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The industrial advancements of the past — from machines enabling mass production to the introduction of computers and automation — have all led to the tipping point we are navigating today.

Organizations of all sizes and across sectors are increasingly adopting advanced digital technologies. This will transform the way we work as drastically as past achievements did a century ago. Leaders need to ensure their organizations can seamlessly navigate these shifts and have the necessary resources to drive the promise of digitization forward.

While businesses had some time to prepare for digital transformation, the pandemic propelled those efforts. In fact, nearly 97% of enterprise decision-makers said they believe the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation efforts.

Yet, there are still leaders who are paralyzed by indecision or simply do not know how to evolve. By making small changes to the way their organizations work, they will be able to shape brighter, more fulfilling futures for employees.

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Shifting the conversation

Another 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs this past spring, according to the U.S. Department of Labor — signaling to leaders everywhere that we need to do better. We need to make the workplace more flexible — and in the industrial sector — we need to remove mundane, repetitive tasks to allow workers to focus on innovation.

One factor that has some leaders holding back their workforce, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is fear. That’s because the conversation around intelligent solutions, advanced automation and digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) has veered off course for far too long.

Nearly 61% of global respondents to a PwC survey said they are worried that automation is putting people’s jobs at risk. Meanwhile, many industrial workers today are stuck handling manual and repetitive tasks that do not benefit them or further their knowledge or expertise in their chosen field.

The fear that is embedded in the conversation about digital evolution needs to change. More than most, Richard Gerver, a well-known author, educator and speaker, is familiar with this difficulty.

“We now need a workforce that are more entrepreneurial, that are more dynamic, more creative, more innovative, more collaborative,” Gerver said. “…but the challenge, the problem in a way, is that we’re still educating people en masse to fill jobs in those factories and in those offices which are largely technical and about routine cognition. And so, we’re starting to see the early stages of a major clash between educated people and the jobs that are available for them…”

Yes, digital technologies will disrupt and transform the types of jobs available, and there may be a decrease in demand for the more mundane jobs. However, there will be a greater increase in more strategic, future-forward positions including data scientists, AI and ML specialists and robotics engineers.

The key here for leaders is to upskill or teach their existing and new employees to be ready for these emerging positions. Leading companies are already doing so by allocating resources and creating training programs, and workers themselves are more than willing to participate.

A Boston Consulting Group survey found that employees’ willingness to retrain exceeds 70% in roles that have experienced pandemic-related disruption and are most at risk of being replaced by technology. Alternatively, those who are not taking steps to realize efficiencies within operations or considering how to best prepare their workers will undoubtedly feel the heat.

People and technology should drive transformation

Once we change the conversations we are having about automation and other advanced technologies — and when there is widespread knowledge of who benefits — then it is time to act.

This stage of digitization — pivoting from concept to creation — can feel overwhelming, and the path forward can look murky, but it is important to start somewhere. The appetite to better equip the workforce to navigate the future is already in full force.

According to an Automation Anywhere report, almost all (95%) of respondents now consider intelligent automation a key component of their transformation strategies. Organizations are extensively incorporating automation into their efforts for digital transformation by centralizing automation planning.

So, where do you start if you haven’t already? Leaders should use two main pillars, people and technology, as their guiding functions to prepare their organizations for the next wave of transformation:

  • People: First and foremost, people should be the organization’s top priority and number one investment. Take the time to listen to and better understand the workforce. What are their actual challenges versus assumed challenges? What are their goals and ambitions, and do they have the resources to get them there? Then, use that information to drive change for the organization. Create the upskilling and reskilling programs needed to provide more opportunities for employees. Take an active role in ensuring their future success and happiness, which can ultimately help to retain top talent. Listen, advocate and act, repeatedly.
  • Technology: Gain a better understanding of the solutions, systems and processes that force the workforce to do repetitive and soul-crushing tasks. Then, say goodbye to those clunky, slow platforms and invest in technologies like automation and digital workers that will make a positive impact for employees and the business. This has been the biggest sticking point for many organizations, but the pace at which technology is advancing, coupled with an increase in competitiveness across sectors, is serving as a forcing function to charge ahead. According to an EY index, nearly three-quarters of executives (72%) acknowledge that they “must radically transform their operations during the next two years to compete effectively in their industry,” up from 62% in 2020.

Now is the time to take it a step further. It is time to move beyond acknowledging the sweeping impact that advanced technologies will have on businesses and employees, and create a culture that embraces the change and allows everyone to experience the benefits of the digital evolution.

Mihir Shukla is the CEO and cofounder of Automation Anywhere.

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