People have been worried about technology replacing human jobs for hundreds of years. One example often discussed is the impact of the power loom on textile workers in the early 1800s. Its existence automated the most basic and time consuming steps of operating a loom, but also spread fear amongst professional weavers that their hard learned skills would go to waste as the machines took over.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning
With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, or any other new technology that changes the game, the same fears have been awakened – not only among professionals in our industry, but within our clients as well. Adopting these technologies and training workers to adapt to the possibilities they create, we’d argue, is the right call. But, when it comes to the impact on the individual, a broader understanding of the symbiotic relationship between people and technology will remain necessary and critical in abating these fears.
Recruiting in the Midst of Technology
At PwC, we recruit more than 12,000 professionals annually and every year we continue to field a growing number of questions from interns, associates, senior associates – and even clients. Like textile workers of the early 19th century, they ask us: Will I still have a job? What do the advances in AI, robotic process automation (RPA) and other technologies mean for me and those on my team?
These are great questions. They’re fair questions. Answering these questions should remain as important for your employees as adopting the technologies themselves. Without the answers, your professionals won’t fully understand the impact they can have on your business, and their clients.
How AI Will Change Jobs for the Better
One of our recent reports on artificial intelligence and machine learning found that AI tools will become digital “assistants” that could potentially replace the basic capabilities of first-and second-year professionals. The key word here is “capabilities.” So depending on their area of interest, the answer may vary, but it is consistent: AI will not make these positions obsolete. They will change for the better because of them.
AI and other digital tools allow information and insights that were once lost in physical paper files or spreadsheets to be collected in seconds, freeing up today’s professionals to better use the higher level strategic skills they’ve developed through their education – including analysing data and anticipating needs instead of simply running calculations – to benefit their clients.
We know about the massive amounts of critical, yet repetitive tasks less-tenured professionals face on a daily basis. As global business continues to grow across diverse tax jurisdictions, tax consultants will use AI to automate more routine tasks and pinpoint tax-planning opportunities and trends. Through the use of technology, tax professionals can now analyse entire data sets, as opposed to smaller samples, and make better decisions because of it.
The rapid pace of change in business and the digital economy, has resulted in increased expectations from our clients. In many cases, it’s the service provider’s job to look around current and future corners to see what might be coming. Identifying new and innovative tools helps us rise to that expectation in novel and innovative ways, and exceed it.
Machine learning, AI, and other tools enable us to up-level the skills of our people. These tools allow us to entrust them with a new realm of responsibilities, providing greater opportunities to make an impact and focus on the highest value work, not just the routine work. Better yet, they allow for professionals to accelerate their careers.
Analytics Are Everywhere
As the digital economy continues to flourish, the focus will shift away from specific "jobs" and will evolve to meet the changing technology environment. Data and analytics skills are not just for Silicon Valley anymore – everyone needs them, and employers now expect them. Like the weavers of the early 1800s, today’s professionals will be expected to operate comfortably and confidently in this environment, reacting and adapting to the challenges and opportunities that arise from this technological shift. PwC’s recent report shares more on the roles all of us can play, and steps you can begin taking, no matter which side of the coin you sit, including:
Coach Your Teams to Upskill (and Do It Yourself, Too)
Professionals: Seek out opportunities to grow and learn for yourself and for the benefit of yourself and your clients. Keep current on the required skills necessary for your profession, but don’t be afraid to develop skills that fall outside of your industry expertise, especially as it relates to new technologies. Training should remain constant, no matter what stage you are in your career.
Businesses: Structure your people plan for the digital economy. Strategic investments in digital technologies aren’t likely to live up to their potential unless companies align their people and cultures to their digital strategies in more systematic ways.
Educators: Champion data literacy for all, no matter the discipline. Collaborate more frequently with employers and change curriculums to meet skill needs.
Be Future Proof
So, expect your job to evolve. Embrace it. Your career trajectory has a greater potential to accelerate because of it. Elements of AI, such as machine learning, natural language processing and predictive analytics have applications across all aspects of business – and offer tremendous opportunities for new insights and greater productivity. Remember: people will continue to be essential to the process, but your individual relevance will be dependent on your ability to “future proof” yourself.
One thing is certain: the way we work is changing and to compete in the digital economy you must change along with it. History shows those nimble enough to take advantage of those changes will benefit greatly from them. Today that means becoming digitally fit to meet the evolving future of work.
Michael Fenlon is Chief People Officer at PwC and Michael Shehab is Tax, Technology and Process Leader at PwC.