Automation Blues

To re-skill or up-skill is no longer the question. Companies are automating more and more jobs that could replace up to 33 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2030 according to a report by McKinsey & Company [view study]. And this is not unique to the U.S., all across the globe and especially in Asia, automation is an opportunity and a challenge.

According to the business scholars John Seely Brown and Peter Denning, “The half-life of a learned skill is 5-years” – this means that much of what you learned 10 years ago is obsolete and half of what you learned five years ago is irrelevant. In Asia where billions still perk in unskilled or low skilled jobs, this is of particular concern. These are the people who are most vulnerable to automation.

Automation can help or hinder global economies.
 Rutgers Business School recently hosted a business community engagement symposium on how organizations and workers can get ahead of the curve. “Lifelong Learning in the Digital Era” brought together experts from Google, McKinsey, LinkedIn, edX, Rutgers and more to offer solutions to companies and individuals on how they can refresh their knowledge and skills and not become irrelevant in the new digital economy. It was an eye opening event.

“The pace of change in technology requires both management and the workforce to keep their skills current,” said Lei Lei, dean of Rutgers Business School. “Otherwise, they will lose out to competitors that have increased their efficiency and stimulated product innovation,” she said.

Across Asia similar programs would help. Economically automation will be a huge boon for businesses as they can cut back on labor costs. However for workers who do repetitive and predictable tasks this means a drop in wages or worse, loss of employment. These people will have to be re-trained to perform different, more highly skilled jobs.

With automation growing faster now is the time for governments, businesses and community leaders to plan for the disruptions ahead.