Automation Approaches

Automation Approaches

Changes are coming for a lot of companies and they’re coming fast. Advances in things like artificial intelligence, automation, and advanced manufacturing seem to make headlines almost every day with groundbreaking new announcements about their potential to change the very nature of human productivity. It sounds like it’s going to be amazing, but it’s also got a lot of practical folks concerned. Big change brings big disruption, in the interim at least. And that disruption is projected to be higher for heartland states than our national neighbors.

Indiana, in particular, is ranked among the states with the highest automation potential, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. A state’s automation potential is based upon how many of its workers’ tasks are routine or able to be performed by technology and the state’s employment distributions, education levels, and industrial profiles. Every state will be impacted – the report shows only a 6-percentage point gap between the most and least affected states – but Indiana is among those near the top.

Roughly half (48.7 percent) of Indiana’s overall employment-weighted task load is susceptible to automation, potentially. If you break things down further to look at county-level impacts, Indiana regions can be included with only three other areas nationally as being among the most at risk for task automation.

Across county-level regions, northern Ohio and Indiana, Wisconsin, as well as the Upper South (referring to northern portions of several southern states) all stand out as especially exposed to current task disruption from future automation technologies, the report’s authors noted. Counties like Elkhart and LaGrange, for example, have large numbers of workers in the manufacturing and transportation sectors that each have high potential for automation.

That has a lot of business leaders asking about what they should be doing today to get ready for the shift. What kinds of adjustment strategies should they begin using?


To Prepare, Get Flexible

Several of the major economic policy recommendations contained in the report were overarching concepts intended mostly for legislators and academia, but several were specific strategies that companies can take to lessen the impact. It’s important to note that automation isn’t going to involve robots coming to take over the jobs of workers. The trend is much more likely to involve the elimination of certain tasks and the creation of others. So, in that regard, one of the best things that companies can do is to instill adaptability into its workforce.

“Workers [will need] to develop a constant learning mindset and use it to work both with machines, and in ways machines cannot,” the report said. “That means workers will need to take a new approach to learning and skills development.”

The report outlined three key things companies should focus on to promote constant learning:

  • Invest in reskilling workers.
    Training is always a good investment for any company, usually leading to increased productivity and/or new capabilities. The report suggested the new broad availability in online courses is an effective way for employers to construct education that targets the skills most relevant to their operations. Programs that include time for training during worker shifts eliminate many of the hurdles workers face when obtaining new skills. Also, remember, the state of Indiana has training grants in place that many companies could qualify for to offset the investment.
  • Work together to expand accelerated learning.
    Workers that will need an ever-changing set of skills are also going to need a faster track for obtaining certifications to provide evidence of those skills. To achieve this, new collaborations will be needed between businesses, education, government, and nonprofits. Companies are encouraged to join the process and provide insights that can help build training programs.
  • Focus on building soft skills.
    One of the elements that will help employers redeploy workers to new functions will be soft skills – creativity, ingenuity, human interaction, and persistence – that will all lead to greater flexibility throughout periods of change. To achieve this, training is going to have to be a lot different. Rather than just providing information, training should focus on developing interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

    “Social skills may well be in greater demand in the near future than narrower technical skills such as programming,” authors wrote. “The training and education system will now need to both support learning in new ways, constantly over time, while focusing especially on the uniquely human work the machines cannot do.”

Adapt and Overcome

Lots of changes are coming to the ways work gets done, so companies are going to have to make lots of changes to the way they train. Automation is not the outright elimination of jobs, but it will probably be replacing lots of routine tasks, so workers will need to be flexible enough to overtime new challenges.

Change is never easy, and big change is even more difficult. The time to start getting your company ready is right now.