The robots want your job - staying ahead in the age of automation

Written by Proxima on 16 April 2019 in Sponsored Article
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Up to 800 million jobs will be lost by 2030 and replaced by robotic automation. Proxima explains how to ensure that your procurement and business skills will keep your job safe during the rise of automation 

Up to 800 million jobs representing 30% of the global workforce will be lost by 2030 and replaced by robotic automation. This is what the media, press and insight reports are telling us.

Hot air? Maybe. However, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that robotic automation will change the employment landscape and job market.  It’s already impacting procurement as we know it. Some argue that robotics isn’t taking jobs yet; but industries such as retail are already being heavily challenged by technology changing how we shop. This resulted in 150,000 job losses last year with similar cuts expected for 2019.

A more popular and moderated view is that in the future workplace eco-system we can expect robots – visible and invisible – to work alongside human employees.  Our business strategies will become reliant on the appropriate use of the capability we have access to – both humans and robots. It’s undoubtedly true that there are things that robots can’t do, just as there are things that humans can’t do. We know that capability is a hot topic for public sector. Should our workforce assessments be starting to look at skills and processes which fall outside of the capacity of our human capital?

Imagine a world where procurement and commercial teams are made up of both human and robotic capability. The human element will spend more time on activities that machines are less capable of executing: sharing deep category insight or thinking creatively to deliver innovative solutions to problems. They will spend less time on performing more simple tasks such as managing bid processes or identifying suppliers. The humans will be able to really invest in the value creation parts of the end to end process. They will be complemented by robots, chat bots, or AI, all of which will fulfil repeatable tasks in the most efficient way possible, delivering efficiency savings where there are clear boundaries.  

The landscape will look very different.

There will always be a place for the human asset. Whether you’re just entering the workforce or are a seasoned professional, the market dynamics are changing. 

‘Soft’ skills have never been more important.

In the age of automation, these procurement and business skills will mean you can’t be automated and will be fit for the turbulent employment times ahead:

Deep knowledge and insight

Knowledge can be learned by a machine, but if you can combine deep awareness of a particular category or the inner workings of an industry with an ability to apply it to problems, you will have something unique. How would a robot have performed in advising UK Government on legal text as the Attorney General recently has done on the Brexit withdrawal agreement?

Empathy and communication

Robots recently beat doctors in a clinical test diagnosing cancers, but would you want a robot delivering the results? Engaging with stakeholders with empathy to understand their real problems can’t be easily replicated. Traditionally, procurement has focused on processes and defined approaches such as 7 step sourcing processes, but teams and individuals of the future will differentiate themselves by their ability to build trust, get to the heart of the problem and communicate at all levels to enable change.

Imagination and creativity

Robotics is based on repetition. An ability to think laterally to solve problems will set you apart from your peers, your stakeholders and, in the future, the robots. Having an inquisitive mind to ask ‘why do we do this’ and ‘why do we do that’ combined with an ability to create solutions is hugely valuable. 

Now is the time to be thinking about how procurement and commercial can further develop capability to progress professionally.

Consider the following techniques and approaches to really take ownership of your career path:

Have a development plan

Everyone needs a sense of direction – whether it’s immediate, short, medium or long term. Over time plans will change, but if you don’t have a plan in mind, how can you measure success? A check against progress every quarter keeps the process honest, and ensures that you’re considering relevant external factors which may influence where you are going. 

Seek regular feedback 

Instead of seeking feedback once a year, ask for it all the time… When you’ve had a meeting to present your recommendation to the CFO and you were out your comfort zone, then take the time to ask your colleagues: What went well? What could I have done better? What should I stop doing?

Pursue targeted training 

Of course some company wide style training courses are valuable- particularly as a specialist in the Government Commercial Function - but we’re all individuals with unique needs and the type of skills that will set you apart now and in the future need carefully nurturing. Spend time focussing on your own personal development through tailored learning on specific skills to help you, such as storytelling, consulting skills, or whatever fits your individual needs.

Polishing up on ‘soft’ skills will mitigate the impact of ‘the rise of the robots’. Key skills such as knowledge transfer, insight provision, interpersonal communications, creativity, engagement and influencing are all critical to being successful in procurement – whether we are supported by robots or not!

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