Automation to the rescue of the future workforce

We’re seeing a paradigm shift in the way we work with the emergence of new digital technologies. While digital transformation in workplaces can be daunting for some employees, technologies such as automation can actually free up employees’ time from tedious, repetitive tasks, thus allowing them to focus on tasks that value-add and increase their productivity and efficiency.

Instead of replacing the workforce, the premise of automation today is for robots to complement human efforts in the office, allowing them to work smarter and more effectively. Amidst manpower and talent shortage in the Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) region, organisations are increasingly realising the value of automation and embracing its benefits.

According to the IDC APJ Automation Survey 2022, which was commissioned by UiPath, APJ organisations are expected to accelerate investments in automation in the next three years across APJ. By 2025, 62% of organisations in APJ will scale up or achieve an enterprise-wide robotic process automation (RPA) deployment.

How will automation reshape the future of work? 

In most workplaces, automation can relieve humans from performing physical tasks in highly predictable and structured settings, such as tracking website traffic, filling out online forms, as well as gathering and processing data. By reducing the mundaneness of repetitive tasks, the technology is set to develop a systematically productive future for workers. Organisations in APJ have recognised that automation will become a powerful business tool, as 86% of them agree that it will be a critical requirement for business excellence, customer experience, and competitive success within the next three years.

ICICI Bank, for example, has automated over 250 processes in 2021 and plans to automate over 500 re-engineered processes by the end of 2022. These automation projects have allowed the bank to achieve improved customer experience, cost savings, agility, and scalability to handle volume surges amongst many other benefits.

Similarly, VITAL, the Singapore Government’s shared services department, has transformed work by embracing software automation. From automating deposit creation to using AI to sift through resumes in the hiring process, VITAL has been leveraging software automation to realise its vision for every officer to become a citizen developer, building robots for themselves and their colleagues using low- or no-code tools. In the latter, the use of software automation allowed HR personnel to shortlist candidates more quickly, saving time and allowing them to focus on evaluating the more serious candidates.

Can automation address the labour shortage facing organisations today?

That being said, there is a misconception that automation will take over every job in the workplace. Contrary to popular opinion, automation will create new jobs instead of replacing them. By 2025, there will be tens of millions of RPA-related jobs generated globally, resulting in up to US$55 billion in economic benefits.

Automation can also help ensure that employees’ well-being is taken care of, by alleviating workplace frustration and exhaustion. According to a research of office workers commissioned by UiPath, more than half of respondents in Singapore, India, and Australia felt like much of their workday is eaten up by tasks that can be automated. Such repetitive, menial tasks can often leave employees drained of mental energy, resulting in employee fatigue and burnout.

Upskilling and training workers will be critical

Although the majority of the workforce has adapted quickly to this technological shift, there are still some employees who may need help transitioning into evolving roles and expectations. It is crucial for such workers to stay abreast of the rapid technological and job changes. They can take advantage of various upskilling programs and resources provided by governments and employers alike to level the playing field.

On the other hand, business leaders will need to convey the value of automation to the workforce, in terms of driving efficiency and productivity. They will also need to stress that automation offers the workforce an opportunity to level up and take on higher-value roles.

In particular, employers will need to put in place wide-scale training to move current employees into these higher-value roles. In fact, business leaders predict that they will have to retrain a third of their workforce over the next few years because of automation technologies.

An employee-first approach is non-negotiable

In the end, employees are an organisation’s most valuable assets, and it is essential to prioritise their satisfaction. It is important to note that automation is not a silver bullet as there are many other factors at play. Organisations need to take a holistic approach to address the labour conundrum and keep employees content at work.

Along with implementing intelligent automation, organisations can offer employees the flexibility to work from different locations, grant them more independence at work, and conduct frequent check-ins to ensure their voices are heard.