AI will drive reskilling in problem solving, creativity and collaboration

A study from the Economist Intelligence Unit has found that executives do not believe that artificial intelligence will lead to job losses, but staff will need retraining

Uncertainty over security and data privacy represent workers’ main concerns over automation, a study from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has reported.

EIU’s Advance of automation report, based on a survey of 502 executives in Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore, the UK and the US, found that just 9% of respondents said they were not using any automation.

More than half of the people surveyed (51%) said they made extensive use of automation, while 40% were moderate users of it, mainly for automating highly repetitive back-office functions.

However, the EIU found that more than a quarter of respondents (27%) expect automation to create opportunities for professional growth, and a similar number (26%) said they believe it could free up time for more human interaction. Another 37% said they believe automation would serve to increase employee engagement.

However, only 17% said increased employee engagement is an important benefit of automation, while 18% see freeing up employees to take on higher-level roles as an important benefit.

Emily Wasik, thought leadership editor at the EIU, said: “We used to think of robots as the domain of the manufacturing industry, but it’s clear that automation tools are now in widespread operation in businesses across all sectors.

“While the operational benefits of automation – including increased productivity and error reduction – are well-known, the perceived undercutting of the workforce has been a persistent obstacle to adoption.”

The study reported that 42% of the survey respondents believe providing education and reskilling opportunities is among the most important practices they can employ to smooth the implementation of automation.

Manuela Veloso, managing director of AI research at JP Morgan, who was interviewed for the study, said that businesses everywhere should do a better job of educating their workforce about the implications of automation.

The EIU found that the majority of people who took part in the study believe that automation would drive a change in the skillsets that employees will need in the future. The study reported that the types of skills that respondents believe will be most in need revolve around problem-solving, creativity and collaboration.

“Openness to change is also high on their list – an attribute that may prove the most important of all, given the consensus among the experts we interviewed that it is too early to foresee the new roles that AI [artificial intelligence] is likely to create,” the report’s authors noted.

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