Preparing for an automated future

Covid has accelerated the pace of change and employers which are prepared for more change and are more agile are in a better place to confront it.


3d rendering robot working with virtual display

For those living in England the next weeks may feel like we are going backwards to the Groundhog Day of Spring, but with schools and childcare open. However, while some employers are focusing on survival, others are able to use the time to plan ahead.

I spoke to a change management manager this week who was focusing on how to implement hybrid working as we eventually emerge from Covid. That will be no easy task, although many employers have already converted to a more agile form of working, with offices mainly used for collaborative sessions and training rather than desk-based activities. The current hybrid hybrid state, where employers have to take into account social distancing, has been an additional complicating factor.

There’s also a focus on training needs for the future. It’s not just that huge swathes of industry have been affected by Covid, but that Covid came at a time when change, in particular the move towards automation, was already affecting many jobs. It has accelerated that change and the jobs that are available in the future will reflect that. The problem is that people often don’t have the skills needed to do them and, with Brexit looming, it may be harder to import those skills from elsewhere to give employers the time to build them locally.

Diversity and retraining

A think tank on women in business and technology in October focused on innovation – on industries like e-sports, the use of AI in the finance sector, cybersecurity, innovative finance and new models of working in law. Clearly, there is a long-term issue with regard to women in STEM, with numbers of girls taking STEM subjects rising in schools, but not yet making a big impact in graduation and work figures. The think tank emphasised the business need for diversity of thinking in these sectors and for skills other than technological ones, for instance, emotional intelligence.

Some employers are looking at working with colleges and universities on micro-credentials – short, business-related qualifications – to boost the skills of their current workforce. Insurance company Zurich today announced that it has used the last months to do a detailed analysis of future jobs that could go unfilled by 2024 if its employees are not reskilled today.

It has identified 270 robotics, data science and cyber security jobs that could go unfilled in the next five years if the team is not reskilled for the future. More broadly, it found that two thirds of the UK workforce will see a tenth of their roles augmented in the next five years.

Zurich plans to retrain 3,000 UK employees, two thirds of the workforce, over the next five years to ensure the skills gap is closed. It says that, by anticipating the future impact of technology and providing an extended timeline to do something about it, it will give employees the opportunity to further enhance and develop their careers and could also save the business £1 million in recruitment and redundancy costs.

Zurich has also launched its own Data and Automation Academies and has partnered with the University of Winchester to help develop a three-year Data Science Apprenticeship degree. Over the next months it plans to create a teaching module – ‘A New Mindset: Leading in a Digital Era’ – for managers so that they can inform their teams about how digital upskilling can benefit their current and future careers. It also aims to set up academies in DevOps, Customer & Innovation and Leadership.

The pace of change regarding automation is hotting up and Covid will have speeded things up. Employers who take note and are able to use the next months to face up to the implications of that change for their workforce – and possibly for the wider workforce – will be putting themselves in a better position to withstand future upheavals. We’ve seen very clearly the impact lack of preparation for major change has. Covid has shown that those businesses which were already able to be more agile have been able to run more or less as normal over the last months. Of course, not all organisations can work remotely, but if you can be more agile, it seems to make poor business sense not to adapt.

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