Boston has become an increasingly sought-after location for tech businesses: corporate giants such as Amazon and Verizon are eyeing our city, following the lead of GE, Wayfair, DraftKings and Akamai. While these companies will undoubtedly create job opportunities for the city’s talented tech workforce, the outlook isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. If current trends hold, some – and most likely quite a few – of those new jobs could one day be filled by robots.
MindEdge Learning recently commissioned an online poll of 1,000 managers (or higher rank) about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace. The survey, conducted by ResearchNow during the last week of January, also looked at the types of skills that workers will need to future-proof their careers as automation takes root across industries.
According to the findings, nearly half (42 percent) of managers expect that automation and robotics will lead to a net loss of jobs in their respective industries. The survey also found that 56 percent of technology companies have already begun adding robotics and advanced automation; put those two facts together, and it’s clear that a lot of tech jobs will likely be taken by AI and related technologies.
These figures raise a crucial question for Boston’s tech talent: how can they arm themselves with the skills they’ll need to future-proof themselves and remain competitive with their soon-to-be robotic coworkers?
Skills That Separate Us from Robots
The findings paint an uncertain picture for many young professionals in the tech industry. The good news: there are skills that human workers can hone which will help them stand out, survive, and thrive in competition against robots and AI. According to managers nationwide, a mix of two very separate skill sets — hard skills, such as computer programming and data analytics, as well as soft skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving — is the golden ticket.
Now the bad news: a lot of today’s workers don’t have these crucial skill sets. Indeed, fully 40 percent of managers report that their employees currently lack skills in both of these areas. And, while job prospects obviously need to show they’re proficient in the hard skills required for the job at hand, it’s the soft skills that will really set them apart from their automated counterparts. The majority of those at the manager level or higher believe that creative and critical thinking will most clearly distinguish humans from robots; other key differentiators include communication, decision-making, and negotiation skills.
Skills Training: Who is Responsible?
Don’t panic if you’re worried that you’re not proficient in critical thinking or decision-making skills – a robot isn’t about to sweep in and displace you (at least not yet). Corporations that are implementing robotics and advanced automation in the workplace are aware that re-training or some form of continuing education is needed to prepare employees for the future. In fact, 37 percent of managers cite internal training or retraining as the most effective way to provide workers with the skills they need to stay employed; continuing education ranks second on the list, at 26 percent.
Managers are, however, divided on the question of who’s responsible for providing this skills training. Twenty-seven percent believe that employees are primarily responsible for their own skills training, and just 20 percent believe that employers are primarily. The other 50 percent believe that training should be a joint endeavor, with both employees and employers sharing responsibility for skill building.
For tech talent on the hunt for new positions, then, it obviously behooves them to work on improving their skills – both hard and soft – to ensure that they’re presenting themselves in the best possible light.
All signs point towards Boston continuing to grow as a tech hub. As robotics and automation continue to play a larger workplace role in the industry, the time has come for veteran tech employees, and fresh talent alike, to be flexible and willing to learn the skills necessary to set themselves apart from their automated counterparts – before the robots arrive.