We need to think about the future of work differently

Almost every day, we’re hearing about the impact of various megatrends on the future of work. Globalisation, automation, digitisation and technology are all reshaping the work we do, how we do it, and where.

 

Too often, though, the focus is on trying to predict which jobs will be impacted by these megatrends, and which ones will be safe – if any!  There have been many such attempts over the years, even though we know that such predictions are difficult, if not impossible to get right. And many have turned out to be just plain wrong.

 

So, maybe we need to think differently about the impact of these megatrends on the future of work. By 2030, we’ll all be impacted by these megatrends and, really, 2030 isn’t so far away. I’d like to suggest that we need to think about our talent management efforts, and whether they’ll serve us into the future.

 

 

Rather than focusing on jobs, perhaps we should focus on skills and abilities

 

In particular, we should focus on the skills and abilities that will be required to succeed in our globalised, automated, digital and technologically driven workplaces. Recent research by the Foundation for Young Australians suggests that jobs in Australia are more closely related than initially thought: they identified only seven ‘clusters’ of jobs that encompass a variety of occupations, ranging from 10 up to 140 occupations per cluster.

 

 

This also means that the skills and abilities we will be looking for the in the future are more portable and applicable across clusters.

 

Advances in technology and automation such as (but not limited to) artificial intelligence and robotics will mean that workers across all job clusters will spend less time on routine, manual tasks, and more time with people, and getting value from technology and intelligent machines. A reduction in routine, manual tasks will mean that workers will need to spend more time learning and thinking: learning new skills and technologies, and making sense of data and information produced by technology and intelligent machines.

 

Our world is constantly and increasingly bombarded with data: from smartphones, robots and sensors, to name just a few. And there is – and will be – an increased need for us to make sense of that data, and to manipulate it to achieve desired outcomes for ourselves, our workplaces and our stakeholders.  As an example, in 2006, it was expected that nearly 3.5 zettabytes (that’s 3.5 x 1021) of new information would be created worldwide… And one zettabyte is equal to 250 billion DVDs!

 

But learning and thinking will not end there – in fact, learning will permeate our entire working life. As lifespans increase, this changes the nature of our careers – having multiple careers in one’s lifetime will be the norm. And thus, our working life will be a journey of lifelong learning to prepare ourselves for occupational and organisational change.

 

Advances in technology and automation will also mean that the way we interact with people will change (e.g. social media platforms, virtual collaboration). Globalisation will expand organisational boundaries: there will be different organisational structures and geographically dispersed teams, so social and emotional intelligence will be key to facilitating interpersonal relationships and unlocking collective intelligence.

 

Leaders will need to lead differently, for instance, motivate and inspire virtual teams, contingent workers, and cross generational workforces – and workers will need to collaborate differently to be able to work together effectively. And of course, the world of work will be forever changing, and emotional intelligence (in particular, managing emotions) will be critical for navigating change as well as for self-regulation, resilience and empathy.

 

 

Rather than wondering whether robots are really “coming to steal our jobs”, perhaps we should consider that the future of work might actually be more human than we think

 

Of course, some intelligent machines will be autonomous and replace humans. On the other hand, some will assist or augment the humans doing the work, as our collaborators. This will give us an opportunity to spend more time problem solving, thinking critically and strategically (and creatively), interpreting data and applying judgement. It will also allow us to spend more time building and maintaining relationships with others (internal and external to our organisations) to collaborate and share knowledge.

 

Advances in technology and automation will mean organisations will have an “unprecedented opportunity to unleash the true potential, and the true value, of their workforce of the future”. And of course, we mustn’t forget that humans are actually the creators of technology – they also manage the technology, and of course they use it (so really, without humans, robots wouldn’t survive… or exist).

 

The future of work is not about which jobs will be impacted, or which will be saved. It is not about “robots coming to steal our jobs”. The future of work is about skills, and the future of work is human.

 

If we think about the impact of megatrends on the future of work in this way, it might serve to better help our organisational efforts. We, as ‘workers of the present’, have an opportunity to prepare ourselves and our workplaces for the future (that is really already here). We need to contribute to building successful organisations, and driving them into the future – to do that, we need to attract, select, develop and engage the worker of the future: those that are willing and able to navigate this new, brave world.

 

So, I urge you to consider your talent management practices (right from attraction, to outplacement) – can your practices carry your organisation through what futurists are calling the next industrial revolution? Are your practices going to support you to unleash the true potential and true value of your future workforce? And if not, the time to act is now.

 

 

 

 

Kirsten Forgione | Consulting Psychologist
Kirsten joined the Revelian team in Melbourne in 2014 on a one-year contract. She’s a registered psychologist with a Master of Psychology (Industrial and Organisational), who is deeply interested in the study of human behaviour at work. She’s also committed to supporting organisations improve business performance and effectiveness through the assessment and development of organisations, individuals and teams.

 

We were thrilled when, in 2017, Kirsten returned to Revelian’s Melbourne team as a Consulting Psychologist, bringing her exceptional experience and commitment with her and helping our clients achieve excellent business outcomes.