This year marks the beginning of my motherhood to a little 7-month-old girl that has brought immense joy, timeless memories and increasing parental responsibilities. Recently, I’m already thinking and planning about her future, particularly in twenty years time, (year 2038) what will the workforce be like in terms of jobs and skillsets that will be in need so that in the ‘now’, I can help guide her education, mindset and pathway to best equip and enable her to be effectively skilled, sustainably marketable and resourceful in society.
Today, we are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and ‘thinking machines’ are replacing human tasks and jobs, and changing the skills that organisations are looking for in their people. These momentous changes raise huge organisational, talent and HR challenges – at a time when business leaders are already wrestling with unprecedented risks, disruption and political and societal upheaval. The pace of change is accelerating. Competition for the right talent is fierce. And ‘talent’ no longer means the same as ten years ago; many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow, and the next twenty years are unknown to us today. What jobs and skills will be in need? How can organisations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will your talent needs change? How can you attract, keep and motivate the people you need? And what does all this mean for recruitment, attraction and retention? This isn’t a time to sit back and wait for events to unfold, we need to be many steps ahead of the game.
I have this question posed to me in my field of work everyday – Will robots eventually replace us all at work? Or will we create a new world where people and machines work alongside each other? It’s the most fundamental – and difficult – question we must ask of the future of work. As more individual tasks become automatable through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sophisticated algorithms, jobs are being redefined and re-categorised. A third of people worldwide are now worried about losing their job to automation. It’s clear that automation will result in a massive reclassification and rebalancing of work. Some sectors and roles, even entire sections of the workforce will lose out but others will be created. Automation will not only alter the types of jobs available but their number and perceived value. By replacing workers doing routine, methodical tasks, machines can amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problemsolving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills. Those workers performing tasks which automation can’t yet crack, become more pivotal – and this means creativity, innovation, imagination, and design skills will be prioritised by employers.
“So what should we tell our children? That to stay ahead, you need to focus on your ability to continuously adapt, engage with others in that process, and most importantly retain your core sense of identity and values. For students, it’s not just about acquiring knowledge, but about how to learn. For the rest of us, we should remember that intellectual complacency is not our friend and that learning – not just new things but new ways of thinking – is a life-long endeavour.”
The messages for leaders, act now! This isn’t about some ‘far future’ of work – change is already happening, and accelerating. No regrets and bets. The future isn’t a fixed destination. Plan for a dynamic rather than a static future. You’ll need to recognise multiple and evolving scenarios. Make ‘no regrets’ moves that work with most scenarios – but you’ll need to make some ‘bets’ too. Make a bigger leap. Don’t be constrained by your starting point. You might need a more radical change than just a small step away from where you are today. Own the automation debate. Automation and AI will affect every level of the business and its people. It’s too important an issue to leave to IT (or HR) alone. A depth of understanding and keen insight into the changing technology landscape is a must. People not jobs. Organisations can’t protect jobs which are made redundant by technology – but they do have a responsibility to their people. Protect people not jobs. Nurture agility, adaptability and re-skilling. Build a clear narrative. A third of workers are anxious about the future and their job due to automation – an anxiety that kills confidence and the willingness to innovate. How your employees feel affects the business today – so start a mature conversation about the future.