MindEdge's Robomageddon: The Skills for the Future Study finds concern taking hold among portion of U.S. workforce over automation, robots

March 6, 2018

Nearly half (42 percent) of American managers say that automation and robotics will lead to a net loss of jobs in their respective industries, compared to just 18 percent who say that automation will help to create jobs, according to a new national study from edtech firm MindEdge Learning. Among managers at companies that have already adopted robotics and automation, a clear majority (52 percent) expect that automation will lead to job losses. At the same time, managers at firms that have not yet adopted robots and automation, report much lower levels of concern; only 15 percent say their employees are concerned about their job prospects over the next five years. The latter finding suggests that employees at non-automated firms may be underestimating technology's eventual threat to their livelihoods. Conducted by Research Now, MindEdge's Robomageddon: The Skills for the Future Study probed the attitudes of 1,000 U.S. managers (or higher) about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace, and which skills will future-proof workers' careers as automation takes root across industries.

The Robots are Coming

The adoption of robots and automation at U.S. firms is at a moderate level, with about one in three managers (33 percent) reporting that their companies have adopted robotics or other forms of advanced automation. Adoption varies across industries, with manufacturing (58 percent) and technology firms (56 percent) adding robotics and automation at the highest rates. The presence of automation is the lowest among retailers at 18 percent. Of note, managers at small businesses (1-99 employees) say their employees feel the least threatened, with 23 percent reporting they're worried about job security over the next five years. Managers of medium-sized businesses (100-500 employees) report the highest level of concern among their employees (35 percent).

Below is the percentage of managers – broken down by industry – who say their employees are worried about losing their jobs in the next five years:

  • Technology - 45 percent
  • Retail - 38 percent
  • Business products and services - 33 percent
  • Manufacturing - 32 percent
  • Financial services - 29 percent
  • Healthcare - 18 percent
  • Retail - 38 percent

"It's clear that for workers across most industries, the future of work is in flux. Change is already upon the U.S. workforce with companies tapping automation, artificial intelligence and robotics to become more efficient - and that will present some challenges," said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge. "We think there are creative ways for workers and companies to make sure they can compete. Learning and training-for both hard and soft skills-lie at the heart of any effective response."

Critical, Creative Thinking Will Separate Humans from Robots

Overall, managers think that both hard and soft skills are needed in their workers. Yet about 40 percent of managers report that their employees are currently lacking in both areas. The question of how employees can stand out from their automated counterparts is a complicated one – but overall, creative and critical thinking were identified as the two skills that most clearly distinguish humans from robots.

Below are the soft skill sets that will likely separate humans from robots, per the findings:

  • Creative thinking - 30 percent
  • Critical thinking - 29 percent
  • Communication - 21 percent
  • Decision making - 21 percent
  • Negotiation - 20 percent

Training for the Future

There's no doubt that training, especially for companies that have already implemented robotics and automation, is key to preparing workers for the future. Thirty-seven percent of managers cited internal training or retraining as the most effective way to provide workers with the skills they need to stay employed. Continuing education is seen as the second most effective method to provide workers with new skills, per 26 percent of managers.

Managers are divided when it comes to identifying who is primarily responsible for providing skills training. Twenty-seven percent believe that this is the responsibility of employees and 20 percent believe it is the responsibility of employers. Half (50 percent) believe that this is the responsibility of both employees and employers.

"It's interesting that there seems to be employees in certain industries who are less aware of the very real threat of technology. For example, few healthcare workers are concerned about their job security, despite the fact that automation is happening at a rapid pace in that field," said Frank Connolly, a senior editor at MindEdge, who oversaw the research. "Identifying the crucial skill sets that will separate human from robot - and improving on those skills sooner rather than later - is what will provide the competitive advantage in the (not so distant) future of work."

About the Methodology

MindEdge's Robomageddon: The Skills for the Future Study was conducted online during the last week of January 2018. The sample included 1,000 U.S. residents employed as manager or a higher job title, employed at organizations with 20 or more employees. Respondents were at least 18 years of age.

About MindEdge

MindEdge, a learning company based in Waltham, provides leadership, management, communication and educational solutions for organizations to help them meet their objectives. Founded in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators, MindEdge specializes in higher education and professional development content and technology solutions and continues to innovate in the rapidly changing landscape of online education. The company's webtexts feature narrative, interactive learning case studies and simulations, as well as adaptive learning technology to maximize learner mastery of the content.