New Delhi: 

Workplace automation, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, is expected to double in India in the coming three years according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. However, the survey revealed that very few companies and HR functions are fully prepared to address the organisational change requirements related to automation, nor the opportunities offered by a larger contingent talent pool.


The India findings of the Global Future of Work Survey reveal that the extent of workplace automation in India in the next three years is expected to be more than the Global and APAC average. Companies in Asia Pacific expect automation to account for on average 23% of work being done in the next three years as compared to 13% today. In India, it is expected to rise from a current 14% to 27% is the next three years.


However, contrary to the traditional outlook where automation was believed to replace humans to minimise costs, the study found that more than half the companies in India believe that automation will augment human performance and create new work, not replace it.


Automation is expected to shape a new combination of work, talent, skills requirements and work relationships. While organisations in India expect the percentage of full-time employees to reduce from 85% to 78% in 3 years’ time, they also anticipate using more contingent and part time workers.


The survey also found that 33% companies in India today believe that automation enables a flexible deployment of work to other locations, compared to the APAC average of 39%. However in 3 years’ time, a massive 70% companies anticipate this automation driven work flexibility as compared to 65% in the APAC region.


India’s services and manufacturing industries to experience the greatest impact

Most impact of this shift will be seen in the services industry in India, as outsourcing jobs for specific skills, the use of non-employee talent and robotics becomes the norm. A majority 55% companies in the services industry in India expect to have fewer full-time employees in three years’ time due to automation, as compared to 14% currently. Worryingly, even though 54% of the employers in the services sector realise the need for change in their leaders / managers approach to manage this workforce shift, only 24% are currently prepared to address this change.


On a similar note, the study found that even though 54% of the manufacturing sector organisations realise the need for automation to augment performance and productivity, only 1 in 3 organisations are prepared to deal with such a change.


Varied readiness for the changing workplace

Indeed, only 12% companies in India believe that their HR functions are fully prepared for the changing requirements of automation. For example, HR is least prepared for – identifying reskilling pathways for talent (43%), redesigning jobs and identifying which tasks can best be performed by automation (54%), and reconfiguration of rewards and benefits for existing and new workforce (31%).


Whereas, the top three areas that companies in India are “somewhat prepared” and have already taken some action are – identifying the emerging skills required for the business (54%), addressing talent deficits through workforce planning (49%), and matching talent to the new work requirements (46%).


Sambhav Rakyan, Head of Talent and Rewards, Willis Towers Watson India said, “The fact of the matter is that the future of work is already here, whether organisations realise it or not. Automation and the resulting shift in work arrangements will create new challenges that will test employer readiness around technology, future workforce requirements, HR programmes and an enabling organisational structure. While our research does indicate that organisations in India are beginning to take small but solid steps to address this paradigm shift – business leaders, people managers and HR must collaborate to identify and mitigate risks and take full advantage of the many opportunities that the future of work presents.”