Hays’ Tim Olsen discusses the job landscape within the automation and AI sector and the most valuable skills for workers in this area.
Automation is one of the most rapidly growing job markets right now, incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA).
Why the rise in demand for automation?
Businesses are realising the untapped potential of intelligent automation. As more adopt automation, those that do not are becoming less productive and will likely be left behind. An awareness of the value of automation is nothing new, but the boom in demand is largely driven by a need for greater efficiency, rapid deployment and scalability.
According to Deloitte’s 2020 survey, two-thirds of organisations surveyed also note the Covid-19 pandemic’s role in accelerating demand for automation. For these organisations, automation has facilitated remote working and helped them meet an increase in processing requirements.
It is no longer the case of whether to automate, but when, and the best time is always now.
RPA is a well-proved technology, but the integration of AI and other cognitive technologies broadens the scope of what can be automated and the scale of its benefits. This is accelerating the market even faster, and those with skillsets in both domains are therefore in high demand.
This demand is reflected in the training courses now available. Microsoft recently launched its own AI offering, Azure Applied AI Services, and MIT has just introduced a new RPA diploma course to meet market demand. Yet this is still a candidate-short field. The sector is growing more quickly than the skillset.
The value of transferable skills in automation
Jobs are often well-paid. In the UK for example, Glassdoor shows that RPA developers are paid, on average, £6,000 more than other developers. And jobseekers may already have some of the skills that recruiters are looking for.
I began my career on the shop floor selling mobile phones and was promoted to a management position before becoming a project manager, where I worked on speech technologies for Vodafone. Later, I moved to Capita, where I helped scale its automation department from three people to 177.
Automation has been my focus ever since, and I have seen first-hand how challenging it can be to find the right candidates to fill these roles. It is about getting that depth and breadth of skills that is difficult in the market. There are many transferrable skills which can help create a pipeline from a variety of jobs into the world of automation. Recruiters want to see that you have battle scars.
The most in-demand jobs in automation, AI and RPA
Project managers and business analysts are sought-after, while systems architects and lead developers are in particularly high demand. Experienced centre of excellence programme leads can be hard to come by, so are in highest demand.
It all comes down to experience. There are many candidates who claim to have RPA experience, but few of them have applied their skills broadly across multiple industries. People who can demonstrate a breadth of experience, including in cognitive technologies, are in highest demand.
While there are many developers in Blue Prism and UiPath, Automation Anywhere, developers are still scarce, and organisations are being forced to look overseas for resources. Knowledge of associated technologies such as cloud, chatbots and natural language processing are highly rated, while business analysts increasingly need to have deep knowledge of the vendor ecosystems and process/task mining to differentiate themselves from the competition.
How to get a job in automation, AI and RPA
This is a growing sector, so newcomers can build their skills to make them employable in the longer-term. While there is no substitute for years of experience, many employers will be willing to overlook a lack of experience if the candidate can demonstrate key transferable skills, soft skills such as problem-solving abilities, or a commitment to learning and professional development.
Business analysts and project managers should be diplomatic with good communication skills. They should also understand the benefits of automation. Often, this job will involve learning how to automate certain areas of an employee’s job, which can make people concerned that their role is becoming obsolete. A good business analyst or project manager will be able to get all the information they need about a particular role while explaining how automation will help to make their jobs easier and more fulfilling.
Developers should consider specialising in complimentary technologies, such as cloud computing. As Microsoft’s Azure suite shows, the cloud can act as an entry point to the world of automation, so any awareness of cloud technology will help you understand how automation can work.
Potential candidates could sign up for online training with companies such as UiPath, Blue Prism or Automation Anywhere. These companies are on the cutting edge of AI, RPA and automation, and UiPath and Automation Anywhere currently offer free training courses that are recognised by most corporates with an interest in this field.
However, in such a fast-moving sector, it is important to top up your skills and qualifications, even after establishing your career.
Automation is the future
Automation, AI and RPA will transform the jobs market over the next few years. However, there is still fear around the impact automation could have on traditional jobs, and automation leaders around the world have been calling for an ethical roll-out of automated services.
For instance, companies might initially use automation to remove the more monotonous tasks which do not require much human engagement.
It is not about taking the human out of the equation; it is about taking the robot out of the human and liberating intellect. This takes away the drudgery of work and leaves people free to build relationships and be more creative.
Automation, AI and RPA can improve efficiencies, reduce costs and minimise churn. But there will always be a role for human interaction – whether that involves ‘managing’ your digital workforce as an automation specialist, or engaging with clients, colleagues and vendors.
The workplace will inevitably see a shift towards intelligent automation, and the most in-demand jobs will change over time, but the sector is here to stay.
By Tim Olsen
Tim Olsen is an intelligent automation director at Hays Technology.