How do businesses automate responsibly?

It's not as easy as throwing a switch – businesses must consider people first for 'responsible' automation.
10 March 2020

Responsible automation means putting people first. Source: Shutterstock

Technology has evolved to a point where automation isn’t hard to roll out, in the office or the shop floor. 

For most organizations, automation is simple, requires a comparatively low investment, and delivers faster results – compared to more sophisticated technologies such as artificial intelligence or even big data analytics.

However, the reality is that automation of any kind puts a bulk of the staff in any organization at risk. They not only fear losing their job but could also become obsolete if the industry decides to automate a certain job function or task altogether in order to stay competitive at a local or global level.

Shunning automation in the interest of helping employees isn’t a good idea either – it could damage the efficiency of a specific industry, making it vulnerable to imports from overseas produced cheaply, with the help of automation.

To help businesses navigate the challenge and allow its leaders to walk the tightrope, protecting people as well as profits, the UK’s Business in the Community (BITC UK) – an organization created by the Prince of Wales to support responsible businesses – partnered with Deloitte.

Together, the two organizations came up with a study outlining how businesses could go about automating responsibly.

The report is chiefly focused on the skilling of employees to enable them to stay employed for the foreseeable future. Here are three of the most important things for organizations to remember:

# 1 | Plan for reskilling

There’s a lot involved in the planning phase, especially when it comes to employees.

When an organization decided to go the automation route, they need to assess the kinds of jobs that will be eliminated and map out the skills and interests of the displaced staff. 

They must then assess the organization’s overall transformation agenda to identify the new skills that will be needed to help the organization thrive in the digital era.

At this stage, the organization can match interests and skills of displaced employees to the portfolio of new skills required. They can then craft reskilling programs that make an impact quickly and help the organization’s people transition seamlessly.

# 2 | Encourage employees to reskill

Despite the best efforts and intentions of an organization, it is often hard to encourage employees to reskill because they have their own inhibitions.

Some members of staff, especially the ones close to retirement or looking to retire in the next decade, have a tendency to believe that acquiring a new skill or learning something new poses a real challenge. 

Although there’s some truth to that, the reality is that making the effort is necessary and if the individual’s skills and interests are matched appropriately to new and more relevant skillsets, the chances of their success go up significantly.

Organizations making the effort to reskills staff that will be displaced as a result of automation need to be empathetic and offer all the support, help, and encouragement they possibly can.

# 3 | Help staff develop the right skills

In any upskilling or reskilling program, it’s crucial to ensure that skills are being taught to displaced employees result in them finding new jobs immediately, within or outside the organization.

Failing to do so could negatively impact the first batch of staff undergoing training and dampen the spirits of future batches looking to upskill or reskill themselves.

Organizations therefore need to be very careful, not only in finding new skills that can be picked up easily by staff based on their interests but also ensure that those skills (ideally) match the organizations’ immediate needs in the digital era so that staff can be retained in the long term.

Ultimately, the reality is that employees need new skills to be able to hold a job in the future. 

Since picking up new skills are hard, and making sense of what skills could be important and also match an individual’s specific interests, any and every support that a business provides will go a long way – automating responsibly to protect employees as well as profits.