Make Way for…Robots?

As robotics and advanced automation make their presence felt in the workplace, reactions among their human co-workers may range from welcoming to fearful. We asked several Boston-area humans for their opinions on this emerging issue.

To see the results of MindEdge’s national survey on robotics and automation in the workplace, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Doing what robots can’t

Finding the Skills You Need to Future-Proof Your Career

By Frank Connolly
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning

A graphic of a robot.

The robots are coming. Now what are you going to do about it?

According to a 2017 report by McKinsey Global Institute, advanced automation—including robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)—could eliminate as many as 73 million jobs in the U.S. by 2030. While some workers displaced by automation can easily switch over into similar tasks, the report concludes that up to 54 million Americans will need to be retrained for entirely new jobs.

What’s the best way to keep from losing your job to a robot? The answer, in a nutshell: make sure you can do things that the robot can’t. While robots and AI can match or even outperform humans in many areas, there are certain skills that they haven’t yet mastered. Identifying the crucial skill sets that separate humans from robots—and improving on those skills sooner rather than later—will give human workers a competitive advantage in the (not so distant) future of work.

To get a handle on what that will mean for American workers, MindEdge Learning recently sponsored a national online survey of 1,000 managers or higher-ranking business leaders. Results of the survey, which was conducted in late January by the polling firm ResearchNow, show that managers believe 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—will be essential to success in the workplace of the future.

Unfortunately, managers say that a lot of today’s workers don’t have these crucial skill sets: fully 40 percent 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. Among managers who express a clear opinion, 32 percent say that soft skills will be more important for future workers, compared to just 20 percent who believe that hard skills will be more important.

Managers in the retail and financial services industries are most likely to say that soft skills are paramount. Managers in the manufacturing sector—which has adopted automation at a higher rate than any other business sector to date—say that hard skills are more important for their workers.

Skills for the future

What specific skills most clearly distinguish humans from robots? Creative thinking tops the list; 30 percent of managers choose critical thinking as one of the three skills that separate humans from automation. Critical thinking is a close second at 29 percent, followed by communication and decision-making, at 21 percent apiece.

When asked which skills will be most important for tomorrow’s workers to have, managers place critical thinking (37 percent) and communication (36 percent) in the top tier, followed by teamwork (26 percent), decision-making (26 percent), and creative thinking (24 percent).

When it comes to providing workers with the skills they need, managers see company-sponsored training programs as essential: 37 percent say that internal training and retraining programs are the most effective way to provide workers with the skills they need to stay employed. Another 26 percent say that continuing education is the best vehicle for skills training.

Either way, workers shouldn’t blithely assume that their current employers will provide them with the training they need to “future-proof” their careers against automation. Only 20 percent of the managers we surveyed think that job training and retraining is primarily the responsibility of the employer. By contrast, a majority (50 percent) says that employers share this responsibility equally with their employees—and another 27 percent say that responsibility for skills training is largely up to the individual employee.

The bottom line: if you’re worried about the threat of workplace automation, it’s time to do something about it. Find a training program at work, take a class at your local community college, or take online courses in the comfort of your home—just do what it takes to get the skills you need to set yourself apart from your automated competition.

Because when the robots get here, you really should be one step ahead of them.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

MindEdge’s Skills for the Future Study finds concern taking hold among portion of U.S. workforce over automation, robots

A graphic of a robot.

Nearly half (42 percent) of American managers say that automation and robotics will lead to a net loss of jobs in their respective industries, compared to just 18 percent who say that automation will help to create jobs, according to a new national study from edtech firm MindEdge Learning. Among managers at companies that have already adopted robotics and automation, a clear majority (52 percent) expect that automation will lead to job losses. At the same time, managers at firms that have not yet adopted robots and automation, report much lower levels of concern; only 15 percent say their employees are concerned about their job prospects over the next five years. The latter finding suggests that employees at non-automated firms may be underestimating technology’s eventual threat to their livelihoods. Conducted by Research Now, MindEdge’s Robomageddon: The Skills for the Future Study probed the attitudes of 1,000 U.S. managers (or higher) about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace, and which skills will future-proof workers’ careers as automation takes root across industries.

The Robots are Coming

The adoption of robots and automation at U.S. firms is at a moderate level, with about one in three managers (33 percent) reporting that their companies have adopted robotics or other forms of advanced automation. Adoption varies across industries, with manufacturing (58 percent) and technology firms (56 percent) adding robotics and automation at the highest rates. The presence of automation is the lowest among retailers at 18 percent. Of note, managers at small businesses (1-99 employees) say their employees feel the least threatened, with 23 percent reporting they’re worried about job security over the next five years. Managers of medium-sized businesses (100-500 employees) report the highest level of concern among their employees (35 percent).

Below is the percentage of managers – broken down by industry – who say their employees are worried about losing their jobs in the next five years:

  • Technology – 45 percent
  • Retail – 38 percent
  • Business products and services – 33 percent
  • Manufacturing – 32 percent
  • Financial services – 29 percent
  • Healthcare – 18 percent
  • Retail – 38 percent

“It’s clear that for workers across most industries, the future of work is in flux. Change is already upon the U.S. workforce with companies tapping automation, artificial intelligence and robotics to become more efficient – and that will present some challenges,” said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge. “We think there are creative ways for workers and companies to make sure they can compete. Learning and training-for both hard and soft skills-lie at the heart of any effective response.”

Critical, Creative Thinking Will Separate Humans from Robots

Overall, managers think that both hard and soft skills are needed in their workers. Yet about 40 percent of managers report that their employees are currently lacking in both areas. The question of how employees can stand out from their automated counterparts is a complicated one – but overall, creative and critical thinking were identified as the two skills that most clearly distinguish humans from robots.

Below are the soft skill sets that will likely separate humans from robots, per the findings:

  • Creative thinking – 30 percent
  • Critical thinking – 29 percent
  • Communication – 21 percent
  • Decision making – 21 percent
  • Negotiation – 20 percent

Training for the Future

There’s no doubt that training, especially for companies that have already implemented robotics and automation, is key to preparing workers for the future. Thirty-seven percent of managers cited internal training or retraining as the most effective way to provide workers with the skills they need to stay employed. Continuing education is seen as the second most effective method to provide workers with new skills, per 26 percent of managers.

Managers are divided when it comes to identifying who is primarily responsible for providing skills training. Twenty-seven percent believe that this is the responsibility of employees and 20 percent believe it is the responsibility of employers. Half (50 percent) believe that this is the responsibility of both employees and employers.

“It’s interesting that there seems to be employees in certain industries who are less aware of the very real threat of technology. For example, few healthcare workers are concerned about their job security, despite the fact that automation is happening at a rapid pace in that field,” said Frank Connolly, a senior editor at MindEdge, who oversaw the research. “Identifying the crucial skill sets that will separate human from robot – and improving on those skills sooner rather than later – is what will provide the competitive advantage in the (not so distant) future of work.”

About the Methodology

MindEdge’s Robomageddon: The Skills for the Future Study was conducted online during the last week of January 2018. The sample included 1,000 U.S. residents employed as manager or a higher job title, employed at organizations with 20 or more employees. Respondents were at least 18 years of age.

About MindEdge

MindEdge, a learning company based in Waltham, provides leadership, management, communication and educational solutions for organizations to help them meet their objectives. Founded in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators, MindEdge specializes in higher education and professional development content and technology solutions and continues to innovate in the rapidly changing landscape of online education. The company’s webtexts feature narrative, interactive learning case studies and simulations, as well as adaptive learning technology to maximize learner mastery of the content.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.