Anticipating the Scale of Automation

Automating work is a pressing issue for associations and the workers, businesses and governments they serve, yet the scale of that impact within any particular industry or profession can be difficult to forecast.

The impact will vary substantially by industry, occupation and workplace, according to the ASAE ForesightWorks action brief on automating work. The ForesightWorks forecast: In the midterm, more jobs will be taskified as automation complements the work of humans.

A popular futures video, Humans Need Not Apply, sounds an alarming wake-up call to the future we could face. As a discussion starter, it can convince any association this issue cannot wait.

Futurist Peter Schwartz, now vice president of strategic planning for Salesforce, practices the art of the long view by observing we have seen these technological revolutions before, we came through OK, and many new jobs were created as old ones vanished. In his analysis, this is happening again as work is automated and transformed.

Whether you take an optimistic or pessimistic view of the potential impact, you can make some informed projections about the possible scale and rate of change. In a forecast, ASAE ForesightWorks recommends examining these factors: What work is technically feasible to automate? Are there labor supply and demand pressures? Is there a business case for greater automation? Do any regulatory requirements encourage or constrain automation? And will there be social acceptance, which is a pivotal question associations can influence?

Schwartz counsels employers to break down their jobs into discrete tasks to determine which are “ideal for humans and which are better suited to machines”.  Then he concludes on a point that should resonate with every association:

“Creating a culture of continuous learning is how we will get from today’s economy to a new economy that gives more people an opportunity to prosper. And it’s important to understand that the responsibility for providing that education cannot fall only on governments. In a fast-changing environment where continuous learning is crucial, business will play a key role. Is your company prepared?”

This is when every association should be ready to jump up and say we can help you with that.