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Millennials Are Driving Workplace Automation—Here’s Why

Tech-savvy workers see automation’s potential to transform the nature of work

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Automation will have a major impact on the nature of work in the coming decade. While there are varying stats on how many jobs and work activities could be automated, the reality is that automation — supported by technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning — will eventually transform virtually every industry and organization.

Millenials, in particular, are driving the rapid evolution of automation in the workplace. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, since this tech-savvy generation (now aged 21-37) values the same attributes that automation promises to deliver: increased efficiency, transparency, work-life balance, and ability to focus on meaningful work, among other things. Compared to previous generations, millenials are also quick to find, apply, and understand new technologies — especially if it improves productivity and collaboration.

Despite the varying levels of concern about the potential for automation to disrupt or even eliminate obs in the future, millennials are embracing its potential. Here’s why:

  1. Driving Organizational Efficiencies and Productivity

According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, millennials say automation has major  business upside: over half of respondents believe it will spur economic growth, and 62% say  automation will improve overall productivity.

Jeremy Sorokas, a millennial business development lead from Red Brick Analytics, explains how automation increased efficiencies in a previous job. “[Bookkeeping] was extremely manual and much of the time was spent keying in transactions from our bank’s website into our accounting system. When we automated the process, the workload went from four people taking one week to one person spending about an hour doing the exact same task.”

This change freed staff time to focus on more analytical work, such as reviewing trends, Sorokas says. This resulted in the discovery that a supplier was overbilling the company in upwards of $14,000 -- a problem  which would have never been discovered if teams were still relying on manual data entry.

The other benefits were improved accuracy (since manual keying is never 100%) and our team's satisfaction, as we were able to focus on making a difference in the company, instead of worrying if a ‘6’ should have been a ‘9’,” says Sorakas.

  1. More Time to Focus on Creative, Meaningful, Value-Added Work

Not only do millennials believe that automation will help them become more productive, but half of millennials surveyed by Deloitte believe that automation will give them more time to spend on creative and value-add activities.  

Ann Marie Cucciniello, a millennial and web designer at security company Radware, explains how automation has helped enhance the user experience for Radware’s customers. “[Automation] gives me the freedom to expand my creativity. Instead of repeating a micro-task hundreds of times, I can focus on design improvements or new technology integrations.”

Ben Sievert, a millennial and senior research scientist at Talent Plus, Inc., adds: “Automation has definitely allowed me to tackle increasingly more interesting projects, and not focus only on the mundane parts of my role. Ultimately, it frees me up to think more strategically, which ultimately benefits the organization.”

Millenials have redefined and fully embraced the idea of work-life balance, explains Kriti Sharma, a VP of AI at Sage. In turn, the biggest benefit of AI and automation is freeing millenials to spend time doing meaningful work and facilitating change for others.

“[Our generation] is willing to work hard, but we want that work to be creative and meaningful,” says Sharma. “That’s why we have to drop the doom and gloom narrative around AI, and embrace automation for its ability to make our jobs more meaningful by phasing out the menial, repetitive tasks that can take up as much as 50% of a worker’s day.

  1. Opportunities to Learn New Skills

Millennials also see workplace automation as an opportunity to learn new skills. According to Gallup analytics, millennials “rank opportunities to learn and grow in a job above all other considerations” when applying for a job.

The openness that many millennials show to learning and growing in a job is a great asset for organizations, who will need to build strategies around upgrading workforce skills as jobs change due to automation. A recent McKinsey report states that as automation progresses, all workers will need to adapt and learn new skills that aren’t easily automated, including social and emotional skills, creativity, and high-level cognitive capabilities.

It is critical that people develop an ‘always learning’ mindset,” explains John Garvens, a millennial and senior consultant and technical trainer for Simplus. “If you are not constantly learning and improving, you will be replaced by automation. Even in technology, this is a concern as AI and machine learning will slowly start replacing the jobs done by business analysts and others. But there will always be a job for someone who thinks creatively, communicates effectively, and leads with integrity.”

  1. Increased Influence in the Workplace

In addition to the opportunity to be more creative and to learn new skills, 44% of millennials surveyed by Deloitte believe that automation will provide them with more influence within their organizations by becoming experts in how to make the most out of this new technology.

“The millennial generation and Gen Z get to shape what automation looks like while helping older generations who resist automated services understand that technology isn't out to steal their jobs,” notes Shelby Rogers, a millennial content marketing specialist at Solodev and Digital US.

Stan Tan, a digital marketing manager at Selbys, explains that the biggest opportunity for millenials like himself to make an impact may also big the biggest obstacle. “The challenging part is getting buy-in from the older generations that are more resistant to change, especially change that introduces a new technology into our current process that we have been using for decades.”

The payoff, however, is worth it. “From a business point of view, the more process we can automate, the less time we have to spend on it and this leads to lower costs for us,” says Tan. “This ultimately leads to higher margins.”

Millennials and the Potential of Automation

Rather than worrying about automation taking over their jobs, millennials see automation as an opportunity to advance their careers and organization.

“I believe that tech-forward millennials actually expect or should expect automation in the workplace,” says Christa Freeland, a millennial entrepreneur and managing director at Powershift Group, a startup studio that funds and scales startups.

Given that millenials are the fastest-growing segment of workers -- estimated to make up  75% of the workforce by 2025 -- the time is now for organizations to start applying automation to the workplace.

Learn more by visiting Smartsheet’s Automation in the Workplace Report.

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