Will the role of EA/PA disappear to automation?

Will the role of EA/PA disappear to automation?

According to a March 2018 report by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it is said that robots are set to take 14% of existing human jobs. It’s a reality we already experience in grocery stores, airports, and in rare exceptions, over morning coffee (Starbucks has an AI-powered barista).

The PA role has admittedly changed since Miss Moneypenny strutted into the office in 1962. But will automation further impact or even obliterate the PA/EA and Office Admin role?

Are the soft skills and human touch of an EA/PA replaceable?

The high risk of automation backed by investment

There are about as many predictions for job automation as there are experts. A 2013 Oxford study predicted 47% of US jobs will be automated in the coming decades, while a previous OECD study suggested only a 9% reduction in human jobs across member states (including UK, Australia, USA and most of Western Europe). But a look towards how countries are investing in AI research deepens awareness that job automation isn’t a temporary fad. France is investing €1.5 billion over 5 years, while China has a roadmap to creating a $150 billion AI industry by 2030.

Elements of the PA role are at risk of automation. Just as dictation shifted from focus with the introduction of computers, so too will other aspects of the role.

I argue this as a positive change, not a setback. It’s an opportunity to further develop the role of executive and personal assistants and separate the mundane, replaceable, tedious tasks from the mission-critical tasks only an expert PA can deliver with excellence.

The importance of human connection

Researchers are working hard to make robots more like you; you are the role model for your technological replacement. Personable, intuitive and adaptable to human emotions, an excellent PA reads between the lines and builds an invaluable relationship with the person(s) you’re hired to serve.

While many people, executives specifically, like to think of themselves as rational thinkers who come to conclusions based on hard evidence and sound logic, humans are merely assistant to an otherwise emotionally driven brain, wired with feelings and intuition.

Antonio Damasio, an acclaimed neuroscientist, conducted a study focused on people with damage to the brain where emotions are generated. The one peculiar thing they had in common was their inability to make decisions. They could rationally describe what should occur in logical terms but struggled to make even the most basic of decisions —  like what to eat for lunch. No emotions, no decisions.

Without this utterly human characteristic of emotional decision making, AI has a long way to go before robots will understand the illogical feelings, and thus decisions, of executives. PAs are air traffic controllers of an executive’s world. The ability to understand subtle preferences, roots of decisions and complex human emotions on an intuitive level give (human) PAs an irreplaceable spot at the decision-making table.

Irreplaceable PA soft skills

This doesn’t mean technology won’t replace you at all, because it will. Clerical work, payroll and, to a large extent, diary management are tasks that require precision better served by automation of the future. However soft skills such as intuition, flexibility and emotional-intelligence will serve us, humans, long before the PA role falls from significance. Develop them now and understand how they impact your career development.

Intuition: the difference between blindly following processes and making hard decisions that stem from a holistic understanding of the situation at hand.

Flexibility: specifically focused on proactive behaviour. The ability to understand when and how a course of action must shift.

Emotional intelligence: language, in all its complex glory, is rarely scrutinized for what it takes away from society. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say are not always possible. Words are merely stand-ins for an otherwise wordless state of emotions and thoughts. Understanding how to piece together what is not said (and deciphering what is said) is an irreplaceable PA soft skill.

Compete with or adapt to technology

So, tell me, where do you see yourself in the future? As an indispensable business partner or as a temporary fixture of the 20th century? The writing on the wall says you will be replaced, at least in part, by technology. And that’s OK. Begin to distinguish your role and elevate your day-to-day importance by developing soft skills and understanding where to compete with or compliment technology.

You are the gatekeeper of your role. Own it and you will succeed.

Author bio: Carly Burdova is a digital marketer with a background in growth stage startups and online businesses. She is an avid traveller who practices and preaches the benefits of prioritising life over work and paying yourself first, both financially and emotionally. Carly can be found sipping a flat white at a cafe in Prague, San Francisco, London or wherever her travels lead. She is currently building the marketing strategy for OfficeServe, a UK company that delivers delicious, freshly made food for office meetings in and around London.

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