The corporate world is in a state of continuous change – automation, digital platforms, various innovations, and technological advancements are changing the fundamental nature of work. Although these technological advances were built to cater to the white-collar industry, technological solutions are also being developed to cater to the blue-collar workforce with innovations such as facial recognition, attendance systems, and industrial augmented reality.
The internet, wireless networks, e-commerce, and social media have completely transformed the way we communicate, live, and work. Technology has come to a point where software and algorithms can perform advanced, cognitive, and repetitive tasks across multiple business applications.
The introduction of automation enabled by technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence promises higher productivity (and with productivity comes economic growth), increased efficiencies, safety, and convenience.
Several industries employing a blue-collar workforce have benefitted immensely through a confluence of human and machine effort in the workplace. Emerging technologies are helping companies improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and increase value.
Many mundane activities that workers carry out today have the potential to be automated. For instance, only 30% of a worker’s day is spent building, or “wrench time” as it is called in the construction industry. The remainder is consumed by tasks such as data entry, paperwork, and gathering equipment – all of which are time-consuming. One study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded that the construction industry wastes $15.8 billion each year due to a lack of efficient information management systems for exchanging and accessing data. Construction teams often transition back and forth between paper-based and electronic systems, leading to redundant labor costs for businesses. As a result, management teams on construction sites must repeatedly verify that all parties have the same information, in effect taking away from necessary production time.
By developing technology that supports blue-collar workers in their daily work, we can reduce the need to perform tedious administrative tasks and help more projects get completed on time and reduce production costs.
Recent advancements in the field of artificial intelligence demonstrate massive operational changes across frontline industries. With these changes stems an unprecedented boost in organizational connectivity. As non-desk employees adapt, they discover how increased accessibility to managers, peers, and workplace tools help them ascend into a richer, more fulfilling era of work.
Research shows that about 60%of all occupations have at least 30%of activities that are technically automatable, based on currently demonstrated technologies. This means that most occupations will change, and more people will have to work with and be assisted by technology. Highly skilled workers working with technology will benefit while low-skilled workers utilizing technology will be able to achieve more in terms of output and productivity.
Debunking the Myth: AI Will Not Take Your Jobs
Concern about the effect of machines on work and on people has been around ever since machines were first invented. As computers emerged and machines became more powerful and capable, the level of angst rose.
The digitalization of everything is causing considerable anxiety—and with good reason – about its broader impact on jobs, skills, nature of work, and economic inequalities. Historically speaking, blue-collar workers have benefitted little from innovation in the digital space as compared to their white-collar counterparts, and now one of their biggest fears is the prospect of job losses that automation and AI is likely to inflict.
Yet, it is important to understand that these job losses will not be absolute. Instead, the lost jobs will be replaced by additional new jobs that are needed to work alongside these technologies.
The Automation Paradox
With the technology available today, roughly half of the repetitive labor-intensive tasks performed by blue-collar workers can be automated. That’s a huge statistic! More importantly, only about 5% of jobs can be done totally unsupervised.
What this entails is that the way we work and what we do is going to shift over time. Blue-collar workers of the future will be required to complement and assist the work done by machines.
Call it the automation paradox, but the infusion of artificial intelligence, robotics and big data into the workplace is elevating the demand for people’s ingenuity to reinvent a process or rapidly solve problems in an emergency.
The new age blue-collar labor force will need four human-like core competencies for advanced production: complex reasoning, social and emotional intelligence, creativity, and certain forms of sensory perception. For this reason, penetration of automation and artificial intelligence into the workplace is set to transform business and consumer realms.
The next few decades are likely to be a period of intense churn in the blue-collar job market.
In a recent report, the WEF said that while automation could lead to the displacement of 75 million jobs between now and 2022, though this would be outpaced by a whopping 133 million jobs it could create in the same timeframe. This demonstrates what automation is really likely to do: it will change the way people use their time.
Platforms like Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, Postmates, Alfred and others are already creating technology-enabled jobs such as a host, driver, shopper, handyman, or delivery person. These are digital blue-collar jobs, and these are the future.
Digital Workplace Essentials and Their Use
The business world is moving faster and becoming more global, mobile, and digitized. Employees today collaborate to a greater degree than they did previously, using new technologies to work in teams, across locations and in real-time. New technologies have the potential to overcome much of what we know about the way people work.
Technological disruption is an opportunity-enabler, especially for the workers in blue-collar industries. The speed with which automation technologies are developing today, and the scale at which they could disrupt the world of work, are largely without precedent.
According to the American Staffing Association, more than 3 million temporary workers are employed by staffing agencies during an average week. Manual processes to hire, engage, and manage workforce not only consumes a lot of time and resources, but also does not lead the employers to the right candidates in the right time frame despite the amount of work done. Lack of data, different locations, lack of engagement – these are not only an employer’s roadblocks but also the challenges faced by prospective employees. As the numbers start growing, so does the need for technology that instantly matches job orders to a candidate’s skillset and experience which allows agencies to communicate with applicants in a timely and secure manner.
At the same time, there is a growing need for technology that enables organizations to plan, track, and manage the allocation and requirements of labor resources. Compliance still remains an integral part of the blue-collar industry, which if kept timely and secure, avoids fines and disputes for all parties involved. Businesses need to optimize staff scheduling while reducing labor costs, and technological solutions can aid them by empowering both the agencies and the employees to conveniently schedule jobs, send proof of work, and store important data for record-keeping and compliance.
With plans to implement a workforce digitization strategy, cloud computing is a must needed asset. With a greater need for analytics involving mass volumes of data from multiple sources, only cloud computing offers a practical, affordable way to aggregate and store these large volumes of data. Additionally, cloud implementation – and its automated software updates – helps to eliminate the risk of an outdated system.
Digitizing workforce management can transform the organization and provide a solid foundation for future digital initiatives affecting the entire organization. Focusing on employees first will help successfully drive a larger digital initiative in order to enact change and support process improvement.
Organization-wide Digital Adoption and Engagement
At the cusp of what is being regarded as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is imperative that workers embrace change and realize that what their jobs are today might be dramatically different in the not so distant future. The increasing importance of digital technologies and the rapid pace of change in the employees’ roles and competencies make a fundamental change at the workplace essential. Our education and training systems need to adapt to better prepare people for the flexibility and critical thinking skills they will need in the future.
“Almost all blue-collar jobs will require humans – you will always have the need for implied knowledge, overseeing, reporting, and human handling of technology tools. Tasks required under a job will change but that does not equate to a redundancy. However, upskilling becomes crucial in this case. Productivity gains will instead mean that businesses are capable of further expansion resulting in the creation of more jobs. – Rupam Biswas, founder and chief executive officer of Singapore-based online job search platform Sendhelper.
As per a report by the World Economic Forum, 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022. Numerous organizations have identified the need for upskilling their workforce and have already started training employees on higher organizational levels. In doing so, companies are making their blue-collar workers competent enough to adapt to tech-led disruption.
How can companies efficiently upskill blue-collar employees?
To enable efficient learning and ensure a smooth transition for employees, companies need to communicate the ongoing changes to their workers. Leaders might look at training blue-collar workers as a bigger challenge as they might not be well-versed or even introduced to a majority of the forward-looking technologies. However, it is still possible to carve out an upgraded workforce if leaders keep the following in mind:
Map skill-gap: Workers are more connected than ever before. In their personal lives, they now shop, bank, book holidays, and socialize on their smartphones, anywhere, and at any time of day. However, the changes taking place in the consumer economy are yet to penetrate fully the working world.
This is particularly true for manual workers in the services industries, where the nature of the work means technology is taking longer to have an impact. According to a report by Deloitte, office-based workers are more likely to be heavier users of technology at work, more than half (51%) of blue-collar workers class themselves as “very light users” of technology in their work.
Organizations have to create a map of skill gaps to discover where their blue-collar workforce stands in terms of industry-specific skill sets and what competencies are required in the market for a successful transition. The information about skill gaps will essentially lay down the data and metrics to plan the future road map for the creation of development programs and mitigate any consequences of skill gaps on the larger community.
Comprehensible and engaging modules: Companies need to develop engaging learning modules that are comprehensible for the employees, preferably in the form of videos and audios. Additionally, they can be translated into the local languages to engage employees across different regions and making the content easier for them to understand. The course should familiarise employees with the basics and then build on it to increase their knowledge about more industry-specific concepts.
Content personalization: Personalization of content can achieve the goal of making the modules comprehensible for the workers in more than one way. It is important to consider that every employee would be different in terms of their competencies, educational qualification, and even style of learning. Team leaders and team managers can be involved in the development of training programs because they understand the weaknesses and strengths of their team better than anyone else.
For optimum results, companies can leverage buddy shadowing system and create an agile culture by encouraging peer-to-peer learning. They can motivate employees with appreciation and recognition, even while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Moreover, to become truly futuristic, companies have to rework their structures to make their workplaces more democratic, where white-collar and blue-collar can exchange ideas and learn from each other without any biases or inhibitions.
Business disruption and increasing volatility are creating new risks and opportunities.
The next decade will accelerate this transformative trend, with value exchanged in new ways thanks to technologies like blockchain, and the way we work being disrupted with the wide adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). These technologies will generate new applications that dramatically transform every industry.