Amplified by the worldwide economic disruption caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), automation is causing a tectonic shift in the workplace. Rather than seeing automation as a job destroyer, UiPath considers Robotic Process Automation (RPA) another democratizing technology:
"To us, it’s about making automation skills easily accessible for anyone to enhance their personal and professional lives. When automation skills are democratized, truly marvelous things occur. Yes, organizations are transformed, employees become happier, and companies can better compete in the ‘automation first’ era,” writes UiPath Product Marketing Manager Joe Edwards.
But is it that simple? Well, yes and no. UiPath has a vision of ‘a robot for every person.’ As part of that, we envision a modern workplace, where companies enable every employee to use, create, and benefit from automation. But to maximize the benefits of this democratization of automation, there are some human behavioral change that needs to happen.
The New York Times wrote recently, “Economists, business leaders and labor experts have warned for years that a coming wave of automation and digital technology would upend the work force, destroying some jobs while altering how and where work is done for nearly everyone. In the past four months, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed some of those predictions into reality.”
The article suggests the need for a large-scale and rapid reskilling of large segments of the workforce. In its 23rd annual CEO survey, PwC found that concerns about the availability of key skills are now one of the top issues facing CEOs today. Yet only 18% “of CEOs said they have made “significant progress” in “establishing an upskilling programme [sic] that develops a mix of soft, technical and digital skills.” Business imperatives are driving this demand for new skills, and particularly digital skills. But demand is also coming from many employees. These employees want to learn and use twenty-first century skills. They're gravitating towards companies that can offer them these opportunities.
PwC was ahead of this curve a few years ago when it looked to not just reskill but also upskill its entire 55,000-person United States (U.S.) workforce. PwC U.S. Chair Tim Ryan realized that they needed to be able to use technology to change how PwC employees worked and served their clients.
In a recent webinar, UiPath Vice President (VP) of Global Partners Doug Fowler talked to PwC Principal and ProEdge COO Darren Lee and PwC Workforce Strategy Principal Julia Lamm about this upskilling effort. They discussed how PwC committed a significant investment to transform itself and its people as part of their internal “Your Tomorrow” initiative.
Through the Your Tomorrow initiative, PwC embarked on a multi-year, ongoing program of digital transformation and upskilling internally. This program looked to increase employees' general digital acumen. It then focused on upskilling them in specific technologies like UiPath.
The first step in their journey was helping PwC employees to assess and then grow their digital understanding and skills. They did this using a proprietary mobile app, the Digital Fitness App. PwC has also been passionate about democratizing access to technology beyond their company. Early in the COVID-19 crisis, as it became clear that huge numbers of people were going to be out of work, PwC made this app available for free to the public.
Every PwC U.S. employee had the opportunity to improve their general digital acumen. PwC then took a group of 1,000 self-nominees (out of a pool of 3,500 applicants) and put them through intensive training as “digital accelerators.” As part of the training, participants learned how to program RPA robots. Because increasing digital acumen is only one dimension of needed leadership skills for the twenty-first century, the training also included softer skills like storytelling and design thinking. These digital accelerators became change ambassadors throughout PwC, helping to enable the broader digital transformation of their teams and projects.
Using PwC as an example, I’ve shared these key takeaways in conversations with other organizations:
Failure to prioritize the upskilling of employees will put an organization at a significant competitive disadvantage
Failure to prioritize employee upskilling makes an organization more vulnerable to poor employee engagement (and may harm its brand with potential future employees).
With digital upskilling, “you're able to get people who are excited about the work they're doing,” said Julia Lamm. Darren Lee explained how giving people new digital skills (including RPA), “We’ve been able to automate somewhere in the neighborhood of about five million hours of non-value-added work. So, you think about how that translates into making better uses of peoples’ time.”
Related read: Automating at Light Speed (and Delivering Results)
PwC employees were able to repurpose some of that time to spend with clients. Lee continued, “Our attrition levels are 15 to 20 points better than our peers in our industry…our employee engagement survey scores have been up by 20% to 30%.” When PwC talks to clients about its digital transformation program, the inevitable question is “how do you measure the benefits?”. The answer is to consider a range of metrics. For example, there's the metric of employee satisfaction. But there's also the even more tangible realization of better employee retention and increase in billable hours.
The PwC upskilling program went far beyond training. They created a platform for employees to apply their new skills and share the assets that they created including RPA bots, data visualizations, and Alteryx workflows.
The platform enabled them to automate at scale across their enterprise. It enabled the real democratization of automation.
PwC is working with UiPath to bring their digital upskilling program and the associated suite of integrated products and services to clients. This in an exciting new offering: New World, New Skills.
If you missed the webinar, you can still access the full recording (along with this great infographic an artist created on topics covered during the webinar).
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