Automation accelerating, but CEOs not in sync with it

Automation in the workplace is only going to accelerate. (Image: Sensors Magazine)

Work automation, including artificial intelligence, is a growing reality, with CEOs having to prepare themselves and their employees for it.

“Organizations are continuing to plan for and use automation at work,” Tracey Malcolm, global leader, Future of Work, at Willis Towers Watson, told FierceCEO. “In fact, they are going to expand their use of automation.”

However, “Leaders need to be much more active communicating around the new combination of humans and automation,” Malcolm said. “Leaders need to be talking to their talent about changes around their work.”

Very few companies and HR functions are fully prepared to address the organizational change requirements related to automation as well as less reliance on full-time employees and greater reliance on contingent talent, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson.

U.S. companies expect automation will account for on average 17% of work being done in the next three years, the survey found. That compares with 9% of work companies say is being done using AI and robotics today, and just 5% three years ago. Additionally, 94% of U.S. companies that are already using AI and robotics will expand their use of automation in the next three years.

RELATED: CEOs see automation doing away with their jobs, survey says

“The implications for HR and talent strategies are immediate,” Morgan 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 a 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 5% of HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of digitalization, although a third are somewhat prepared and have already taken some action to prepare for the future.

  • 44% of companies have taken steps to address talent deficits through workforce planning and actions.
  • 34% of companies have taken action to identify the emerging skills required for their business.
  • 34% have taken action to match talent to the new work requirements.
  • 35% 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 considering measures to prepare for the future, such as deconstructing jobs and identifying which tasks can be automated (51%), and identifying reskilling pathways for talent whose work is being subsumed by automation (41%). Employers are also taking action to identify “skill and will” gaps as automation changes skill premiums (49%), and reconfigure Total Rewards and benefits to fit a radically different workforce (49%).

In a reminder of the complexities associated with automation, the survey discovered dichotomies. For example, the percentage of employers automating work and seeing an increase in skill premiums is expected to double from 23% currently to 46% in the next three years. Conversely, over a third (38%) expect to apply automation and redesign jobs to lower skill premiums over the next three years.

The impact of automation on the use of nonemployee talent is also noted. While 13% of respondents say automation currently enables or requires them to use more nonemployee talent, such as free agents or contractors, 43% expect that to be the case in the next three years. Roughly half of employers (51%) believe they will require fewer employees in the next three years as a result of automation, compared with 28% of organizations that say that is true today.