Automation: A quarter of SME employees think there will be a lack of job prospects in the future

Published on 08/03/2022 by Laura Burgess

The nature of work is changing. As job automation increases, some employees may worry about their future work prospects. In this article, GetApp looks at the implementation of automation and digital skills in the workplace. 

Header image for automation and digital skills in Australia

COVID-19 has accelerated job automation across many industries and the need for digital skills in the workplace is more important than ever before. Whilst automation typically displaces jobs, it may also generate new employment opportunities or transform existing roles. This is largely because technologies and smart machines, such as artificial intelligence (AI) software and robots require workers to have a digital skillset.

Will robots really replace humans in the workplace? What are the benefits of the digital economy and job automation? To find out, GetApp surveyed nearly 1000 people who work for an SME to see how they feel about the future of jobs. The full methodology can be found at the bottom of this article. 

Defining the modern workplace

In GetApp’s first article in this two-part series, we looked at the importance of upskilling and reskilling of employees particularly with digital skills for SMEs. The pandemic has redefined the workplace as digital transformation has been integrated into all areas of business. This is reflected in GetApp’s survey as 75% of respondents said that they think the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technology (including software, chatbots, virtual meetings, and QR scans) within their company.

The workplace has evolved in many ways, including a shift towards a digital company culture, with remote working and employee engagement initiatives such as flexible work schedules. But this shift towards digitisation was happening even before the pandemic with the introduction of cloud-based deployment, for example. The cloud allows businesses to store and manage data that employees can easily access from anywhere and at any time.

Definition of job automation
Many workers may worry about how far the role of technology will go in the workplace, especially with job automation. Some might think that robots will one day take over their job, but the World Economic Forum (WEF) believes automation will actually lead to a demand for employment and create more jobs opportunities. So what does the future of automation look like for Australia?

Australia’s Digital Economy Plan

As the nation is recovering from COVID-19, the government is investing A$1.2 billion into the Digital Economy Strategy. Part of the strategy is designed to support SME digitalisation with A$12.7 million being allocated to the Digital Solutions – Australian Small Business Advisory Services program. This is to encourage and support small businesses through the implementation of digital tools such as software solutions.

A further A$15.3 million is being used to ‘increase awareness of the value of e-Invoicing for business and increase adoption’. e-Invoicing can reduce costs per invoice, improve payment times and boost overall productivity for SMEs.

The digital plan is also focusing on investing in education and training to improve the digital skills of Australians by creating more opportunities for digital upskilling and reskilling. A$10.7 million of the Digital Economy Plan budget is dedicated to the Digital Skills Cadetship Trial, for example, which offers work-based learning opportunities for jobs requiring digital skills. 

How do employees feel about new digital skills?

Digital skills is a broad term but can range from data entry and web-based communication to more advanced levels, such as programming, web and app development, digital marketing and content creation, data design, or user experience (UX).

According to the Digital Skills Organisation: ‘Over the next five years, it’s estimated that 150,000 additional digital professionals will be needed across the Australian workforce.’ But how do employees feel about the possibility of digitally upskilling or reskilling? The outlook remains favourable as GetApp’s survey found that 77% of respondents think employers should be training staff in extra digital skills.
Pie chart showing whether workers think employers should be training in extra digital skills
A combined total of 70% of respondents would like to learn new digital skills such as data analytics, coding, cloud computing, or the use of AR/VR for customer services at their current company. Within this group, 18% already have been or are currently learning a new digital skill, while 52% of respondents would like the opportunity to do so.

A digital upskilling program can improve employee engagement and performance as it opens up new opportunities for workers and helps an organisation retain and optimise talent. Only 11% of respondents said they wouldn’t like to learn any new digital skills because they are content with their current level/skills. 19% were not sure, which could be an opportunity for companies to adopt or include upskilling as part of their employee personal development plans. Employees who develop their digital skillset are likely to be prepared and better-equipped for new jobs created as a result of automation. 

What are the benefits of job automation? 

Automation itself is changing how workplaces function. Many of the most mundane and repetitive tasks can be taken care of and completed without human input. GetApp’s survey found that there are still nearly a quarter of employees (23%) who are concerned about the impact that technology might have on their job, with 16% saying they are ‘nervous’ and 7% feeling ‘worried’. As automation is fairly new, it seems some employees may not have an understanding as to how the implementation of technology may actually be advantageous.

Bar chart about employee thoughts on the impact of technology on their  job
Many areas of a business can be automated with software. Data entry jobs, for example, require professionals to enter information into a database or documentation platform, which can be very time-consuming. But tools such as ERP systems can optimise the task and eliminate or reduce the need for manual data entry. Software can handle processes such as inventory tracking, shipping, invoicing, and accounting, which allows employees to focus on high-value tasks instead.

CRM platforms can help small businesses deal with client leads and contact details without manually creating a spreadsheet. Chatbot software can automate and reduce the need for human-to-human interaction. It can make customer service available 24/7 and provide immediate feedback to clients. Machine learning tools are capable of learning from the data that clients provide. The software can extract data insights and create models that automate processes and enhance the customer experience.

What does the future of automation look like?

GetApp’s survey found that a little over a quarter of employees surveyed (26%) think there will be a lack of job prospects in the future due to automation. A combined total of 51% of respondents, however, think there will be ‘some’ or ‘many’ job opportunities. The future of work may see traditional roles such as office administrators, secretaries, and machine operators at risk. Digital jobs such as computer engineers, data analysts, and software developers may become more desirable as automation takes over more manual roles.

Bar graph showing whether employees think there will be many or a lack of job prospects in the future due to automationAlmost a quarter of survey respondents (23%) think it’s unlikely that their current job will exist in the same or a similar form within the next 10 years due to automation (13% find it ‘highly unlikely’ whilst 10% find it ‘somewhat unlikely’). Yet according to the WEF: ‘In 10 years’ time, 50% of jobs [globally] will be changed by automation, but only 5% eliminated.’

Rather than be replaced by technology, the WEF reiterates that workers will digitally upskill and work alongside smart machines as opposed to experiencing job losses. However, it is important for SMEs to implement a digital transformation strategy so as to not get left behind or see talented workers unnecessarily displaced. 

How to prepare for automation 

As organisations incorporate automation into their business, it is important to take into consideration employee psychology —especially for staff members who are most nervous about change. The following steps can help employees and organisations with automation implementation:

1. Educate employees on emerging automation:ongoing education can make staff feel more comfortable and more positive. It is essential that workers understand the meaning of job automation and the benefits it can provide to both their role and the company. 

2. Provide adequate training:digitally upskilling employees can help create a modern workforce, which is inclusive of automation platforms like smart machines, and algorithms. Running a skills gap analysis can identify which employees require upskilling. It is important to make these new opportunities available for everyone where possible. 

3. Be transparent with staff:communicate clearly. Address why digital transformation is happening, the timeline, and the adoption plans the organisation is working on in order to prepare workers for upcoming changes.

4. Only automate the necessary processes: not all areas of the business require automation. The best areas to automate are the ones with the most repetitive tasks, such as email marketing, or social media marketing with tools that can automatically post and interact with followers.

Final considerations

Automation is changing how the workplace functions across all industries. Automation has many advantages as it encourages employees to expand their skill sets and abilities, and enables more time to complete high-valued tasks. Whilst some workers are worried about the future of their job due to AI and smart machines, it seems that humans will continue to digitally upskill and learn to work with automation. As the government is dedicating almost A$1.2 billion to its Digital Economy Strategy plan, the outlook is promising as Australia is on track to become a modern and leading digital economy.

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Survey methodology

Data for the Employee Upskilling and Job Automation Australia Survey 2021 was collected in October 2021. The sample comes from an online survey of 929 respondents who live in Australia. The respondents were of the age groups 18 to 25 years, 26 to 34 years, 35 to 49 years, 50 to 64 years, and 65 and above years. The respondents were employed full- or part-time and worked at a company with between 2 to 250 employees. 


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About the author

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.