robots.

The long-term goal, of course, is to have intelligent machines partner with humans to complete even knowledge-based work. In practice, five approaches seem to have crystalized as the most effective ways for the human workforce to adapt to this new reality, by working with machines to enrich the jobs they currently hold.

  • Move upwards, where robots cannot follow. One of the more conventional human reactions to RPA in the workforce is to move to higher intellectual ground — to places that require abstract, big-picture thinking. Most likely, this means additional education, a more horizontal breadth of work, and a focus on innovation and strategy.
  • Straightforward augmentation. Humans are working alongside robots, which do the heavy lifting, while they practice a more multi-dimensional skillset. This is, in fact, happening already, as we use computation powers to enhance our productivity. Most of the human workforce does or will fit into this category. To succeed here, human workers should work to extend their skillsets to provide new value to both customers and their organization. Of course, they’d be best served to focus on skillsets that robots simply would not be able to provide.
  • Robots need fixing too. As solutions become complex and more automated, there will be a need for humans to monitor and maintain the cognitive logic in use. In a way, this can be viewed as “reverse augmentation” – humans helping robots! Quite simply, working with robots will become a full–time job that will require a deep understanding of ever-enhancing expert-level systems. In many ways, this type of job would require skills that today’s IT industry already demands, namely science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • Move where robots will not follow. Building robots is still a matter of economy – in areas where there is not a strong ROI, robots are not likely to be developed. Therefore, humans can look to grow their careers in areas that are simply considered too exotic for robots. Such jobs would mostly grow out of existing careers, built from on the job training, experience and then perfected to a commercial offering. Personality traits would require deep specialization, focus and brand building.
  • Make new robots. By staying at the cutting edge of technology, a human worker can work to meet the challenge of designing, creating and productizing the next generation of smart machines – in a sense becoming a digital inventor. There is no doubt that this scenario requires both enviable academic credentials and heavy usage of job augmentation by robots. Additionally, it would require an outside-the-box mindset to discover new automation candidates, conceptualize the robots, manage the change they could introduce, and develop a forward-thinking vision for their use — that’s about as human as a skillset can get.

Each industrial revolution is a major disruption in the way we work. And the human skillset must adapt to the resultant change. Robots’ increasing entry into the workplace does not necessarily indicate the end of a human job. For many of us, it instead provides a needed impetus to step up into more value-added areas.

This could lead human workers to acquire additional skillsets, potentially opening the door to new positions, some of which we’d have difficulty even defining today. The human workforce’s greatest strength will continue to be its ability to invent new values and thus create future jobs. Sure, a bot can create a wonderful online presence, keep it running, and even make money – but did it come up with that idea on its own?


Davor Brajanoski headshot-loresDavor Brajanoski is Program Lead for BPS Automation at DXC, leading RPA programs within Business Process Services. He leads a team of 10 senior consultants and 25 developers across multiple global centers in, supporting more than 100 customers across a variety of delivery locations and industries.

RELATED LINKS

RPA myth busting: Common robotics misconceptions (part 1)

RPA myth busting: Common robotics misconceptions (part 2)

Progress for cloud-enabled robots

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