The Business Times Article | Building the hybrid human-digital workforce of the future
This article from The Business Times discusses how to prepare organisations for a seamless transition to digitalisation and automation. VITAL's citizen development strategy is cited as a good example to enable those without programming skills to actively participate in the automation initiative!
23 April 2022
Working alongside robot assistants sounds a bit like science fiction, but in 2022, this is closer to reality than you think.
With the labour crunch emerging as one of the more pressing challenges facing our workforces today, organisations urgently need to find ways to mitigate the impacts and future-proof their business. Against this backdrop, software automation has emerged as a game changer as we transition to the future of work.
While adoption in automation is accelerating significantly, with Forrester predicting that the global Robotic Process Automation (RPA) market will grow to US$22 billion by 2025, many governments and businesses in Asia-Pacific (Apac) are already increasingly prioritising investment in automation solutions. For example, Singapore has earmarked S$600 million in its Budget 2022 to help small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) boost their productivity by digitalising and automating their business processes.
As a result, we can expect hybrid human-digital workforces to become commonplace within the next 5 years. People will work side by side with their virtual software assistants, sharing tasks, handing work off, and taking it back many times throughout the day.
As we edge closer towards that reality, how can we ensure that employees embrace automation and learn to work effectively with automated processes and digital assistants? And as robots take on lower-skilled, mundane, and repetitive tasks, how can organisations best redeploy workers and prepare them to take on new, higher-skilled, and more strategic work?
These are all critical questions that have to be addressed. Business leaders will need to focus on job redesign, redeployment plans, and build out upskilling, reskilling, and hiring plans for the future. They will also need to begin training everyday workers in tandem, so that they can be comfortable with leveraging automation technologies in their day-to-day work.
To get there, there are 4 key actions that they can take:
Convey the value of automation to the workforce
Implementing automation technologies alone is not enough, and will not achieve business success. Businesses also need their employees to embrace these new tools for their investment to be worthwhile, and that depends on individuals truly understanding the value of automation.
Aside from touting the benefits in terms of driving efficiency and productivity, it is critical that business leaders stress that automation, contrary to popular belief, does not take away jobs. Instead, automation takes over manual and tedious operational activities such as data entry and other rules-based processes, giving workers more time back in their day to focus on more strategic work. Having technology execute these responsibilities allows employees to advance into higher-skilled roles - effectively furthering them in their careers instead of stopping them short.
Build skill sets for the automation era
Wide-scale training will be needed to move current employees into these higher-value roles. In fact, business leaders predict that they will have to retrain a third of their workforce over the next few years because of automation technologies.
Addressing this early by focusing on workforce skill-building will be crucial. Our education and training policies must nurture in-demand automation skills, and provide upskilling opportunities to help workers keep pace with advances in the technology. Not only that, workers themselves too must develop the mindset of continuous learning to keep up with rapid technical changes and job changes.
Singapore, in particular, has provided many opportunities for the workforce to upskill themselves. Recently, the government highlighted enhancements to the TechSkills Accelerator and SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit scheme in Budget 2022. On the other hand, businesses will also need to play their part in building the next-gen workforce. For instance, UiPath's Academic Alliance programme provides significant opportunities for students and professionals to educate and upskill themselves in automation, equipping them with the skill sets to take on more creative, strategic and fulfilling work in the future.
Offer training beyond technical skills
In addition to teaching technical skill sets, training opportunities must also include soft skills like leadership, critical thinking, and adaptability. In a future where robots and virtual assistants are able to take over mundane, repetitive tasks, the traits that make us human will be our workforce's competitive advantage.
People will need to demonstrate skills such as creativity, leadership, communications and flexibility, among others - skills which robots cannot replace. A McKinsey & Company study found that to prepare their workforces for a post-Covid world, organisations are emphasising training in human-centred skills like leadership and managing others; critical thinking and decision-making; project management; and adaptability and continuous learning.
Give employees an active role in the automation initiative
Training employees on how to develop their own automations - in addition to teaching them how to use ones handed to them by leadership - positions employees to take an active role in the initiative. This fosters a sense of autonomy over their workloads; when workers know how to tailor automation software to support the specific requirements of their jobs, they can establish a way of work that is entirely their own, thereby boosting productivity and job satisfaction.
VITAL - the shared services arm of the Singapore government, which leads the public sector's robotics initiatives - has done exactly that. One of their first initiatives has been to implement a Citizen Developer Strategy to provide no/low code solutions to enable users, even those without programming skills, to develop their own automation scripts and reap its benefits.
Designating automation champions to be individual workers' go-to when they need automation assistance on the job, or get help deploying an automation they have created, is also important. Having a go-to team for employees to consult offers them continuous reassurance and guidance on an innovation that may be unfamiliar to them, which avoids them abandoning the technology in favour of old ways of work.
With automation increasingly becoming commonplace in our workplace today, it is inevitable that business leaders must evolve to manage a human-digital workforce. We will have to prioritise training employees on how to effectively leverage automation technologies, and help them adjust to their new roles. Careful planning and continued oversight will be crucial to prepare organisations for a seamless transition to a future where robots and humans work alongside one another.
Click HERE to read the original article from The Business Times website.