As the technology and automation are becoming more advanced, some roles within the business environment are likely to be automated in the future, said Benjamin Wee, RPA Consultant at UiPath. While some roles are prone to automation, some others might be more resilient against automation. Mr. Wee believes that roles which require creativity, analytical skills, and emotional intelligence will not easily be affected by tech or automation. This is supported by a survey finding saying that soft skills such as creativity are highly valued. When leaders emphasise creativity into employee development, there is a great chance that they will succeed and can stand out among other competitors.
However, is it enough to only hone these skills out of employees? In this Q&A session, Mr. Wee gives insight on the misconceptions surrounding future skills that business leaders and individuals should be aware of in order to win the future.
I started learning Robotic Process Automation (RPA) not because of the job prospects but to perform better at the role I had at the time. I also never seriously considered becoming an engineer because I do not have a programming background and thought that I would never be able to pick it up.
When I joined UiPath, I started in a non-technical role within the developer team. My job was to create an onboarding process for all engineers joining the team as we were a young company and did not have many engineers but wanted to grow quickly. Part of the job was to “test” the engineers by evaluating their technical capabilities while they went through training.
Of course, this required technical knowledge and while I was assisted by another developer, I wanted to be more independent. So, I started going through our own online training and picking up projects on the side to practice. I also received a lot of support from colleagues willing to show me the ropes. Eventually, I asked my manager at the time to let me try working on some projects and that gave me the experience needed to fully transition to an RPA developer.
Transitioning to an engineer was relatively straightforward thanks to the support of my colleagues and company culture. A few colleagues were willing to dedicate their time to help me learn, and my manager was receptive to me wanting to try a new role. Since I sometimes assigned work to engineers, I also got a lot of opportunities to pick up projects to practice.
Becoming a consultant is a little different because it also involves some degree of planning and conversing with the customer, as opposed to engineering where you execute what is already planned. To be clear, development still makes up the bulk of the work but these conversations are also necessary. I think the biggest challenge is understanding how my scope of work fits into the overall strategy for the customer. For example, something may be technically feasible to implement but if it will cause issues when the customer decides to scale up with RPA then it should not be considered at all. It seems like a no-brainer but I am still learning how to look at the long term impact of the work I do.
I think every role will trend towards having a technical or analytical aspect to some degree. Especially with automation getting “smarter” and impacting office jobs, the value-add of simply being a human is our ability to not be like a robot. That means that if the bulk of your job is data entry or administrative work, there is a good chance that a robot can do it faster and more reliably than you.
From my experience, I can only say that people and companies should invest in those technical and analytical skills related to their role that would put them “above” the robots. If we take an analogy of parts working together to make a machine run, then employees should also play the role of observing change to improve the machine operation rather than just be a part of the machine. That is something that automation cannot take over.
Definitely agree, but in my experience so far, having a strategy is just as important. Everyone would agree that new technology is important, but companies that fully take advantage of this are ones that have a strategy. In other words, they know how to translate “data analytics” into something actionable that benefits their operations.
It goes the same way for RPA, companies that know why they want to automate are not just easier to work with but also more inspiring, whereas companies that simply say “RPA is important” but have no strategy fail to take advantage of the benefits of RPA. Like my answer to the previous question, the first step is to have people who are well-versed in those skills. The next step is to have them involved in formulating a strategy that takes their knowledge in that technology (be it data analytics, RPA, or anything else) and scale it across the organisation. These people, being the employees, would also be the only ones who understand their company’s needs from the ground level while also having the technical know-how to implement.
I studied Political Science and started learning RPA in my early 20s. One reason why I was able to learn and transition into development is because UiPath’s culture is very open to employees learning new skills and trying different roles. Therefore, I think a misconception is that you need to have a technical background to pick up technical skills. It is definitely harder to learn if you do not have a technical background, but not impossible if combined with the right environment. RPA also simplifies programming to a great extent and is a good entry point for those who want to pick up programming rather than the traditional way of learning (e.g. through programming languages like Python, Java etc.).
UiPath believes that everyone can learn and use automation practically in their lives, personal or professional. To that end, we have something called the Academic Alliance program that partners with educational institutions around the world, including Singapore, to teach students about RPA. I think educating those entering the workforce about the potential and details about automation helps peel away the misconception that automation will take away jobs and also inject some curiosity and confidence about being able to learn RPA, no matter your background.
Focus on reducing or eliminating the things that make you a robot. At UiPath we like to say that we are in the business of “taking the robot out of the human” because RPA does exactly that. As you are thinking of learning new technical skills, simultaneously look at how you can apply it practically. It does not have to be something you do yourself, but you can talk to colleagues too to find their pain points and see whether what you are learning can help.
For me, identifying real client projects to apply what I was learning was infinitely more beneficial than theoretical problems in a training. This also sets you up to test and see what aspects of that technology works in your organisation, which is a skill more useful than just knowing how to execute.
Related to that is also people skills. Being able to effectively speak to technical and business audiences is a useful soft skill that many companies look for. This is also something that robots cannot replace.
“AI” is a very general term that I think is misunderstood especially from business. From my experience so far, many people are passionate to learn new skills like RPA but lack the support to do so. For example, their direct managers are more interested in them doing their day jobs than spending time learning so they may either tell the person to stop learning or set a very short timeline to learn and deliver results, or stop learning. Both are barriers to a company wanting to nurture “AI” talent among their employees.
I encourage companies to promote a culture that is more friendly to employees wanting to learn new skills. It does not have to be a company-wide shift but perhaps the creation of a program for people to apply to. In this program, they are given opportunities and more leeway away from their day jobs. Properly vet those applying to identify who are the passionate ones. Top-down endorsement and ground-up curiosity are both key for companies to find new opportunities with emerging technologies.
About Benjamin Wee:
Benjamin Wee started working for UiPath in Singapore as a non-technical role helping to on-board new hires in the Developer team. With no programming background he never seriously considered becoming an engineer, much less a consultant. Yet through online training and picking up skills on the job – including asking colleagues to give him projects to practice on – he transitioned to become an RPA engineer. However, as much of his new role involved executing coding and development work that had already been planned by others, he knew that even these newly acquired skills may well be ‘automated away’ at some point.
Connect with Benjamin Wee on LinkedIn.
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