Few employers ready for talent challenges from automation

Less than 5 per cent say HR 'fully prepared' for changing requirements: Survey

Few employers ready for talent challenges from automation
Automated robots fetch merchandise from aisles at the Hudson's Bay Company distribution centre in Toronto in May 2017. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

Canadian companies expect automation will account for, on average, 17 per cent of work being done in the next three years.

That’s up from 10 per cent today, and five per cent three years ago, according to the Global Future of Work Survey, conducted by Willis Towers Watson.

Additionally, 96 per cent of employers that are already using AI and robotics will expand their use of automation in the next three years.

“Canadian businesses clearly see work automation gaining momentum, with few signs of slowing down anytime soon,” said Tracey Malcolm, global leader, future of work, Willis Towers Watson.

The implications for HR and talent strategies are immediate, she said.

“On one hand, the growing use of AI, robotics, free agent workers, contractors, consultants and part-time employees brings with it HR challenges that only few organizations are prepared to tackle. On the other hand, many companies recognize the need for breakthrough and innovative approaches — and are reinventing work and how talent and skills combine.”

Less than five per cent say their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of digitalization although, on average, one-third are somewhat prepared and have already taken some action to prepare for the future.

For example:

•36 per cent of employers have taken steps to address talent deficits through workforce planning and actions

•33 per cent have taken action to identify the emerging skills required for their business

•26 per cent have taken action to match talent to the new work requirements

•37 per cent have taken action to enable careers based on a more agile and flattened organization structure.

Additionally, many respondents are either planning to take action this year or are considering measures to prepare for the future, such as deconstructing jobs and identifying which tasks can be automated (44 per cent), and identifying reskilling pathways for talent whose work is being subsumed by automation (56 per cent).

Employers are also taking action to identify “skill and will” gaps as automation changes skill premiums (52 per cent), and reconfigure total rewards and benefits to fit a radically different workforce (47 per cent), found the survey of 909 companies worldwide, including 49 from Canada.

The percentage of employers automating work and seeing an increase in skill requirements is expected to more than double from 22 per cent currently to 49 per cent in the next three years. Conversely, one-third (32 per cent) expect to apply automation and redesign jobs to lower skill requirements over the next three years.

Roughly half of employers (49 per cent) believe they will require fewer employees in the next three years as a result of automation compared with 32 per cent of organizations that say that is true today, found Willis Towers Watson.

“Most companies believe automation will have a significant impact on leaders and managers in the next three years,” said France Dufresne, director and Canadian leader, Future of Work, Willis Towers Watson. “This is underscored by the percentage of companies that say automation will change how managers educate workers on the impact of automation on their jobs in the next three years — 23 per cent this year versus 63 per cent in 2020. Additionally, over two-thirds (69 per cent) say managers will need to think differently about communicating and leading change around the new combinations of humans and automated workers.”


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