Technology is no longer the barrier to further digital evolution. No matter how advanced the technology becomes, any AI strategy will fail if a utility’s workforce is not on board. Employees may be reluctant to implement change if they fear robots may render their positions redundant, even if there is evidence that they will enhance rather than replace their jobs.
A 2018 PwC study found that AI could replace 30% of jobs by the mid-2030s, but it will create more jobs by boosting economic growth. A 2019 survey of 100 executives from leading firms by Dun & Bradstreet showed similar results, finding that 40% of organisations are adding more jobs as a result of bringing AI into their business, with just 8% cutting jobs.
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New digital technologies will drive demand for new job roles and skill sets, according to the latest World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, which predicts that 81% of energy sector companies will adopt AI by 2025. Cloud computing, big data and e-commerce are high priorities, and there has been a significant rise in interest in encryption, reflecting an increased focus on cybersecurity. The extent of disruption depends on a worker’s occupation and skill set. Functions that include managing, advising, decision-making, reasoning, communicating and interacting will still require human interaction, while more repetitive tasks such as data entry will see workforce reduction.
Jobs that require creativity, strategy, social and manual dexterity will be less likely to see redundancies than those that can be replaced by machines such as assembly line inspectors, customer service representatives and truck drivers. At the same time, skilled data scientists and programmers will be in high demand.
The European Commission’s February white paper On Artificial Intelligence - A European approach to excellence and trust set out some steps towards attracting AI expert scientists and including a reinforcement of the Skills Agenda, as well as an updated Digital Education Action Plan to improve education and training systems and make them fit for the digital age. It will also build awareness of AI at all levels of education and will work on a revised Coordinated Plan on AI to be developed with the Member States. It also plans to create a lighthouse centre of research and innovation for AI to attract talent and foster a ‘made-in-Europe’ standard of excellence.
Even so, the electricity industry will have to compete with other sectors to recruit the best data scientists and programmers, but will also benefit from upskilling existing staff who understand the business. Hackathons and AI challenges within the industry can promote “learning by doing”. Finally, AI can be used in the hiring process to screen candidates, and also to select optimal training.