DAVOS, Switzerland — Automation replaced 17,000 people’s jobs at one of the world’s largest professional services and tech firms, Accenture, over the last 18 months, but no one actually lost their job.
Richard Lumb, CEO of financial services at Accenture, told Business Insider at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday that while greater automation and the rapid development and implementation of artificial intelligence and robots certainly can eliminate jobs in the workforce, companies can also make sure those employees do not become displaced.
“Over the last 18 months, automation replaced 17,000 jobs in back office processing,” he told BI. “But actually, we haven’t laid those people off.
“We are fortunate enough to reskill and reposition them. We took that approach when we were going to bring in greater automation at scale. Not [every company] is going to be able to do that and not every company is able to grow and expand like we do.”.
Accenture is one of the largest professional services companies in the world and as of 2016, has 394,000 employees with clients from 200 cities across 120 countries worldwide.
In the back office processing, which Lumb says employed 100,000 people, the company streamlined its processes and actually boosted productivity. That’s because Accenture made sure it retrained and helped the affected staff to still have a role within the group.
“To be honest, automation eliminated a lot of boring and repetitive tasks for workers. Since we take the approach of augmenting [human staff] with automation, it actually has eliminated more menial work and boosted productivity for staff,” said Lumb.
Lumb said that the company even provided 72,000 staff with new IT training, another example of Accenture making sure that staff are continually reskilled in a fast-changing technological environment.
The change at Accenture over the last 18 months is a prime example of how businesses and the workforce are changing in the 21st century.
The WEF’s benchmark “Global Risks” report for 2017 said that the biggest risk to doing business globally is unemployment or underemployment, which is mainly due to how technology will kill jobs. The previous year, WEF warned in another report, entitled “The Future of Jobs,” it said that skills and jobs displacement will affect every industry and geographical region.
WEF estimated that 7.1 million jobs could be lost through redundancy, automation, or disintermediation, while the creation of 2.1 million new jobs, mainly in more specialised areas such as computing, maths, architecture, and engineering, could partially offset some of the losses.
Accenture did its own report, entitled “Harnessing Revolution,” this year and it found that “the digital future of work is anything but dystopian.”
“There will be disruption. This needs to be managed carefully and transparently by business, government and stakeholders in collaboration,” it said.
“But consider this: Machine augmentation can, in fact, liberate human potential.”
“The good news: These actions will enable leaders to build on a workforce that’s already highly engaged with digital. And reshape their organisations to allow workers to flourish in a future augmented by new technologies in a way that drives real business value — labour productivity, talent acquisition and retention, as well as innovation and creativity.
“The bad news: The clock is ticking. CEOs need to put people as the priority or risk leaving scores of workers — and their company’s competitive strength — behind.”