Robotics and advanced automation continue to outperform humans in the workplace, and technology workers expect to see increased job losses, according to the second annual national study from edtech firm MindEdge/Skye Learning. More than half of U.S. managers (58 percent) say that robots perform “higher quality work” than humans and almost half (49 percent) expect that automation will lead to more job losses in the next five years.
But the survey also provides encouraging news for workers looking for ways to protect their jobs against encroaching automation. Managers identify an array of “soft skills” – including creativity, communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking – that clearly differentiate humans from robots in the workplace, and they see in-person and online training as the best ways for workers to gain these skills to “future-proof” their careers.
Conducted by Qualtrics, MindEdge/Skye Learning’s second annual Robomageddon: Future of Work 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.
More Companies Turn to Robots and AI
Close to half (41 percent) of American businesses have adopted robotics or advanced automation in the last five years, an 8 percent increase from 2018. This figure is substantially higher in the technology sector (74 percent). And automation has led to job losses for workers, especially in the technology sector; roughly one in four (26 percent) technology managers at firms that have adopted robotics or AI report that “many workers” at their companies have lost jobs due to the new technology.
But the same proportion (26 percent) of technology managers say that robotics and automation have created jobs within their organization. This finding suggests that the use and scale of robotics and automation is still evolving across the technology industry, as it experiences a mix of job loss and job creation.
Are Robots Better Workers?
As robotics and automation increase across U.S. businesses, more than half of U.S. managers (58 percent) feel that the new technology performs higher quality work than humans. Even as many businesses have turned to robotics or advanced automation as a way to reduce costs, 65 percent of U.S. managers would opt to keep the same level of robots and automation even if cost benefits weren’t realized.
Looking to the future, about a quarter of the managers in the survey expect to see “many workers” at their companies lose their jobs to automation in the next one to five years. This sentiment is particular high in the retail sector (37 percent), and markedly lower in the healthcare sector (15 percent).
Another 25 percent of managers expect to see modest job losses at their companies due to automation, and 27 percent expect that there will be no net job loss. Only 10 percent think that a significant number of new jobs will be created.
As U.S. managers increasingly see the value in robots and their ability to produce high quality work, workers’ concerns about their own job security have not yet reached a critical level. Only a third (33 percent) of managers say their employees are “very” or “fairly” concerned about being displaced by technology in the next year, and just 38 percent say their workers are worried about losing their jobs in the next five years.
Considering their own job prospects, just 29 percent of managers are “very” or “fairly” concerned about being displaced by technology. Levels of concern, however, vary significantly according to age:
- “Very concerned” – highest in ages 18-24, lowest in ages 55-64
- “Fairly concerned” – highest in ages 18-24, lowest in ages 55-64
- “Somewhat concerned” – highest in ages 18-24, lowest in ages 35-44
- “Not at all concerned” – highest in ages 55-64, lowest in ages 18-24
“As robotics and automation continue to reshape the American workplace, upskilling and continuous learning have never been more valuable,” said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge Learning. “While the rise of AI may not render certain roles or skill sets entirely obsolete, we have already seen its impact in the workforce. Business leaders must continue to prioritize training to equip their workforce for tomorrow.”
Human Interaction and Empathy are Irreplaceable
While almost one-third (29 percent) of U.S. managers worry that robots could someday do their job, the majority of managers (52 percent) feel their work is immune to the impact of technology and automation. Among those “immune managers,” fully 50 percent of managers say they feel irreplaceable because robots cannot emulate the human interaction and empathy that their job requires.
Mirroring the 2018 survey results, one-third (31 percent) of managers continue to report that their jobs are immune to the impact of technology because they are specialized and require training, human intelligence and critical thinking.
The skills perceived to be least affected by robots and automation are most commonly soft skills, including creative thinking and communication. Nearly half of U.S. managers believe employees at their company lack hard (46 percent) and soft (48 percent) skills, an overall increase from 2018. U.S. managers report that the following soft skills clearly separate humans from robots:
- Creative thinking – 36 percent
- Communication – 30 percent
- Complex problem solving – 21 percent
- Critical thinking – 20 percent
- Decision-making – 19 percent
- Teamwork – 19 percent
Training for Tomorrow’s Workforce
American companies continue to prioritize training their workforce for the future, and 68 percent of managers report that internal, in-person training is the most effective method to equip employees for the changing workforce. In addition to in-person training, more than one-third (36 percent) of managers say that online courses are the best tool to prepare employees for the future of work.
Despite the impact of automation on technology careers, 89 percent of technology workers say they are optimistic about their career advancement because of the value of continuous learning. Fully 69 percent of technology workers find it “very valuable” to engage in continuous learning to gain new skills for the evolving workforce.
“It’s clear that our workforce is in flux, as more than half of today’s managers see their jobs as being immune to robotic advancement, yet they also report both hard and soft skills lacking at their company,” said Sandra Slager, president of Skye Learning and chief operating officer of MindEdge Learning. “It’s important for managers to harness and cultivate these skills – such as creative thinking, communication and complex problem solving – that separate humans from robots.”
The survey results follow the launch of Skye Learning’s new robotics course earlier this month. MindEdge Learning offers courses in robotics and artificial intelligence, including new courses in “Intro to Robotics,” examining the differences between machine learning, visual recognition and different applications across diverse industries.
About the Methodology
MindEdge/Skye Learning’s Robomageddon: Future of Work Study was conducted online the first week of February, 2019. The sample included 1,047 U.S. residents employed as manager or a higher job title, working at organizations with 20 or more employees. Respondents were at least 18 years of age.