The machines are taking over? The chat bots are coming for our jobs? Not according to the results of a recent survey conducted by market research firm OnResearch for Deloitte. However, human skills must be sharpened and updated consistently in order to remain part of the workforce.
Deloitte technology leader Chris Jackson said that while chat bots will only continue to evolve due to advances in artificial intelligence and true natural language learning, “the traditional narrative you see out there is that automation and robotics is going to eliminate jobs, but the data we see in our survey shows the converse.”
Despite fears that automation will thin the workforce, the study found that 46 percent of participating companies plan to hire more people than they did prior to implementing new technologies, while only 26 percent believe they will lower headcount.
“Reskilling” is having the greatest impact for efforts by the private companies in the survey to “technologically augment” their workforce.
According to Jackson, chat bots and similar uses of machine learning don’t eliminate customer service representatives but instead extend their reach. “Even as machine learning becomes much smarter, you’ll still need the ability for people to become more productive in different ways,” he added.
Jackson said 22 percent of companies are using customized chat bots.
OnResearch surveyed 500 executives (C-suite and management) from mid-market companies with annual revenues of $100 million to more than $1 billion.
“Some call it the ‘new collar’ economy. In this bustling segment of the labor market, application developers, data technicians and project managers are in hot demand,” Deloitte wrote in its report. “In practice, though, talent remains hard to come by in an extremely tight labor market.”
The report highlighted that “for the first time on record, there are more job openings than people to fill them,” adding that “the shortage of working-age candidates is so severe that that some cities and states have resorted to paying cash incentives to attract potential workers.”
Jackson elaborated on those points, saying, “The nature of work itself is changing. When you look at the marketplace now, there’s a dearth of talent to do the things that most companies need people to do. Companies are investing in training in a very big way to educate and reskill their employees.”
Jackson sees a heavy investment year-over-year in social, saying that companies “are really doubling down on their investment because they’re seeing returns” and adding that 36 percent of companies included in Deloitte’s survey plan to spend more than 5 percent of their total ad revenues on emerging technologies.
Mid-market and private companies are using social tools to increase productivity and target new customers. Jackson said collaboration and workplace social tools have become the norm, with a focus on ease of use and similarity to the tools employees use in their personal lives.
Deloitte also found that companies plan to rely more on “gig workers”—contract-based or part-time flex employees—to help meet their strategic goals when it comes to technology.
Jackson said the emergence of gig workers is being sparked by two trends: a demographic shift in the workplace and companies not having the ability to attract all the talent they need.
“Those types of workers can quickly deliver a solution that I may need to deliver in a three-month period,” he said of gig workers, adding that companies are going as far as training those contract-based or non-full-time flex employees on topics such as company culture, leadership and values.
Even though this trend tends to be spun in a negative way, Jackson sees a lot of upside, saying that from the employee side, there’s an “ability to create wealth in a very different way if you’ve got a certain skill.” Regional and cultural boundaries are eliminated, and companies can become nimbler by following this path, he continued.
Deloitte said in its report that executives pointed to “reskilling” and redesigning jobs as their top two priorities when it comes to talent. The consultancy said the technology cycle has come full-circle, from mandates for vocational education in the 1960s, to manufacturing downturns in the 1980s, to the modern workplace, where machines and people work in sync.
On that note, 64 percent of respondents said they’re working to develop new talent strategies in order to “attract, recruit and retain an inclusive workforce.” Other approaches aimed at improving the experience of Generation Z employees include gamification (58 percent), increasing the focus on flexibility and well-being programs (55 percent) and “driving a culture of open and transparent communication with leadership” (52 percent).
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