The overarching problem most businesses are trying to solve right now, while recovering growth lost during a sluggish 2020, is the slow drain of their talent pool.
It's an employee's market out there, especially for tech professions. Unemployment for tech roles is less than half the national average.
Across the labor market, more people are quitting their jobs, too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 4.4 million resignations in September, the highest number since it began tracking the numbers in 2000.
Employers are looking to automation for help with the labor shortage problem. Automating can increase the efficiency of workers, reducing the number of workers needed. But it can also boost employee satisfaction, giving existing workforces a reason to stay.
"Automation can certainly help somebody be successful, more fulfilled in their job," said Curt Garner, CTO at Chipotle Mexican Grill, speaking Wednesday at Forbes CIO Next virtual series. Organizations gain by leveraging the best of both worlds — humans' flexibility and ability to learn, and the replicability of automation.
Gartner expects automation to help companies financially, too. New operating processes combined with an automation-heavy strategy will lead companies to cut operational costs by 30% over the next two years 2024.
At Gulfstream Aerospace, robotic process automation has helped improve the employee experience by taking unwanted tasks off the to-do list.
"Nobody really wants to spend their time doing lookups and screen scrapes and information transfer," said Sheryl Bunton, SVP and CIO Gulfstream Aerospace, speaking on the panel. Assigning that repetitive type of work to a bot can make a role feel more interesting, she said.
The majority of executives agree, according to a survey of over 2,000 global managers published by MIT Sloan Management Review. Three-quarters of executives said AI implementation can improve team morale, collaboration and collective learning.
How tech can boost training
Virtual reality is among the emerging technologies that can also help transform on-the-job training, improving the experience during the early stages of worker engagement.
Gulfstream is using digital overlays on Microsoft's HoloLens headsets to assist workers during training or quality assurance. The technology allows them to understand and identify the different parts of an aircraft's intricate wiring system.
"When you're in a manufacturing environment, you have to make sure that you don't create a technology that takes people out of the real world," said Bunton. "For safety, you have to be able to still see what's going on around you."
Businesses often find technology upgrades done for internal purposes can also deliver success as standalone, commercial products. Duke Energy developed a VR training program for technician safety that it later sold to other companies in the space.
That said, emerging technologies aren't a match for every training need.
"Some things need to be done shoulder-to-shoulder," said Garner. "For us, it's knife skills. You wouldn't necessarily want somebody with a virtual reality lens holding a knife."
What's important, Garner said, is to pull the thread of digital and automation entirely through the experiences. "It's our role to be the architects that construct those experiences, and make sure that there isn't a blind spot somewhere where the experience falls off."