Automation and Work – trends to watch

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When it comes to automation and work, no-one knows with complete certainty what’s going to happen in the future. This applies when it comes to exactly how the nature of work will change as cheaper and extremely powerful technology comes to permeate almost every aspect of our daily lives.

However we do know that things will change, and we can identify likely trends. Research institutes can look at how technology is augmenting or replacing routine manual and cognitive work tasks, and how trends are likely to continue and accelerate.

Where the real uncertainty starts is when we look at possible outcomes of these trends. Will jobs be lost and not replaced? Will lots of new jobs be created so that there are enough for everyone? Will people have the right skills? Will the lack of skills slow down the growth of and access to new jobs? How quickly will things change? We don’t know.

What we can do is look at some of the research out there, become informed, start a conversation about what skills and competencies might be needed, what this means for our students, teachers, schools, learning systems, communities and societies.

How will automation change the work that people do?

The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 is a research paper that uses a unique methodology (including machine learning) to predict the demand for skills in the UK and US in the year 2030. It concludes which occupations are likely to grow or decline to varying degrees of certainty, and produces what the authors believe are a series of actionable skills, highlighting the importance and growth of 21st Century Skills and certain knowledge fields. The conclusions on Page 110 provide an excellent summary of the research, along with an explanation of risks and opportunities.

The digital future of work: What will automation change? from McKinsey is an interview series filmed at the Digital Future of Work Summit in New York, and a transcript is provided. The interviewees agree that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has already started and that jobs will change dramatically, but have different perspectives about potential positive and negative outcomes.

Harnessing automation for a future that works is another McKinsey piece that argues that while automation is inevitable, it won’t happen overnight and in the medium term humans and machines will probably work alongside one another, and those workers whose jobs are lost will probably find other employment.

The Future of Work. Technology Will Kill Your Job. Here’s How. from is fairly unequivocal about the risks posed to human work posed by automation, and argues that while it’s not all bad news human adaptability and new economic approaches will be essential to overcome societal challenges.

Are you prepared for a future of tech-driven job disruption? Chances are, you’re on your own is a South China Morning Post opinion piece based on the WEC 2018 Future of Jobs Report (below) and a SCMP workshop the author attended. He accepts that work is changing rapidly and is concerned about who is responsible for up-skilling workers – companies or the workers themselves?

Automation: The exaggerated threat of robots takes an African perspective of this issue, and argues that due to very low labour costs, a difficult digital/technical environment and global productivity African jobs are safe from automation for now, and the threat has been overstated.

And to conclude this section we have a presentation titled Technology at Work: The future of Automation by Michael A Osbourne which takes a broad, visual approach to emerging trends in areas such as machine learning, current impact on different industries, the importance of social intelligence, and how automation can create jobs.

What practices are emerging in response to automation and disruption of work?

Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation from McKinsey examines potential labour market disruptions from innovation and potential sources of new labour demand, together with implications for skills and wages. It’s a large body of work, so have a look at the brief and summary of findings near the start. Key findings include:

  • the significant benefits of AI and robotics 
  • that about half of all human activities have the potential to be automated 
  • the demand for work by humans could actually increase 
  • huge workforce changes are ahead  
  • income polarisation could grow 
  • the importance of worker retraining

4 Key Practices for Up-skilling Workers In The Age Of Digital Transformation from Forbes looks at the responsibility of companies to up-skill their workers. Suggestions include the use of AR and VR to engage in learning, personalised learning, helping employees build new work patterns as a result of learning, and linking the training to return on investment.

21 Jobs of the Future – A guide to getting – and staying – employed over the next ten years is a white paper from Cognizant that proposes 21 new jobs that will emerge over the next 10 years based on all major observable macroeconomic trends in the world today. Visual, well-written, informative and persuasive, this is a must-read.

From the World Economic Forum (WEF)

The WEF is a gold mine of information about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how work is changing. There is an extensive global research body and frequent reports that are easy to read. See these examples about work and automation below.

How future-proof are your skills? – the results of an Instagram Q&A about skills and jobs for the future.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the factories of the future – how 4IR is fundamentally transforming production.

Here are 5 ways for workers to win in the robot age – how the jobs landscape is changing, and recommendations for all stakeholders.

5 things to know about the future of jobs – key information from The Jobs Landscape in 2022.

In the future of work it’s jobs, not people, that will become redundant – why we need to learn, unlearn and relearn throughout our lives.

The Future of Jobs Report 2018 – a summary of the latest research and likely trends in work to the year 2022.

Further to these examples, we have two interesting articles via about the effects of AI and automation on jobs. The first is from, which shares how Deutsche Bank is replacing many of its back office functions with AI as part of a restructure. The second is a photo essay about how repetitive warehouse tasks at Amazon are now being done by robots, and how human jobs have changed as a result. There are some interesting perspectives shared, with some workers feeling that the boring tasks of the past have now been replaced with something more meaningful with responsibility – ie looking after the robots. Others state the automation has led to net job creation within the company, as improved productivity has allowed it to expand. Others believe it will start to slow in the future.

The net results of this is that jobs are already being replaced, and as technology improves the pace will quicken. Are our education systems flexible and responsive enough to recognise what’s happening? Will people and companies be prepared?

AI and Automation Updates

This next update is an interview with Andrew Ng, a pioneer in Artificial Intelligence. He founded Google Brain and two other AI startups, and shares his thoughts on trends within AI and why the technology is here to stay. Key insights are:

  • AI Will Be Wired in Like Electricity – as ubiquitous as electricity and the Internet. 
  • A Conditional Basic Income Could Combat Job Loss – he emphasises the term conditional, due to dignity in work and the opportunity to retrain. 
  • We’ll Need to Change Education (With Help From Employers) – lifelong learning and up-skilling will be essential, and businesses will have a key role to play. 
  • Automation Will Show Up at the Doctor’s Office and Beyond – AI will be everywhere. 
  • AI Winter Is Not Coming… – investment in AI will continue and grow. 
  • …but Our Timelines Are Too Rosy – AI won’t develop human-like intelligence anytime soon, and CEOs often paint an overly-optimistic view of its potential and power.

Robots and AI are penetrating every sector of the economy. In many sectors, workers cost $36 an hour and robots $4 per hour to operate. To remain competitive, businesses are starting to have no choice but to automate. The New York Times examines the pros and cons of automation, and provides a good overview of current trends and opportunities. Some excerpts:

“Over the next decade, the biggest job losses will most likely affect low-skilled workers performing repetitive tasks, like machine operators, assembly line workers, dishwashers, drivers and preparers of fast food. Certain white-collar areas, like data entry, accounting and payroll, will suffer as well.”

This is consistent with the research and articles we read and share.

Demand, however, will probably surge for data analysts, software developers, web designers, IT experts, e-commerce specialists, health care providers, entrepreneurs and social media experts, according to the World Economic Forum report. Sectors that involve human skills, like sales, marketing, customer service and even art and entertainment, will also be in high demand, the report said.​

Consistent again, especially with WEF reports being referenced.

“While new jobs will offset losses, retraining and education will be critical. As many as 375 million workers globally will need to change job categories and learn new skills to survive the transition.”

Learning will be key.

To finish, a quick note that the world’s first fully automated AI-powered robot warehouse has opened in Shanghai. The article largely looks at the work of Mujin, an industrial robot manufacturer and its founder’s (Rosen Diankov) vision of standardising total automation. He is optimistic of the potential of automation to become a net work creator for people, but argues that cultural perceptions are powerful:

“In the U.S., robot technology is often undervalued and directly compared to the value of human workers.”-Rosen Diankov, co-founder and CTO, Mujin

In related news, Amazon is reducing its holiday season workforce this year, largely due to automation of its warehouses. One could argue that in this case at least, automation might not be the net jobs creator some claim it to be.

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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