The future of work seems to be a bit like Sci-Fi. Are we ready?

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Are you a fan of futuristic sci-fi fiction that describes dystopian or faux utopian futures that have gone wrong or right because of the advancement of technology? Material that deals with these themes feeds off the uncertainty of how the future is going to turn out for mankind in a world that is changing so rapidly. I sometimes imagine myself living in these future worlds, working, struggling or surviving through these imaginary lives. The following video about what could happen if we automated all work and made jobs extinct, is about such a world. I am not sure I would like living there.

While the above video might be a bit extreme, it reflects the AI paranoia that has ensconced itself in some mindsets while whispering that, soon, an artificial intelligence will control everything on the planet and human’s will become its unnecessary subjects. But our zest to discover better, faster ways of doing things is not going to die and there is so much to do on a global level. So not so soon maybe? Who knows? That’s the amazing thing about the future, its full of surprises. But businesses don’t like surprises and often buckle when they are hit by one. This is because many businesses aren’t built to be responsive. They still follow systemic models of growth and goal setting and often find themselves scrambling to keep up with an unforeseen development. It is a world of adapt or die. Facebook did what Myspace couldn’t i.e. keep up with its changing audience and Blackberry was blindsided by its own success when Apple came along. Change is certain to come. And the workforce is undergoing a significant shift in terms of attitudes affected by socio-environmental triggers, technology and other factors.

How is Work Changing?

Hardly any “job” (except for some niche artisanal work) has remained unchanged since its origin. The internet and social media has made the market boundless for those who offer goods and services. Ask anyone who has worked for over 25 years in their life. Be it a teacher, an electrician or a businesswoman/man. They will all have transformative stories of how their work changed over time. The internet and internet assisted technology, like online banking, YouTube, Amazon.com and new thought processes and ideas, stemming from exploratory research into behavioural and consumer psychology and neuroscience, has transformed how we work and how we do business.

I.                    Through Technology

More recently though, the catalyst triggering this change appears to be technological advancements that have made automation affordable on a large scale. A recent report published by PWC states that 30% of UK’s, 38% of US’, 35% of Germany’s and 21% of Japan’s existing jobs could be at potential risk of automation by the early 2030s. Automation or Robots are beginning to replace people but only in some sectors. It was interesting to see in the PWC report, that in the UK, up to 56% of the jobs in the Transportation and Storage sector could be replaced with automation while in the education sector only 9% of existing jobs had the potential to be replaced. But because of technology, just in the past 10 years, lucrative jobs like App Developer, Cloud Computing Service Provider and Market Research Data Miner have emerged and established themselves in the marketplace. It is important to facilitate the at-risk workforce to up-skill and retrain, especially in sectors with high automation potential, as early as possible.

II.                  Through a Generational shift in attitudes towards work

Changes in work however, are not limited to technology alone. Work is undergoing a significant generational change. Empowered with technology, and with a strong desire to have democratic control, the younger generation entering the workforce, often wants to work on its own terms while performing at its best. To manage this new generation, the old ways of management will need to change. Jeffrey Joerres who led Manpower Group for 15 years between 1999 and 2014 stated in an interview that it is important to be vigilant while ensuring that “your organization is intolerant of the behaviours that dampen flexibility and agility and learning and adaptation”. He goes on to say, that leaders can no longer simply set rules they expect others to follow, but, need to become role models with high levels of accountability.

How to become a future ready organization?

According to a 2016 World Economic Forum(WEF) report there could be a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2050. New jobs are also emerging and there is a need for skilled workers for these new positions. The WEF report specifically mentions that data analysts and specialist sales representatives will be a key need of businesses across sectors, and at the moment, skilled candidates for both these jobs are scarce.

 So how do organizations start preparing themselves for the workforce of the future. It is not easy to do; neither is it a short-term process.

I.                    Introspect and be ready to be responsive

Prof John Boudreau in an article in the Harvard Business review, suggests that organizations could use the below map to plot their current position and its work requirements. This should be done with the aim to move into the most optimal quadrant or quadrants within the short term and eventually the long term.

The future of WorkSource: Work in the Future Will Fall into These 4 Categories by John Boudreau, March 17, 2016 found at (https://hbr.org/2016/03/work-in-the-future-will-fall-into-these-4-categories)

II.                  Adopt and Deploy Analytics

Another facilitator of the transition into the future of work is analytics. Analytics, especially predictive analytics is very useful to find and source talent from the right places, managing talent across roles and predicted attrition. Listen to this excellent webinar to learn more about how HR Analytics can be used to build the workforce of the future.

Technology is going to optimize work. It is going to transform it, automate it and assist it in ways we have imagined and ways we still haven’t dreamt of. Adopting a responsive process is essential. So while we may still be some distance away from job extinction altogether, people in the present are already losing their jobs to automation and businesses are already facing resource scarcity for specialized jobs. Both these gaps are not easy to fill, and one doesn’t fit snuggly into the other, but businesses can start getting ready by training their existing workforce, by hiring better through HR Analytics, by becoming data centric decision makers and by becoming aware of demographic and social changes in addition to changes in the business environment. Businesses also need to make a serious commitment to educate and equip, both existing and prospective employees, for the future of work, motivated not just by profit, but by the greater purpose of sustaining their very environment. As for robots taking over the world… we can talk about it in another article.

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