Workers at risk of losing their jobs due to RPA are now joined by employers at risk of losing talent…

With the labor crunch and Great Resignation emerging as one of the more pressing challenges facing governments and organizations today, digital transformation (DX)—including the accelerated adoption of intelligent automation and robotics—is a key enabler and digital lubricant to smooth out operational kinks and strengthen corporate resilience.

As CIOs take the reins of digitalization and automation to develop enterprise-level approaches to modern pandemic-era challenges, new types of jobs are being created. According to a recent report by IDC, tens of millions of jobs focused on supporting robotic process automation (RPA) will have been created globally by 2025, which translates to economic benefits amounting up to US$55bn.

With this development, we now have a conundrum where DX indirectly led to labor shortages and migratory movements around the world, but it is also automation and RPA that creates stop-gap fixes and long-term solutions to the problems.

So, while digital-liberated workers are now demanding hybrid working options before they will even remain in their jobs, other workers with less digital savviness are at risk of being made redundant. While hordes of talent take the opportunities created in the digital economy to migrate to new fields or try out new work experiences, they leave gaps that require urgent bridging but HR teams are facing difficulties in hiring talent with the right skills sets and interests. Yet, Great Resignation or otherwise, DX is creating even more career opportunities as the world grapples with the challenges of rushed digitization amid geopolitical tensions, supply chain woes, cyber risks and military conflicts.

To delve deeper into the conundrum, the team took the opportunity to interview a representative of the RPA movement—Wong Wen-Ming, Vice President and Managing Director, South-east Asia, UiPath.

DigiconAsia: How can the region’s at-risk workforce—the elderly, the untrainable, the tech-averse or robot-averse workers—take advantage of automation to fill new roles and expectations upon being made redundant? 

Wen-Ming (WM): Enterprises today are investing in automation to alleviate the labor crunch facing their organizations. While the majority of workforces has adapted quickly to the change, there is a segment of the workforce that may need help transitioning into new roles and expectations. 

To support these workers, business leaders will need to convey the value of automation to the workforce, in terms of driving efficiency and productivity. They will also need to stress that automation does not take away jobs, but rather, offers the workforce an opportunity to level up and take on higher-value roles.

As automation takes over tedious, manual tasks such as data entry, workers-at-risk can take up more strategic work that enables them to grow professionally and create/meet new career aspirations.  

The resolve to undergo training and upskilling will be essential. The workforce will need to develop a mindset of continuous learning and nurture in-demand technical and soft skills, to help them keep pace with the rapid technological and job changes. 

Despite their individual unique circumstances that are putting their jobs at risk, workers who are falling behind can take advantage of many training program and resources from both governments and employers alike, to help upskill and reskill.

DigiconAsia: RPA has its limitations and bugs and weaknesses: so at-risk workers can sometimes fixate on these issues in an irrational way to justify their perceived value and reluctance to be made redundant. Can you cite some scenarios to convince ‘automation deniers’ and skeptics to accept rather than reject the unstoppable trend and adopt a growth mindset towards upgrading and reskilling themselves?

Wong Wen-Ming, Vice President and Managing Director, South-east Asia, UiPath

WM: Automation has never been a static category: rapid growth, constant innovation, broader adoption are all baked into its DNA. Today’s AI, however, is nowhere near smart enough to create workflows autonomously. Automation developers are still required to tell robots what to do in a step-by-step process that may consume a large amount of their time. 

To address this, the industry is working towards ‘semantic automation’, where robots can simply observe an activity and begin to emulate it without being fed step-by-step instructions. They will recognize the process, understand what data is required, and know where to retrieve them. Through this, automation developers can move away from rules-based approaches and focus on other more meaningful business problems.

Another way is through cultivating citizen developers and putting the technological know-how of designing automations into the hands of non-technical users. This can reduce the pressure on automation developers, freeing up their time to focus on advanced automations for the business.

DigiconAsia: Even in areas where the human touch is expected, robots have been endowed with simulation capabilities featuring realistic audio/visual/tactile responses. This adds to people’s fear of being made redundant. 

WM: Advancements in AI and ML can empower software robots to become more intelligent and more conversational, but nothing quite replaces human-to-human interaction in contact centers just yet.

Still, software robots are playing an increasingly significant role in improving the customer service experience. During a call, customer service agents often need to switch between multiple systems to retrieve information, which makes it harder to focus on the caller. Software automation can help to collate the information from different systems and present it in a single interface, allowing the agent to shorten the waiting time and provide a better service experience for the customer.

That said, RPA exists to help human customer service agents do more than address callers’ needs—but it cannot yet replace the empathy and intuition that well-trained human agents offer.

DigiconAsia: Despite efforts by employers to help at-risk workers, there will be talent that fall through the cracks, and shrewd business owners may not care: in your opinion, can employers do more to take a human-oriented, win-win proposition on behalf of humans when implementing intelligent automation? 

WM: Ultimately, employees are an organization’s most valuable assets, and taking care of employee satisfaction needs to be an organizational priority. 

Automation can help organizations satisfy employees’ well-being needs by alleviating their workplace frustration and exhaustion. According to our research of office workers, more than half of respondents in Singapore, India, and Australia felt like much of their workday is eaten up by tasks that can be automated. Such repetitive, menial tasks can often leave employees drained of mental energy, resulting in employee fatigue and burnout.

However, automation is not a silver bullet, as there are many other factors at play. Organizations will need to take a holistic approach to address the labor conundrum and keep employees happy at work. On top of implementing intelligent automation, they can provide employees with flexibility as to where they can work from, grant them more independence at work, and conduct frequent check-ins with them to make sure their voices are heard.

DigiconAsia thanks Wen-Mind for sharing his insights. The unstoppable global drive to solve problems with RPA/DX is a given, and whether workers view and react to this growing tide of change with a growth mindset or antiquated mentality will determine the fate of their careers.