Automation is here to help companies, but could it also be good for workers?

July 14, 2022, 4:00 PM UTC
During a roundtable lunch, executives discussed automation’s role at their companies.
Stuart Isett—Fortune

For many employees, the idea of their companies increasing automation can be a threatening prospect. 

Specifically, for a long time, workers have viewed automation as a net negative because of the fear that their jobs could be replaced by technology. At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference on Tuesday, executives discussed how automation is being implemented at their companies and how it will affect employees. 

Tony Kays, senior vice president of commercial sales for Salesforce, said his company has implemented automation in how it plans its business with “V2MOM,” which stands for vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures. 

Pre-pandemic, the V2MOM process used to be heavily involved and in person. Now, the process includes automation and works alongside employees.

“The technology guides the conversation, which then keeps everyone focused within the business plan,” Kays said.

The key in his mind is that automation at Salesforce works in collaboration with employees, he said. 

For Kohl’s, incorporating automation into its logistics operations means that employees are freed up for more important tasks. So far, employees have no problem with the automation, and the trend is spreading to more and more warehouses, said Kohl’s chief technology and supply-chain officer Paul Gaffney.

“The distribution of physical goods is being very heavily automated, both to make the existing human jobs more attractive and also to deal with the fact that it’s probably the toughest labor force to recruit,” Gaffney said.

But instead of replacing workers, incorporating more automation is actually creating jobs, said Michelle Zhou, cofounder and CEO of the artificial intelligence chatbot company, Juji. One of these new roles is for “conversational A.I. designers,” Zhou said. Recently Zhou said she subscribed to the job online, just to see how many similar jobs were being posted.

“Every day I got a notification: 30 jobs here, 30 jobs there, 30 jobs there,” she said. “I think there’s a new role that we call the A.I. supervisors.”

Yet the new jobs being created through automation are sometimes more technically advanced than other roles. This means that in order to help prepare employees for these positions, companies need to focus especially on upskilling and reskilling their existing workforces, said George Maddaloni, chief technology officer of operations at Mastercard.

“Our learning and development team has really had to be invested in, ‘How do we digitally scale up our organization?’” he said.

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