No, intelligent automation isn’t making the human workforce obsolete. To the contrary, these emerging technologies are making people more important to the workforce than ever before—especially technology workers that know how to mesh older systems with new ones.
Witness recent evidence from Deloitte’s latest Global Human Capital Trends survey. Here’s a summary of conclusions from a recent article about the study:
“The jobs of today are more machine-powered and data-driven than in the past, and they also require more human skills in problem-solving, communication, interpretation, and design. As machines take over repeatable tasks and the work people do becomes less routine, many jobs will rapidly evolve into what we call ‘superjobs’—the newest job category that changes the landscape of how organizations think about work.”
So, per Deloitte, we won’t all be working for machines anytime soon. But who will fill these “superjobs?” For many employers across the spectrum of industries, the challenge of finding talent with hard technical skills to develop, implement and maintain automation technologies is daunting enough without finding candidates with the business soft skills to “interpret and design” them at the same time.
Deloitte’s research shows signs of this crisis of confidence, too. About a quarter of respondents in the Deloitte survey reported their organizations have implemented automation to some degree in the form of robotics (e.g., drones and physical robots for manufacturing), cognitive technologies (e.g., machines that understand language and recognize patterns) and/or artificial intelligence (AI) (e.g., machines that make predictions based on large data sets.) Furthermore, eight in 10 respondents expect investment in these emerging technologies to grow.
Yet, little more than a quarter of this same group of respondents answered they were “ready or very ready” to address the impact of these technologies. A fact suggesting, in the words of Deloitte’s analysts that “organizations are now beginning to understand the scale and the massive implications for job design, reskilling, and work reinvention involved in integrating people and automation more extensively across the workforce.”
The timing of this realization is problematic for businesses of every size and shape, as baby boomers in IT fields are retiring faster than their gen X or millennial proteges can replace them. The resulting dynamic: a skills lag for emerging tech just as those skills are needed most.
In other words, a super shortage of superjob skills.
“Diversity of IT” Is the Challenge
“It’s broader than robotics, AI and cognitive technologies,” Joseph Gulla, Ph.D., told me when we discussed the Deloitte study. “The diversity of IT, in general, is an awesome challenge.”
So much happens so fast in so many ways with business technology these days, explains Gulla, a writer and researcher who regularly contributes to Destination z, that he agrees with Deloitte’s premise. What makes a technologist highly employable today is neither hard nor soft skills alone but a combination of the two sets.
“You have to have the technical skill set that matches the job,” he says. “But you need so much more. And the ability to think strategically is part of that.”
As examples of strategic thinking that manages the diversity of modern IT, Gulla cites IT projects that utilize APIs between legacy systems (e.g., mainframes) and emerging technologies like AI. Rather than retiring older systems and replacing them with newer ones, innovative developers create custom solutions that accomplish more than the component systems could individually.
“These solutions are not doing one thing or the other. They’re doing both,” he says. “And I believe that’s a particularly powerful example of coping with legacy skills risk."
Millennial Mainframers: Super Candidates for “Superjobs”
Given Gulla’s example of super skills for the era of superjobs, I shared core arguments from my recent postings:
· Raised in today’s digital environment where balance must be struck between invention and obsolescence not only every year, but at times every few months, weeks or hours, has imbued many millennials with inherent flexibility and adaptability.
· And, this skill set is best for making—and keeping—a 50-year-old foundational technology like the mainframe relevant in the era of AI, smart devices, the cloud and whatever digital revelation comes next.
But having a digital predisposition for strategic and innovative thinking isn’t enough, Gulla counters. To manage the diversity of IT, a technologist must have a diversity of experiences. And if your position isn’t offering many opportunities for working with emerging technologies “you have to speak up,” he says.
“If you think big and you want to do something big, then the enterprise computing space is a wonderful place to be,” counsels Gulla. “There’s no question you can have a bigger impact there than most other places in IT.”
Communications strategist R.C. “Bob” Dirkes, host and producer of the “Technologist Talk” podcast, covers issues confronting the tech workforce of today and tomorrow. Follow him on Twitter @RCDirkes.