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HR Briefing: Will machines take over Hong Kongers’ jobs?

Around 56% say they are threatened by the rising dependence on automation by local business, but analysts say there will also be opportunities.

Technological advancement has long been feared by workers at risk of being replaced, but the pandemic may have magnified this fear as businesses across all sectors automated their operations.

In Hong Kong, more than half of the workforce are concerned about how automation could impact their jobs. PwC’s Hopes & Fears 2021 report found that 56% of Hong Kongers were worried about automation, higher than the 51% recorded across the Mainland China workforce.

Professions that are likely to be replaced by technology are routine tasks and those that are transactional, but PwC noted this could also open greater opportunities for workers.

“Traditional tasks that require repetitive manual work, or administration work will likely be displaced,” Johnny Yu, PwC Mainland China and Hong Kong People and Organisation Consulting Leader, told Hong Kong Business.

“Automation and Artificial Intelligence technologies will shift tasks currently performed by high-skill workers to lower-skill ones. As companies invest in upskilling to close the skills gap from digitisation of work, it increases the demand of skills of jobs requiring creativity, judgement, and emotions.”

For instance, professionals in industries that require human interaction, such as financial services, sales, marketing, and healthcare, are expected to increase as the demand for soft skills grows.

PwC also reported that 41% of workers in Hong Kong expected their jobs would be obsolete in the next five years, compared to 39% average across the globe. Amongst those jobs likely to be impacted are the “know-your-customer” compliance duties in financial services, which are likely to gradually evolve into digital solutions.

To address this growing job insecurity, companies must provide upskilling and reskilling programmes. These will ensure workers are keeping up with the fast-changing technology.

“Job security is tied to a firm’s ability to adapt to technology changing the skills required of the workforce, companies are taking key steps to implement reskilling programmes to investing in the required infrastructure,” Yu said.  

“Improving the employee experience on how to deliver learning journeys is also critical to ensure employee needs are being met,” he added this should be executed in partnership with the government.

Introducing retraining programmes is key in closing the digital skills gap and ultimately finding a solution to the jobs lost because of automation. The good thing about Hong Kongers as seen in the PwC report is their enthusiasm in bridging this gap.

Around 61% of the workforce expressed confidence that they could be “future-ready” through learning new skills or retraining to adopt new technology; whilst 55% are willing to learn, but raised the issue of lacking specific devices and infrastructure.

“It shows a resounding majority of Hong Kong workers want to learn digital skills, and periods of remote working heightened the importance of digital skills as a core skill to compete in the future workforce,” said Michael Cheng, PwC Hong Kong Partner, Consulting.

Cheng pointed out the benefits of retraining that the employers could eventually reap as it allows them to retain talent and drive the workforce to be more productive. Under this light, he said reskilling and upskilling should be seen as a “competitive imperative.”

Not only does this allow a more skilled workforce, it builds resilience amidst disruptive circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

PwC data has shown that some 83% of Hong Kongers are now undertaking training to hone their digital skills, as companies look into which talent and job they will retain in the next five to 10 years.

Companies have also levelled up their game in retraining as more workers report improvement in their digital skills. More than half or 51% have disclosed their digital skills improved during the pandemic, higher than the 36% that had no adequate digital skills at the beginning of the pandemic.

To further strengthen their stance amidst the rapidly digitised era, Cheng said companies should invest in infrastructure to have more reliable and secure connectivity.

“Investing in infrastructure to support virtual working will be needed if to allow employees to work flexibly and responsively, and have access to data and collaboration tools that will provide a more seamless and flexible connectivity experience,” he said.

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