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Most Firms Unprepared for Automation Boom

Very few companies are prepared for an expected surge in automation over the next few years, with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics set to almost double by 2021.

A worldwide survey of businesses by Willis Towers Watson (WLTW) found that automation is expected to account for 22% of work in the next three years on average, compared with 12% today and 7% three years ago. However, less than 7% of firms believe their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of digitalisation and a greater reliance on contingent talent rather than full-time employees.

“Companies clearly see work automation gaining momentum, with little signs of slowing down anytime soon,” WLTW talent and reward practice digital lead, George Zarkadakis, 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 few organisations are prepared to tackle. On the other hand, many companies recognise the need for breakthrough and innovative approaches — and are reinventing work and how talent and skills combine.”

The findings show that almost half of companies believe they will require fewer employees in the next three years as a result of automation, compared with 27% that say that is true today. In addition, although just 19% say automation enables or requires them to use non-employee talent such as free agents, half expect that to be the case by 2021

Despite not being fully prepared for the imminent changes, 31% of companies have taken steps to address talent deficits through workforce planning and actions, and 32% have taken to action to identify the emerging skills required. Half have began to deconstruct jobs and identify which tasks can be automated, 48% have looked at pathways for reskilling talent, while 27% have taken steps to enable careers based on a more agile organisation structure.

The coming decade will test leadership teams profoundly. There is no set formula for managing through significant economic upheaval, but companies can take many practical steps to assess how a vastly changed landscape might affect their business. Resilient organizations that can absorb shocks and change course quickly will have the best chance of thriving in the turbulent 2020s and beyond.


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