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If you work in HR or operations, you already know we are experiencing a massive labor shortage. Coined “The Great Resignation,” millions of employees are leaving their companies for new opportunities. Many of these people aren’t planning to return to the traditional job market, and the ones that do will be looking for something very different.
These factors, coupled with a declining population, a massive retirement exodus, and a gap between market demand and skilled labor, and the math adds up to one thing – this talent shortage isn't slowing down.
Finding Balance During the Pandemic
As we transition "back to normal," we have a new type of workforce – one that is re-prioritizing its commitments. These people want work-life balance and seek fulfillment in what they do. Many are taking pay cuts and moving to new areas with lower living costs to obtain this. Others are asking more for the time they trade for money.
In October 2021, nearly 3% of the US workforce resigned, citing early retirement, sabbaticals, and care duties as some of the top reasons for leaving. The BBC reports that since people had the opportunity to slow down during the pandemic, they began to re-prioritize their career objectives. Many began to spend more time with family, integrate healthy habits into their day-to-day, and get more sleep.
These people began to look for the jobs that offered these perks and vacated the ones that didn’t. They moved, seeking better positions, or reconfigured their careers in a way that aligned more closely with their values and priorities.
Assessing where automation can fill the gaps
All of this may seem like a burden from an HR perspective, but it may be an amazing opportunity to transform the way that your company grows. Instead of jumping straight into that pile of resumes, maybe it’s time to take a step back. Re-evaluate your hiring needs and the needs of the company. Take stock of your team, including vacant roles you are looking to fill. Then, consider:
- Which tasks are necessitating hiring?
- Is any of that work digital, repetitive, and logic-based? Does it really require human input?
- What would your hiring needs look like if that workload was automated?
You really can automate complex digital processes
Robotic process automation (RPA) is cloud-based software that manages software programs known as digital workers performing digital processes that would normally be handled by a human. These digital workers can perform tasks like logging in and out of multiple portals, copying and pasting data from multiple places, sending emails, and even reading unstructured documents. Once trained, these digital workers can perform tasks quicker and more efficiently than their human counterparts.
RPA is used to automate any rule-based, repetitive tasks with known exceptions. Jobs like data entry, predictive maintenance, and post-sales customer support can be partially or fully automated using RPA.
RPA is an excellent way to hedge your bets against the labor shortage, but the even better news is that it's not a replacement for the brilliance of creative and strategic human thinking. Your digital workers will excel at generating multi-system reports and filing claims, freeing up your human team to focus on the areas of their work that allow them to stay feeling fulfilled and nurtured in their growth.
Automation leads to lower staffing costs and better employee retention
Tasks that can be automated include anything that follow a set of rules with predictable exceptions – things like data entry, bookkeeping, and post-sales follow-up. This automation can be achieved using robotic process automation (RPA), which we explain in more detail below.
Once you’ve determined which tasks can be automated, you can make better strategic use of your existing staff, reduce the need to hire, and in turn, offer more competitive salaries and benefits for those open positions.
Process hygiene is critical to automation success, so plan to budget for additional hours/resources as your team gets things organized ahead of any automation attempts.
But post-automation implementation, team members who would have otherwise spent a good portion of their jobs in software dashboards generating reports or shuffling data back and forth will have renewed bandwidth and work-life balance.
How companies are automating
A recent study done by McKinsey found that are meeting their automation targets have three things in common:
- Automation is a strategic company priority
- Focusing on people is as important as the technology
- Developing a scalable model is key
One example of this is Whirlpool, who (whimsically) named their automation systems co-bots – or collaborative robots. These co-bots are part of a strategic priority to integrate automation company-wide while ensuring that this new technology is there to help jobs, not hurt them. Whirlpool's co-bots help increase employee health and safety, decrease repetitive tasks, save on labor costs, and provide administrative support.
These co-bots free up time for employees to upskill through internal experiential learning programs, increasing their value within the company. The employees continue to learn new skills, and Whirlpool benefits by increasing their high-value human capital. Everyone is winning here.
Now, we know that automating tasks, focusing on people, and developing new models to scale works for the big guys with big budgets, but what about smaller companies –the non-Amazons of the market? How can they integrate automation without breaking the bank? The answer lies in the newly emerging RPA democratization movement.
Automation is no longer just for enterprises
Prior to COVID, many companies were hesitant to invest in automation. Cost, time to implement, and the idea that the pandemic would only be a temporary setback had many companies taking an overtly-cautious "wait and see" mentality when it came to automation.
And while it’s true that automation was quite expensive until a few years ago, that isn’t the case today.
The cost of automation has decreased dramatically, and implementation has been streamlined from an 18 month time to deployment, to as little as eight weeks. Automation, which seemed reserved for massive organizations only a few years ago, is now more accessible than ever to mid-market companies.
Nada Sanders, a distinguished professor of supply chain management at Northeastern, says that pre-COVID, most companies had sticker shock when it came to the price of automation. But, two years into the pandemic, many have changed their tune.
"Of the companies I've talked to, they're all investing a significant increase – 5% to 10% of revenues – in automation," Sanders says.
Now’s the time
And the opportunity cost may be even higher than the cost of investing in automation.
Because this technology is so accessible, adoption is already on an uphill rise, and that wave is headed steadily towards companies with revenues between $10 million and $1 billion per year.