Robots have already substantially changed how businesses are run. Yet, if you think robotics technology plays an important role in the workplace today, its place and purpose will likely be near ubiquitous in industries of the future. Machines will become increasingly better at carrying out the tasks performed by humans (see Fab Mate for instance) and even do things that are impossible for humans to do. As a result, the human resource structure of the average business will change.
To deal with the challenges of a world where robots will play such an outsized role, businesses and governments must develop appropriate policies. Fighting robotic technology is futile. Rather, the focus should be on how artificial intelligence can benefit both business and society in order to keep workforce transitions smooth. Here are some ideas that can do just that.
1. Facilitate Strong Productivity and Economic Growth
Robust growth certainly isn’t a silver bullet in addressing all the challenges that automation poses. However, it creates the right environment for job growth and greater prosperity. As businesses become more efficient and productive, they directly contribute to economic growth.
Therefore, ensuring that investment is available for businesses to grow and that there’s demand for products and services is critical.
2. Evolving Learning and Education Systems for the Future Workforce
Governments, employers, education policymakers, and education providers must work together to create a learning and education environment that is cognizant of the new needs of the future workplace. In particular, there must be a greater emphasis on improving basic STEM skills not just in the formal school system but also as part of on-the-job training.
There must be a new focus on creativity, system-centered thinking, life-long and adaptive learning. For governments, there will need to be policies and solutions that can be quickly rolled out at scale.
3. Investing in Human Capital
Just because the future workplace will have such a deep reliance on robotics technology doesn’t mean it will be devoid of humans. In fact, for the most part, the robots will be most effective when they work in harmony with employees. Unfortunately, government investment in worker training has been in decline in some countries. Even in countries where training investment is stable or growing, it’s still at a low base.
Reversing the trend of low and declining worker training investment is crucial. Using incentives such as tax benefits, governments can encourage businesses to invest in various aspects of human capital including learning and capacity building.
4. Better Labor-Market Dynamism
With robots replacing workers in some roles, they’ll also create new opportunities for work. To make sure jobs are filled quickly and efficiently, there’s a need for better labor-market linkages. Digital platforms can make it easier to match skills with job opportunities thereby creating vibrancy in the labor market.
Studies have shown that when more people change jobs, overall wages rise. That includes job changes that occur within an organization. As new ways of working such as gigs and telecommuting become mainstream, there’ll be a need to address afresh old topics such as wage variability, worker classification, and portability of benefits.
5. Work Redesign
Workflows and workspaces will need to be redesigned in order to conform to the realities of a future environment where employees must work closely with robots. This is a challenge but also an opportunity to create a safer and more productive space. Redesign will have to take into consideration an increasingly agile, nonhierarchical and more collaborative office dynamic.
It’s all about creating an environment where there’s a seamless transition of inputs and outputs between employees, between robots, and between employees and robots.
6. Reimagining Income
Automation will result in some significant reduction in job opportunities even if it’s just in the medium term before the skills market fully adjusts to the new reality. Employment reduction will mean a section of the population would be out of work and therefore, have no income. It’ll be important that governments rethink incomes by exploring universal basic income, conditional transfers, social safety nets, and support for mobility.
The key will be to identify solutions that are viable and sustainable. They should not just focus on the money and benefits but also the multiple roles that employment plays in a person’s life such as conveying a sense of meaning and dignity.
There’ll be plenty of opportunities for work in a future filled with robots. Yet, it’s important to note that jobs will be different and will demand new skills and greater worker versatility. By making the changes outlined above, governments and businesses can ensure that the future of work is something that’s worth looking forward to.