The job’s we’ll lose to machines and the ones we won’t

With so much discussion around the digitalisation of work, and the inevitable automation of many jobs over the coming years, the question many of us are asking is ‘Will my job be one of the vulnerable ones?’

In Anthony Goldbloom’s recent TED Talk he proposes a simple test you can conduct if you want to know where you stand in relation to the robots

“To what extent is your job reducible to frequent high-volume tasks and to what extent does it involve tackling novel situations?”

Essentially, machines really excel when conducting a task multiple times over. Through the use of complex algorithms, machines can be designed to successfully assess multiple legal contracts, process a report or mark an essay. In this instance a robot is always going to win over a human, simply through the volume of work they can churn through.

Goldbloom points out that over a teacher’s career they may have to mark over 10,000 essays; a task that would only take a machine with the right programming a matter of minutes! However, the positives to take out of examples like this are what other tasks and duties might be possible for a teacher to undertake with all that extra time on their hands. How much additional support will they be able to provide to their students, with the shackles of hours of marking taken away? The same rule applies to many of these examples.

Before we all panic, it is important to remember is that very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the medium term. Sure, a large proportion of core processes will be changed for good, but in a lot of roles this will just change the remit and scope of what can be achieved.

Although we might lose out to machines in high-volume repetitive tasks, humans will win when competing with robots at novel situations.  Anthony explains “Humans have the ability to connect seemingly disparate threads to solve problems we’ve never seen before.”

How will it affect HR?

If we look at HR specifically, it is clear to see that there are a large number of administrative tasks that will ultimately be digitalised; so we should expect a shift in the make up of HR roles in coming years.

McKinsey recently conducted research on this topic concluding that managing and developing people will be extremely hard to automate, as will the act of decision-making and opportunistic, strategic business planning. Ultimately when human judgement is required people will still play the lead role.

If we take HR as a profession, the very nature of the function requires these skills. For example assessing fit through talent acquisition, interpreting a performance management situation, conducting an organisational design review and embedding a new cultural change initiative. The list goes on…

A positive impact on Engagement?

Much of the evidence suggests that although the total number of roles in HR will decrease, the roles themselves will actually significantly evolve to become even more interesting.

It would be naïve to ignore the implications for People & Culture functions of the future – there is potential for brand new roles to be designed that we’ve not even thought of yet!