Published on November 11th, 2019 | by Emergent Enterprise0
Workers Are Worried Robots Will Steal Their Jobs. Here’s How to Calm Their Fears.
Even though companies have tried to ease tensions among employees regrading artificial intelligence, the anxiety still exists. People think AI will replace them. Anne Fisher reports at Fortune on how firms like PwC are meeting those concerns. A strong case can be made that AI will ultimately create more jobs than it replaces and the ones that it replaces are dull and monotonous. It’s up to each business to reskill or upskill their workers to move in to new roles not only smoothly but with a sense of optimism that their new roles are valuable.
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What do employees really think about the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning in their workplaces? The impact of the rising tide of workplace technology is one of the most-researched HR topics in years, yet recent studies are loaded with contradictions.
Take, for example, Blumberg Capital’s recent survey of 1,000 American adults that found about half are ready to embrace new tech, while the other half are scared it will take away their jobs. One startling finding: Most people (72%) understand that A.I. is intended to cut out the boring, repetitive parts of what they do, freeing them up to focus on more complex and interesting tasks. Even so, 81% are so fearful of being replaced that they’re unwilling to hand over their drudge work to an algorithm.
“Our employees have expressed worries. They’ve asked me, ‘How much of my job will be automated away?'” notes Joe Atkinson, chief digital officer at consulting, tax, and audit giant PwC. “Change creates a ton of anxiety, not only about people’s future livelihood, but also about their ability to keep up with the demands of the jobs they have now.”
The problem is, people don’t learn much (if anything) when they’re worried—and PwC, like most companies now, needs employees to stay focused on absorbing a myriad of new tech skills as quickly as possible. Two years ago, the company launched a campaign to train its entire workforce of more than 276,000 employees worldwide, at an estimated cost of over $3 billion over the next three years.
The investment seems to be paying off. Starting with an app called Digital Fitness that measures their current tech acumen, tens of thousands of staffers have pursued training customized for them, and many have reached several big milestones. By this past July, for instance, 85% of PwC’s employees worldwide—or almost 235,000 people—had successfully applied their new digital know-how to hypothetical challenges in a simulation course called Digital Quest.
Along the way, the firm has managed to tame employees’ tech worries, especially about A.I. and machine learning, in three main ways.
Addressing the issue head-on
PwC’s senior management team realized that simply ignoring employees’ uneasiness was unlikely to make it go away. So, to announce PwC’s upskilling plans in October of 2017, senior partner and CEO Tim Ryan delivered a webcast to about 50,000 employees in the U.S. and Mexico.
Ryan’s main message, since reiterated countless times throughout the firm: The big push to provide employees with the tech skills to help them thrive—whether at PwC or, eventually, their next employer—”leaves no one behind,” Atkinson says. “The program is designed to give every single person here the tools they’ll need in the future.”