U.S. companies believe that an increase in artificial intelligence and robotics is good for business, according to a new Randstad Sourceright Talent Trends survey. Responses from C-suite and human capital leaders reveal the following:
- 36 percent of U.S. companies have increased the use of AI and robotics over the last 12 months.
- Over the same period, the number of respondents indicating that they expect significant growth in the next 12 months soared from 10 percent to 28 percent.
- 26 percent of U.S. companies report that growth in the past 12 months surpassed expectations, notably higher than the 20 percent that reported in the fourth quarter of 2016.
- Survey respondents overwhelmingly expect AI and robotics to have a positive impact on their businesses, with 70 percent reporting that they plan to hire extensively in the year ahead to keep pace with expected growth.
Not if, but when for more automation
While companies have been criticized for increasing their use of automation, it’s actually a good business decision for companies that want to remain competitive. Jim Guerrera is the managing director of SC Novi, an affiliate of MRINetwork, a search consulting firm specializing in recruiting for the automotive, industrial and automation sectors. “An increase in AI and robotics will definitely increase productivity and corporate profits, especially in the manufacturing sector,” Guerrera tells GoodCall®. “Companies that do not go ‘all in’ on automation will be phased out over time, as the automated factories will far out produce those that are not automated.”
Making the move to automation isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the return on investment. “Even though it is an expensive capital cost, the way these machines are built today, they will be able to last for several years, off-setting the large upfront capital outlays,” Guerrera explains.
However, he says, “The work cannot be done with robots alone – American manufacturers need skilled and technical workers to operate these facilities.”
Unfounded fear of AI and robotics?
So, why do Americans in general, and American workers in particular, believe that AI and robotics will take their jobs instead of increase hiring? Hary Bottka, global concepts leader at Randstad Sourceright, tells GoodCall®, “There has been a lot of focus in the media on the loss of jobs in the U.S., in particular, that certain jobs are moving overseas and are not being replaced.”
And since this was a key issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Bottka believes it is still fresh in the minds of the American public.
“AI and robotics are a natural next threat, as technology will displace certain job profiles in the coming years.” But, Bottka says the survey reveals that these advances in technology will actually create jobs while also changing the skills required by many organizations.
Chris Nicholson is the CEO of Skymind, the company behind Deeplearning4j, a deep learning tool for Java that is used for everything from fraud/anomaly detection to image recognition to predictive analytics.
Nicholson tells GoodCall® that many workers may be displaced. “Displacement is a good term to explain what’s happening, because it implies moving from one job to another.” But he admits, “Who gains and who loses? It’s not always the same people.” Bottka agrees that technology will not completely phase out jobs. “In reality, technology is producing more of a shift in jobs requiring new skills, as compared to a complete loss of job opportunities for workers.”
However, it would be naïve to think that companies are not considering employee-related costs when deciding to increase their use of AI and robotics. “The rise of health care costs in the U.S. only adds to the desire for plants to get automated, because less overall workers means less overall healthcare expenses,” Guerrera explains. “And there are other productivity benefits such as the ease and ability of the robots to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – in addition to manufacturing ‘locally,’ so U.S. manufacturers will be able to greatly reduce their supply chain costs.”
As a result, some fears of American workers may be justified. Especially workers who lack the skills to move into other areas.
The need for skilled workers
“You can’t automate everything, and when companies want to sell their products, they will hire more administrative and sales people, so other roles are growing,” Nicholson says. “We need to try to get some of the displaced workers into these roles.”
He also advises workers to be open to moving to another city or state. “A lot of people feel trapped in a local job market, but there are places where the local economy is really healthy and robust – but again, this may entail moving to another part of the country.”
In fact, Bottka reveals that one of the primary concerns of C-suite and HR leaders is the inability to find the talent they need for some of the new roles created by AI and robotics.
That’s because some of the new roles will require more advanced training. Randstad provides Recruitment Process Outsourcing services to some of its clients, and Bottka says there’s definitely been a shift in the types of jobs clients need. “Roles such as application developers, service technicians, and hardware or software specialists are now in demand in organizations that traditionally have hired labor to fulfill more manual roles,” Bottka explains.
It may be comforting to know that robots are incapable of replacing all U.S. jobs. “American manufacturers need skilled and technical workers to operate these facilities,” Guerrera says.
But he warns that it won’t look anything like the manufacturing work force from the 1970s through the early 2000s. “Instead of a plant filled with general manual labor workers and only some skilled workers, the plants will be filled with mostly skilled technical workers, albeit a far lower number of overall employees.”
Guerrera describes some of the most in-demand positions:
- Manufacturing engineers who know how to work automated machinery.
- Software programmers to code and operate the machines.
- Controls engineers to monitor and operate all of the controls on the machinery.
In addition, Guerrera says that since machines do occasionally break down, workers with general maintenance skills are also needed. “Skilled field service personnel and maintenance engineers will be paramount to a top performing automated manufacturing facility because these individuals will perform the important tasks of keeping the machines running.”
But manufacturing is just one of the industries looking to increase automation. Bottka and Nicholson warn that employees in other areas should also step up their game. “Workers and potential workers must be aware of the skills gaps in the market and tailor their interests, studies and training to prepare themselves to be in a position to fill the these gaps,” Bottka says. “Specific skills are in limited supply, so there is a need for the existing workforce, as well as incoming workers, to choose an education and training curriculum that prepares them for these jobs.”
Nicholson agrees that learning new skills is crucial. “A lot of skills are hard to automate, like people skills, where you’re dealing with people and helping them.” He mentions nurses, therapists, counselors, teachers, and managers as jobs that are difficult to automate. “Robots can’t provide healthcare; jobs that are people-centric and where you need to need to establish a relationship are pretty safe bets.”