Report: Employees Aim to Prepare for Robots by Learning New Skills

New survey finds workers willing to retrain to prepare for the future of work

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright September 19, 2017
Report: Employees Aim to Prepare for Robots by Learning New Skills

As artificial intelligence and automation continue to replace jobs, a new study found that three-quarters of U.S. employees say they're ready to learn new skills to remain employable.

Some 10,000 people from China, Germany, India, the U.S. and the U.K. were surveyed in the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report Workforce of the Future: The Competing Forces Shaping 2030. PwC said it surveyed over 1,500 members of the general U.S. population to obtain data specific to the U.S.

The study's results were released Sept. 12. London-based PwC, a network of firms in 157 countries, delivers advisory and tax services.

"Talent is a critically important resource, and half of U.S. workers say the future world of work is full of possibilities," said Jeff Hesse, principal and U.S. people and organization co-leader at PwC.

With 38 percent of U.S. jobs at risk of being replaced by robots or automation, the study reports, the study's authors say the survey respondents' views "reinforce the need for both businesses and the workforce at large to focus on building the skill sets needed to keep up with technology's impact on jobs and the workplace."

"Now is the time for companies to focus on ensuring their workforce has the uniquely human skills required to thrive in the future world of work, including problem-solving, leadership, emotional intelligence, empathy and creativity," Hesse said.

As SHRM Online reported last year, the jobs "most endangered by automation are travel agent, meter reader, flight attendant, lumberjack, librarian and newspaper reporter."

There are many possible scenarios for what work will look like by 2030, and workers aren't the only ones who need to be ready.

"There is no way to know how the world will look in 2030, but businesses and employees must

prepare now for the way the workplace might be shaped over the coming decade," said Scott

Olsen, principal and U.S. people and organization tax leader at PwC. "Retraining and

reskilling will be critical to harnessing the benefits of technological change."


[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Downsizing by Means of Layoffs]


The report also showed that:

With automation expected to cause a massive rebalancing of work, the outlook is

still largely positive: Some 73 percent of U.S. respondents said they believed that technology will improve their job prospects in the future. Globally, workers are similarly optimistic: Nearly

three-quarters (73 percent) believe technology will never replace the human mind, and the

majority (86 percent) said human skills will always be in demand, according to a news release.

Concerns, however, remain: 38 percent of U.S. respondents said they believe automation will put their jobs at risk.

● How to manage the impact of technology and automation on work remains unclear: Over half of global respondents (56 percent) said governments must protect jobs from


Even with increased automation, HR professionals will still need to hire people.

"You will still be hiring human talent for the foreseeable future," Tom Davenport told attendees at the Human Capital Institute's 2017 Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference in Boston earlier this summer. Davenport is co-founder of the International Institute for Analytics and the President's Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College.

As SHRM Online reported, a study from McKinsey Global Institute released earlier this year found that fears that technology will eliminate entire occupations may be blown out of proportion.

"Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are ushering in a new age of automation, as machines match or outperform human performance in a range of work activities, including ones requiring cognitive capabilities," the study report authors wrote. However, they concluded that less than 5 percent of all jobs are in danger of being completely replaced by automation.


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