AI and the workforce: empowering or endangering?

Member News | 04.11.2019

AI and the workforce: empowering or endangering?

By Akash Marwaha, managing director for Hays Scotland

"The advent of AI in the workplace has been compared in some quarters to the Industrial

Revolution, where the introduction of machinery was seen to be replacing real jobs for real people, prompting fear and anger.

"Arguably, this belief is apparent again in the 21st century where the dilemma of new

technology making some jobs easier, or even eliminating them altogether, is pitched against concerns that it will threaten job security, especially in Scottish industries such as finance, healthcare, retail and IT.

"It's impossible to say how much impact AI will have in years to come and surveys report remarkably different outcomes. A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that up to 800 million workers could lose their jobs by 2030 as a result of automation. Another survey reports that 2 million jobs will be created, while some say that the impact will be neutral.

"In any event, employers need to be confident in introducing AI and automation technologies which will undoubtedly improve productivity, while also alleviating any fears surrounding job security. 

"AI has obvious implications for employees, with some basic positions likely to be taken over by machines and others having to adapt their roles. One example is in customer services where a bank was using chatbots to deal with basic customer enquiries. The chatbots were able to solve all the easy problems which meant there were employees who were no longer needed on the phones to answer easy queries. Yet instead of being replaced entirely, these people were redeployed in helping customers who weren’t comfortable using chatbots and they also now have more time to spend answering more complex queries from customers – thus making more of their human value.

"Hays recent What Workers Want Report 2019 shows that over 90% of Scotland's workers believe that technology is changing their workplace for the better. Around 73% say they have an open mindset towards digital transformation, and 39% believe automation offers more opportunities to add greater human value to an organisation.

"Workers also reported many differences in how their tasks have changed with the introduction of AI and automation. Many say that administrative tasks have decreased, and analytical tasks have increased. But the overall sentiment is that, contrary to feeling threatened, automation offers more opportunities to add greater human value to an organisation. After all, there are many tasks that technology and automation cannot do as well as people. For example, in industries like law and finance, there are many administrative tasks that can be carried out by AI and automation. However, relationships and human intelligence remain an integral part of these industries' client bases and are difficult to replace. With machines carrying out administrative tasks, humans can now focus more time on servicing their clients and building deeper, more fruitful, relationships.

"Successful implementation of automation requires a positive attitude and openness to change. It may mean giving up long-standing processes that have been embedded over many years, for new, untried ways of working. So while employers recognise the importance of working towards an open culture, adequate guiding and training and better clarity on the benefits of automation will ensure employees stay optimistic about increasing automation in the workplace and overcoming any scepticism.

"So there is certainly a willingness to embrace AI which employers should harness, as long as they are open about its introduction and offer training to employees where needed.

"Remember, there's more to introducing AI into the workplace than simply cutting costs."

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