The key to automation success? Upskilling your workforce

Upskilling programs can help fulfil automation’s productivity potential, saving organisations millions of dollars a year. However, investment in this arena remains low.

Currently, automation does increase productivity to an extent, but the key to reaching its full potential is by an appropriate upskilling of the workforce.

This was the conclusion of Capgemini’s latest report, which also found that in the majority of companies, automation is not yet meeting executives’ desired goals of increased productivity.

The research suggests that enterprises with a 50,000 strong workforce or more, who have advanced in the full-scale running of upskilling programs can expect to save about $90 million more per year than companies that do not upskill or are yet to upskill their employees.

Boosting productivity with automation

When asked to name their main reasons for undertaking automation initiatives, 37% of respondents said it was to improve workforce productivity, the most popular motivation after improving quality (43%).

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Yet, the majority of executives and employees said that automation had not yet improved productivity in their organisation. This was especially marked in Sweden, the United States and China, where automation had failed to enhance employee productivity.

Upskilling unlocks the benefits of automation

Among organisations that combine automation efforts with a clear upskilling program, there optimism surrounding the impact of automation.

In these cases, most employees and a high proportion of executives (46%) said that automation was improving productivity. This was much higher than those organisations that are yet to start full-scale upskilling.

In organisations midway through an upskilling program, employees were more positive than those in the initial phase of upskilling, about career progression, boosted morale and carrying out new responsibilities.

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Claudia Crummenerl, Managing Director, People and Organisation practice at Capgemini Invent said, “Automation offers significant benefits to large organizations, but only if the implementation of technology is matched by the upskilling of people. Too many big companies are lagging in developing training programs and, as this research shows, are not realizing full productivity benefits as a result. There is no question that automation is going to transform the workforce and existing job roles, but the crucial factor is that companies make faster progress to prepare themselves, and their employees, to realize the benefits of automation.”

Upskilling initiatives

Despite the evident importance of upskilling programs, few organisations have a mature initiative in place today.

While 91% of organisations surveyed had either completed or started working on a skilling program, 35% are yet to begin putting in place relevant infrastructure and partnerships. And, 73% have not started a pilot run, and just 10% have begun a full-scale run of upskilling programs for their workforce.

Employees were also critical of some aspects of existing upskilling and learning programs. A clear majority said these programs had not helped them develop the skills to do their work more efficiently, while 54% said the programs had failed to give them skills that would make them more employable.

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The impact of automation on the workforce: An afterthought?

The impact of automation on people is a key consideration that many organisations struggle with, but it is an important first step in automation efforts. Almost 60% of HR and general management executives admit that the impact of automation on the workforce is not a key consideration in their leadership’s automation vision and strategy.

On top of this, organisation leaders are not communicating frequently with their employees on automation initiatives, upskilling plans and emerging roles. Less than half of senior executives (45%) surveyed communicate with their workforce on the organisations’ automation initiatives, their importance and potential impact on workforce.

Eberhard Schroder, Director HR services at ZF Friedrichshafen, a German car parts manufacturer, reinforces, “I believe that change management in adapting the workforce to automation plays at least half the role in making a success of an automation strategy. And communication is a key pillar that change management rests on. Leaders have to come out and communicate from an organization perspective: what are we doing, why are we doing it, and to what extent.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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