More automation is inevitable, but we still need workforce equipped for the future

  • Tyson Cornell

    Tyson Cornell

 
By Tyson Cornell
Guest columnist
Posted3/22/2019 1:00 AM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a bill that is expected to gradually increase Illinois' minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2025, up from the current $8.25.

When this decision first made it through the House, the Chicago Tribune published an article that posed the question on everyone's mind: with the wage hike, will companies replace employees with machines? Businesses have been automating mundane, repetitive tasks for decades now. A higher minimum wage simply provides companies with an incentive to continue to go after what is inevitable -- the offset of growing labor costs with technology.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

An increase to the minimum wage is a harbinger of a greater shift in our economy -- toward a world powered by automation and a workforce with highly specialized skills that works in tandem with that automated tech.

To address rising labor costs, companies can no longer look for job candidates who are capable of repetitive tasks easily replaced by technology. Instead, they'll hire employees with strengths that are uniquely human -- like emotional intelligence, creativity, persuasion and flexibility. These skills may be harder to define, but organizations will strive to hire workers who are smart, hardworking and comfortable with change. Companies don't necessarily know what they'll need from their employees come 2025, much less in the next 50 years.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of automation and emerging tech, businesses will also seek talent with a technology background. In fact, by 2020, nearly 80 percent of all jobs will require some sort of technical prowess, and estimates suggest there could be 1 million more tech jobs than people who can fill them here in the U.S., a huge opportunity gap for the current and future workforce.

While many people believe only minimum-wage jobs can be affected by automation, the reality is that emerging technologies are likely to have a massive effect on the entire labor market. This is a societal issue that can touch every part of our economy, not just the people who take home $15 an hour come 2025. All employees, regardless of level and experience, should develop the right skill set in order to stay competitive in today's economy -- whether it's developing more creative, human strengths or pursuing a background in STEM and digital know-how.

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As technology continues to transform our economy and labor costs continue to rise, it's on educators, business leaders, and policymakers to try and ensure our entire workforce is prepared to evolve with the times.

For companies like PwC, where I work, the challenge of developing the workforce of the future should be viewed as an opportunity, and business leaders should take the initiative to develop their employees' skills. Seventy-four percent of people in the labor market say they're ready to learn skills to remain employable in the future. It's business leaders' responsibility to help employees get there.

For example, companies might consider creating a digital "finishing school" that gives employees' cutting edge skill sets. A talented and digitally savvy workforce could ultimately benefit the employees and the greater business, enabling both to stay competitive as we progress into our tech-driven future.

Arming our workforce with the skills needed in their future jobs is a massive undertaking -- one that has to be shouldered by everyone in our society. Whether it's businesses introducing digital trainings to upskill their employees, or schools bringing more robust tech curricula to their students, educators, businesses and governments alike should all take part to make sure our workforce is ready for what's to come.

Tyson Cornell is market advisory leader as well as the U.S. private company services advisory leader for the PwC Mid-Central Region. He is an advisory partner at the firm in Chicago.

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