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By Matt Weston, founder and managing director of Vantage 365

In these increasingly digitised times, automation is often considered a crucial way for businesses to pull ahead of the competition by streamlining their processes and driving efficiencies that save both time and money.

One only has to look at 2020 figures published by Salesforce to get a sense of why automation is so sought after by organisations. They show that 73% of IT leaders have declared that automation is saving employees between 10% and 50% of the time they previously spent doing manual tasks, with a further 57% saying that automation technology has helped departments save between 10% and 50% on costs previously attributed to manual processing.

While there are clearly many benefits to adopting automation, businesses will often make the false assumption that the technology is a ‘silver bullet’ that will resolve all of their operational challenges by itself. This, however, is simply not the case, and automation can only truly be effective if an organisation has individuals on board who understand and embrace the technology.

In this sense, it is vital for businesses to upskill their workforces sufficiently in preparation for automation.

The impact of failing to upskill

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a prime example of why it is so important for companies to ensure that their employees have the skills needed to make digital adoption a success.

Prior to the pandemic, many employers had made slow progress in upskilling and reskilling their workers, despite how widespread and well-established business automation had already become.

This meant that, in the wake of the crisis, when many organisations were left with no alternative but to move their key processes online, the digital skills gap became even more apparent, and the impact of failing to upskill began to be felt in earnest.

For example, many workers lost their jobs during the pandemic because they did not have up-to-date digital skills, while those businesses that held out for too long in embracing automation found themselves paying the ultimate price for their slow adoption.

As the COVID disruption has proven, the need to automate is not always on a business’ terms – sometimes, digital acceleration is thrust upon them by forces outside of their control. That is why it is absolutely vital for companies to do all that they can now to upskill their staff, thereby better preparing themselves for any unexpected accelerations towards automation that might occur in the future.

Upskilling is a constant process

Some employers might think that offering digital training to workers on a one-off basis is enough to sufficiently plug the skills gap and enable automation adoption en masse across their organisation.

In reality, upskilling must be a continuous process, given that the technology upon which businesses rely is constantly evolving. This means that many of the digital skills that workers gain now are unlikely to be of relevance in five to 10 years from now.

To truly keep employees’ skills up to date with the latest technological advancements, business leaders therefore need to ensure that on-the-job digital training forms a fundamental part of their ongoing automation strategy, given the crucial role that workers must play in achieving success through automation.

Not only will staying up to date help staff members drive greater efficiencies through digital adoption, but will also likely enable the company to get ahead of their competitors who have not invested enough time or effort in upskilling their employees alongside evolving tech.

Businesses have a part to play in getting the most from automation

As automation becomes increasingly important for organisations in today’s digitally focused business landscape, so too does the need to upskill staff and ensure that they are best equipped to work alongside the technology.

Many companies are still investing in automation with unrealistic expectations about what doing so will achieve for them without properly investing in the personal development of their teams. Business leaders need to understand that workers are just as crucial to successful automation as the technology itself, and only when this is acknowledged can automation drive the efficiencies that they are expecting it to.

With research from the World Economic Forum finding that half of all employees need to upskill or reskill by 2025 to embrace new opportunities delivered by automation and new technologies, now is the time for businesses to secure the future of their workers and organisation as a whole.

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