We’ve all seen stories in the press explaining how advanced forms of robotics, such as driverless cars and 3D printing, will change the world around us.
There was a time when these technologies seemed an impossible fantasy only realised in futuristic TV shows like The Jetsons. But they are fast becoming a reality.
It’s exciting to see how these innovations are able to automate tasks which were previous seen as impossible without human input. On the flipside, however, there are real life consequences for the people affected by automation.
You can’t pretend that if driverless cars are introduced onto the streets of Britain that taxi drivers won’t be affected. The black cab drivers currently protesting against Uber will have a much bigger fight on their hands.
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution we have repeatedly seen technology replace humans in work environments. New machinery or digital solutions ultimately become cheaper, faster, more reliable and less error prone than a fallible person.
A study by Oxford University and Deloitte recently claimed that technology is now progressing at such speed that 35% of all jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the next two decades.
That same study forecasts that there is a 97% likelihood that the role of payroll manager and wage clerk will disappear as a result of this trend.
Automation is going to have a major impact on the HR department.
Undoubtedly, the idea of roles being replaced is unsettling but we also need to look at the wider impact on the profession. When automation has taken place in other industries, the long term effect is often extremely positive. For example, when automatic exchanges replaced the role of manual switchboard operators throughout the course of the early twentieth century the telecommunications sector didn’t suffer – far from it.
As the cost of telecommunications became cheaper for the end user, more people started using telephones and the industry boomed. Annual sales for mobile phones are now expected to top two billion during 2016. New technology allowed this industry to evolve and the result has been notable.
Automation created a bigger industry with more jobs.
The same can be said for the retail sector. Some people feared that the rise of e-commerce would kill the high street and worried about the industry’s future. And it can’t be denied that some household names have disappeared due to the emergence of online outlets.
E-commerce has, however, given rise to new jobs within hungry start-ups and benefitted a whole host of associated industries, such as e-delivery, warehousing, web development, online marketing and more.
And the high street is still here. In fact, we are now seeing many of the biggest online players launching their own bricks and mortar stores. Even the search engine giant Google has opened its own shop.
Technology may disrupt an industry, but it doesn’t destroy it.
Instead, the automation of tasks allows professionals to focus more on the end user. We can see this illustrated in the way big data analytics is now helping the medical profession. Computing firm IBM is currently working on a project that will see its super computer, Watson, diagnose medical conditions based on the symptoms presented.
This is not replacing doctors – it is simply eradicating the potential for missed warning signs by aiding the detection of serious or rare conditions. By automating the diagnosis process, doctors will be free to spend more time concentrating on what matters most – the treatment and care of their patients.
When professionals focus on what matters most, everyone wins.
The same is true in HR. Freed from the administrative burden, the HR department will be able to concentrate on the areas of work which will contribute most to the future success of their organisation. They can better support department heads by helping to manage and develop staff. They can better serve employees by ensuring all their welfare and training needs are fully met.
As with telecommunications, retail and the medical profession, they can become more focused on the people they exist to serve. With automation, HR has the potential to grow and elevate its importance within any organisation.