A significant shift happening today is the development of an autonomous supply chain. While this is a business process with fewer people, it nevertheless has a human element and a generational one.
According to Gartner, Generation Z will be the ones to drive the adoption of hyperautomation that will take us to supply chain autonomy.
These digital natives, born between 1997 and 2017, are unlike anything the workforce has ever seen before. While Baby Boomers and Generation Xers started working with typewriters and paper records, the younger generation has only known digital technology.
Moving to new technologies is much less of a quantum leap for them, as they grew up on Gameboys and Playstations. Configuring their phones is as normal as eating and drinking.
Gartner’s Pierfrancesco Manenti, vice president analyst with the supply chain practice, makes the point that this generation will be supply chain managers in only ten years.
“All of the supply chain leaders we interviewed agree that, at some point beyond 2030, a large majority of their supply chain activities will most likely become autonomous and self-healing,” said Manenti.
“However, they don’t expect a lights-off supply chain, with no people at all. They agree that hyperautomation is the opportunity to free up people’s time for the value-added work that only humans can perform. The ingenuity and empathy of the human brain can’t easily be replicated.”
Job loss worries: A Gen Z perspective
With that, however, comes pressure.
As Generation Z employees mature in their careers, their older managers will be looking to them as innovators in paving the way towards hyperautomation.
Effectively, the younger employees will be the ones asked to use their digital skills to innovate themselves out of a job. It is one thing to say that the “ingenuity and empathy of the human brain can’t easily be replaced,” but what are those brains to do? What actually is “value-added” work?
Generation Z already knows that automation and artificial intelligence will take away many of the jobs they see their parents and older siblings doing today. And while they can see it coming, it does not mean they are not worried.
A survey of 50 18-to-23-year-olds conducted by Lucid Research found that 57% were worried about the negative impact of automation on their jobs, while almost a quarter — or 23% — said they were seriously worried.
The reality is that technology hasn’t necessarily made for a happier workforce, and we can’t be sure that it will happen in the future. The carnage of the 2008 financial crisis and the more recent pandemic have shown how our economies and societies are fragile despite our technological sophistication.
We need to get past efficiency and cost savings
I would like to suggest that part of the reason for this is that technology has primarily been deployed to make organizations more efficient and help them cut costs.
Where technology has been deployed for personal enjoyment or enhancement, it has happened with a view of people as consumers — essentially as purchasers of goods and services — rather than employees and workers.
Lip service is given to the idea that technology will free people from drudgery in the workplace. But this is often only a secondary benefit. There is little thought about what people will do with the time automation and artificial intelligence will give them, beyond consuming products.
As a society, we need to articulate a new vision and purpose for the idea of work that is more fulfilling for people. If we don’t, the result will be mass anxiety, stress, and alienation.
We talk so much about making work meaningful, but perhaps we need to abandon that thought and legitimize mass free leisure time as the norm and not some guilty pleasure. The struggle governments have with a “living wage” is evidence that we are a long way from this.
Back to that supply chain scenario…
Supply chains may hum along autonomously with minimal input and monitoring. But there is little point in that if the supply chain serves an unhappy population or too poor to purchase anything because they can’t find a job.
We trust the dynamics of market-driven technology will change. But there has been little or no societal planning on how these profound changes will impact us.
The prevailing wisdom is this is no area for governments and that the market will work everything out because that is the most efficient way forward and the only way we seem to progress.
Undoubtedly, the hyperautomation world will create some new jobs. But we need to hurry up and create some new job descriptions for the people it displaces.
The danger is that Generation Z will not only be the most digitally savvy generation but one of the most unfulfilled.
Lachlan Colquhoun is the ANZ correspondent for CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/Koldunova_Anna