As robotics and advanced automation continue to spread throughout the American workplace, workers express conflicting and sometimes flatly contradictory attitudes about the impact these new technologies will have on their lives–but most believe that gaining relevant industry skills through continuous learning is a useful strategy for “future-proofing” their careers.
According to the third annual national study from edtech firm MindEdge/Skye Learning, nearly one-third (32 percent) of American employees report that advanced technology–including robot workers, AI, and analytics–has been introduced into their workplaces in the past year. Of these employees, over three-quarters (76 percent) feel the new automation has made their jobs easier.
Survey respondents do not feel immediately threatened by the arrival of advanced technology: only 25 percent of workers say they are concerned about being replaced by these technologies in 2020, while fully 53 percent say they are not at all concerned. Nor does the level of concern increase significantly when the timeline is moved out: only 29 percent say they are concerned about losing their jobs to technology in the next five years, while almost half (47 percent) say they are not at all concerned.
At the same time, workers also express some clearly negative attitudes about technology in the workplace. A clear majority (55 percent) disagrees with the assertion that robots are better workers than humans. And an even stronger majority (57 percent) agrees that “robots and advanced automation are bad for American workers.”
MindEdge’s third annual Future of Work Study, Preparing for Robot Colleagues: A New Decade of Robomageddon, surveyed 1,017 U.S. workers about the state of robots and automation in the workplace. The first two polls in this series focused specifically on the attitudes of managers and company leaders, but a majority of respondents in the current survey are non-managerial workers.
The impact of robots on workplace culture
As robotics and automation become more prevalent across U.S. businesses, almost seven-of-ten (69 percent) employees in recently automated workplaces report that it has made a positive impact on overall workplace morale. Almost two-of-three (65 percent) agree that technology can free up human workers for more interesting work.
Still, almost half (44 percent) of those who work in newly automated workplaces also report that technology has taken over a portion of their jobs. This figure is even higher among highly educated workers (49 percent among those with a post-graduate degree) and those who work in the technology sector (61 percent).
Opinions are closely divided on the question of whether technology will create more jobs than it displaces: 41 percent believe this will be true, but 47 percent disagree. The level of skepticism exceeds a majority among women (52 percent); workers over the age of 39 (51 percent); non-managerial workers (55 percent); and workers in the manufacturing sector (54 percent).
The strong perception that robots and automation “are bad for American workers” is even stronger among workers with only a high-school education (66 percent) and workers in the retail sector (68 percent). Significantly, there is virtually no difference of opinion on this issue between workers at firms that have recently automated (57 percent) and workers at firms that have not recently automated (59 percent).
These negative attitudes stand in stark contrast to the positive sense that technology is improving morale and making workers’ jobs easier. This discrepancy suggests that American workers are still coming to grips with the impact of technology on the workplace, and are not yet able to arrive at a clear-cut consensus on the issue.
“Navigating the impact of robotics, automation, and AI is a pillar of modern business operations that will take time and experience for business leaders and employees to understand,” said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge Learning. “American workers are continuing to uncover exactly how they feel about robotics and automation in the workplace. But regardless of how they may feel, technology is inexorably transforming the U.S. workforce – and employers and workers need to prepare for it.”
Upskilling in the age of automation
While many workers are still deciding how they feel about automation at work, the large majority (88 percent) believes that gaining relevant industry skills through continuous learning is a useful strategy for “future-proofing” their careers.
The specific skills that are most in demand among American workers include computer programming and web design (29 percent say this is one of their top three most valuable skills); cybersecurity (28 percent); creative thinking (26 percent); complex problem-solving (26 percent); and critical thinking (25 percent).
The most effective means of providing skills training, according to survey respondents, are on-site training programs (68 percent say this is one of the two most effective types of training) and online training programs (50 percent). Workers are less enthusiastic about off-site training (28 percent) and outside conferences/expos/seminars (19 percent).
“There is no question that technology is transforming the workplace, as over a third of workers report that AI and robotics have already been introduced into their daily job routines,” said Frank Connolly, director of communications and research at MindEdge/Skye Learning. “Continuing to advance and upskill human knowledge through continuous learning is a key tool to reinforce employee confidence and engagement in an environment of advanced automation.”
Workers do not, however, have a clear sense of who should take the lead in providing skills training. A plurality (42 percent) says that employers and employees are equally responsible for providing training, but a substantial proportion (34 percent) say that the responsibility should fall mainly on employers. Only 21 percent say that employees should be responsible for upgrading their own skills.
Material from a press release was used in this report.
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