The Straits Times-SkillsFuture Singapore Future of Work

Will robots take over our jobs?

Deloitte's Mr Indranil Roy says the likelihood of an entire profession disappearing due to automation is "quite low".
Deloitte's Mr Indranil Roy says the likelihood of an entire profession disappearing due to automation is "quite low".ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Companies are grappling with what the right balance between human and machine should be

With robots increasingly taking over jobs, including those that require technical skills, it may be the "fuzzy" or soft skills that will save your job.

The best workers need not just to be highly skilled, but must also learn to work well in teams and think creatively, said Mr Indranil Roy, who heads a centre that comes up with solutions for organisations to meet changing workplace demands.

The Future of Work Centre of Excellence, set up by global consultancy Deloitte in July last year and supported by the Economic Development Board, has been studying market disruptions and work trends around the world.

The $27.6 million Singapore facility works with more than 30 clients here and overseas. It serves as the global flagship, with all Deloitte offices plugged into it.

AT RISK OF BEING AUTOMATED

About half of the work across all occupations is at risk of being automated within the next five years, with technology that exists today, according to the centre's research.

But the likelihood of an entire profession disappearing because of automation is "quite low", said Mr Roy who has advised clients across sectors like financial services, information technology, government, consumer and healthcare.

"It is far more likely that component parts of occupations will be enabled by technology, thereby augmenting, not replacing the worker," he added.

The legal profession, for instance, can in the early stages be partly automated with technologies that exist today such as natural language processing and data wrangling, or cleaning up complex data.

"In the first two years in the legal profession, a lot of the work that you do is in gathering data and information from different case laws, putting that together into a meaningful report," he said.

In banks, similarly, technology can do a huge part of what analysts do, in carrying out online research, analysing and crunching data, and organising charts and graphs.

Mr Roy said companies are grappling with what the right balance between human and machine should be, and how they can re-design the role of employees to perhaps take on more tasks like advisory work or spending time with clients.

It does not have to be a binary choice, as humans and computers can complement each other, said the 47-year-old, who will be a speaker at an upcoming The Straits Times & SkillsFuture Singapore forum on the future of work.

  • EVENT INFORMATION

  • The Straits Times & SkillsFuture Singapore Future of Work Forum is organised in conjunction with the World Speaker Series.

    Date: July 3 ( Tuesday)

    Time: 10am to noon (Registration begins at 9am)

    Location: School of the Arts Singapore, Drama Theatre Level 2

    Admission is free. Refreshments and goodie bags provided. Limited seats are available.

    Online registration: stssg.sphevents.com.sg

  • 1 in 2 About half of the work across all occupations is at risk of being automated within the next five years, with technology that exists today.

    90% More than this percentage of net new jobs created in the last five years in the United States were "gig" jobs, referring to part-time, freelance or contract employees.

    60% Almost this percentage of Asia's working population are millennials, compared with about 40 per cent globally.

    43% Percentage of millennials who see themselves leaving their jobs within two years; only 28 per cent wanted to stay beyond five years.

The Straits Times is the media partner for the event on July 3 at the School of the Arts Singapore. It will discuss how jobs are being reinvented by robotics, artificial intelligence and the gig economy.

Mr Roy, an executive director in the human capital practice at Deloitte Consulting based in Singapore, said the current wave of disruption is different.

"The disruptions of the past were about displacing jobs that required strength and human muscle power... So if you go to a factory today, most of the work is done by robots," he said.

Today, technologies are becoming more cognitive and are displacing "brain power" in the white-collar workforce, he said. Machines are getting better at not just routine tasks but "structured problem-solving" and analysis, he added.

"That's a red flag. If you're a young graduate, you need to be aware of that."

Young people could pick up things like data science or learn how to code, so that they could design and construct machines, he said.

But they should also focus on tasks that are best done by humans, such as building relationships, showing empathy, mentoring and solving problems in a bid to help humanity.

Tertiary institutions should also give more students opportunities to innovate, try out new ways of doing things and be entrepreneurs, skills that machines do not have, he said.

CHANGING EXPECTATIONS

A 9am to 5pm job, or full-time work as we know it, is also changing.

More than 90 per cent of net new jobs created in the last five years in the United States were "gig" jobs, referring to part-time, freelance or contract employees.

The trend is also seen here and in Asia, said Mr Roy, giving the example of the creative media industry where a large amount of work is done by freelancers.

"Increasingly you will see every industry move towards a mix of full-time employees, part-time, freelance, more flexible employees and robots."

Mr Roy said there is also a greater shift towards letting people decide where best to work, whether it is from offices or at home, in satellite spaces or shared workspaces.

He added that this ties in with expectations of a millennial workforce which values flexibility in the workplace, a key finding of a latest Deloitte study of more than 10,000 millennials born between January 1983 and December 1994.

Companies are also trying to better attract and retain younger talent, he said, as the workforce here and in the region is getting younger. Almost 60 per cent of Asia's working population are 28, compared with about 40 per cent globally.

In the recent survey, 43 per cent of millennials see themselves leaving their jobs within two years; only 28 per cent wanted to stay beyond five years.

The respondents also said they sought help to build softer skills like inter-personal skills and confidence, although employers did not always meet these needs.

That is where Mr Roy's Future of Work centre comes in - to bridge these gaps, help firms understand younger workers' changing expectations, and find the right balance between human and machine.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Will robots take over our jobs? '. Print Edition | Subscribe