The future of work is uncertain. That’s the broad consensus of the consulting community who have been researching, writing about and advising clients on the subject for the last several years. There are plenty of visions from thought leaders about what they want from the future of work, many of which advocate for a more flexible, more humane, more equal world that is kinder to the environment. More meaningful work. There is also a lot of prophesying on how to prepare and adapt, such as McKinsey’s podcast series called the New World of Work, which addresses the changes in how work will be organised, where it will be conducted and what skills and education we will need to work effectively. Or the lessons learned from the Future of Work Community led by Jacob Morgan, best-selling author and keynote speaker on the subject.
While the future of work may not be predictable just yet, it may be useful to look at the trends that are already happening, that are causing this significant shift in the first place. Automation has been one of the primary headline-grabbers, but there are many other factors reshaping work, as well. Deloitte, the largest of the global management consulting firms, has identified 7 key disruptors (see feature image) that are driving this wave of change. I believe these can be grouped broadly in two umbrella categories – technology and people. In summary:
- Technology is everywhere
- Technology is increasingly affordable
- The amount of data being produced is increasing at exponential rates
- Technology is altering the types of jobs that will be available in the future
- Millennials are beginning to dominant the work force
- Contingent or Freelance work is increasingly popular
- Skill sets are becoming obsolete faster
Again, while the future of work is still uncertain, there are a number of commonly agreed upon outcomes that are being shaped by these disruptors, at least directionally. The people side of these disruptions seem slightly more predictable over the short-term as many of the changes are driven purely by demographics and personal preferences. For example, Millennials, close to 35% of the global workforce are different than their predecessors (Gen X and the Baby Boomers) in a number of key ways. They tend to be more activist and have a broader reach due to social media. They are taking greater stands against injustice they see in the work place and in society, demanding their employers follow suit. They prefer flexibility in terms of schedules, work-life balance and even locations. They are also far more diverse. The work force of the future will be increasingly non-white and non-Western (there are more Chinese Millennials, approx. 400 Million, than the entire US population). Employers will need to prepare for a more socially and philanthropically active, more diverse and more distributed workforce keen on alternative work arrangements.
The technology side is where the future seems harder to predict. James Manyika, the Chairman and Director of the McKinsey Global Institute has written extensively on the subject, noting how automation, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the power to be an enabler, to improve productivity, efficiencies, safety and convenience. The opposite of these potential benefits, however, is the question plaguing and worrying many, the “impact on jobs, skills, wages and the nature of work itself”. What is commonly agreed is that the low-skilled, commodifiable jobs will likely be automated. The job-for-life concept of previous generations, requiring a single skill-set, and step-by-step workflows is already mostly history. As well, the types of jobs of the future will also differ. To what degree, however, is hotly debated, as well as how fast those changes will take place.
Another significant issue, fuelling further anxiety in the discussion around automation, is how AI will be developed. According to Bernard Coleman, the Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion for Uber, much of this is down to whether the algorithms and analytics behind AI will be created with the diversity inherent in the overall populace, with its mix of gender, race, sexual orientation and socio-economics, or programmed with the innate human biases and a homogeneity that may stymie its progress. This is helping fuel the numerous debates around whether AI will have positive or negative impacts on society.
Ultimately, the one over-riding concern from all these disruptors is human adaptability. In interviews with Jacob Morgan, many executives he talks to worry most about how to personally adapt to the pace of change and avoid becoming obsolete. At the very least, it will take continuous learning and upskilling to stay relevant given that change is inevitable.
Featured Image: Deloitte Insights
Sources: Either named directly in the article, or from public information available through the World Economic Forum, Deloitte, McKinsey, Jacob Morgan Podcasts and data/charts in the Financial Times discussing the “Millennial Moment”.