Only 12% companies in India ready for automation shifts: Survey

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Not many companies believe that their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of automation

Workplace automation, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, is expected to double in India in the coming three years according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson. But the more concerning fact revealed by the survey is that very few companies and HR functions are fully prepared to address the organisational change requirements related to automation. Only 12 per cent companies believe that their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of automation.

The India findings of the Global Future of Work Survey reveal that the extent of workplace automation in India is expected to be more than the global and APAC average in the next three years. Companies in Asia Pacific expect automation to account for 23 per cent of the work being done, on an average, in the next three years as compared to 13 per cent today. In India, it is expected to rise from a current 14 per cent to 27 per cent in the next three years.

However, contrary to the traditional outlook where automation was believed to replace humans to minimise costs, the study found that more than half the companies in India believe that automation will augment human performance and create new work, not replace it.

Automation is expected to shape a new combination of work, talent, skills requirements and work relationships. While organisations in India expect the percentage of full-time employees to reduce from 85 per cent to 78 per cent in three years’ time, they also anticipate using more contingent and part-time workers.

The survey also found that 33 per cent companies in India today believe that automation enables a flexible deployment of work to other locations, compared to the APAC average of 39 per cent. However, in three years’ time, a massive 70 per cent companies anticipate this automation-driven work flexibility as compared to 65 per cent in the APAC region.

Varied readiness for the changing workplace
Only 12 per cent companies in India believe that their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of automation. This is because, HR is least prepared to identify and reskill pathways for talent (43 per cent), redesign jobs and identify which tasks can be best performed by automation (54 per cent), and reconfigure rewards and benefits for the existing and new workforce (31 per cent).

The top three areas that companies in India are ‘somewhat prepared’ for and have already taken some action in are—identifying the emerging skills required for the business (54 per cent), addressing talent deficits through workforce planning (49 per cent), and matching talent to the new work requirements (46 per cent).

Sambhav Rakyan, head of talent and rewards, Willis Towers Watson India, believes that the future of work is already here, whether organisations realise it or not. Automation and the resulting shift in work arrangements will create new challenges that will test employer readiness around technology, future workforce requirements, HR programmes and an enabling organisational structure. “While our research does indicate that organisations in India are beginning to take small but solid steps to address this paradigm shift, business leaders, people managers and HR must collaborate to identify and mitigate risks and take full advantage of the many opportunities that the future of work presents,” he says.

Maximum impact of this shift will be seen in the Indian services industry, as outsourcing jobs for specific skills, the use of non-employee talent and robotics becomes the norm. 55 per cent companies in the services industry of the country expect to have fewer full-time employees in three years’ time due to automation, as compared to 14 per cent currently. Worryingly, even though 54 per cent of the employers in the services sector realise the need for change in their leaders’/ managers’ approach to manage this workforce shift, only 24 per cent are currently prepared to address this change.

The study that covered a total of 909 companies worldwide, including 52 from India, found that even though 54 per cent of the manufacturing sector organisations realise the need for automation to augment performance and productivity, only one in three organisations are prepared to deal with such a change.

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