Workplaces, work and workforce globally are evolving at a rate faster than ever, and organizations have to keep up in order to succeed in the industry 4.0. A look at some of biggest consumer products in the last 250 years helps gauging the pace of this wave of change. It took almost 75 years for telephones to reach homes of 50 million people, across the globe, whereas it took around 38 years for radios to reach the same number of households. For televisions, it took only 13 years to touch the same mark. Now the web and social media revolution is a different game altogether. It was a matter of only four years that 50 million users were surfing the internet, while in just about half that time, the same number of users were hooked on to Facebook. This has not only affected the way the public consumes news or communicates, but also the way industry engages with its employees as well as customers. From the way organizations function and recruit to what a typical day of an employee looks like, nothing is how it used to be around two decades ago. The millennials as well the upcoming Gen Z workforce does not consider their career choices in the way their grandfathers, comprising mostly of baby boomers, did.
So what does the future of work look like?
Just as mechanization revolutionized the agriculture and manufacturing industries in the previous industrial ages, today digital technologies and machine intelligence are transforming the industry. Organizations are deploying artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and data analytics to optimize their processes and achieve higher efficiency. As the innovation leader in the e-commerce industry, Amazon uses robots to move good around in its warehouses, with the aim of optimizing floor space and reducing costs. From autonomous vehicles to 3D printing to cloud computing, technology is pushing businesses to rethink their models. Simulations are enabling engineers and product specialists to develop virtual operating systems that can help leverage real-time data and conduct predictive analytics. An African mine has been reported to increase its yield by 3.7%, by identifying an issue with its leaching process, with the help of data obtained from its equipment sensors. Work processes, office spaces and even customer interaction is being redefined as machine intelligence gets more and more integrated with human capabilities.
While big data and automation are pushing business processes and communication in a more interconnected realm, the demographical changes are driving the organizational work culture. Today, five different generations make up the industrial workforce. In the next decade, however, 58% of the workforce will be comprising of millennials and Gen Z. This brings about a significant behavioral shift in the employees; and employers will be designing their policies and infrastructure based on this new generation of employees.
Flexibility in the workplace will be the key, both from work and workforce’s perspective. Organizations will move away from waterfall models of doing business and adopt agile processes to drive growth. And as modern firms will seek talent that is flexible to learn and adapt quickly, even the new-age employees will demand higher flexibility in location and time. By 2028, as much as 73% of all teams are expected to have remote workers.
The impact and implications
According to PWC’s Macroeconomic Impact of Artificial Intelligence, global GDP could be up to 14% higher than its baseline projection in 2030 as a result of AI. While this projects a positive picture of the future of work, there are certain challenges that need to be considered in the dawn of automation. The same report also indicates towards an initial displacement of jobs with the influx of automation. Around 326 million jobs will be impacted by AI in 2030, however these should be interpreted as jobs both created and impacted by AI. The World Economic Forum has revealed that new technologies such as AI are creating demand for new industrial skills and competencies, and with the on-going rate by 2022, upto 133 million new roles could be created. Therefore, what business leaders and policy makers need to prepare for is the pace of displacement and shift in roles, as the period of stability will continue to move and shrink.
Another major challenge ahead of educational institutions, government and industry leaders is to fight the resistance against automation and other new technologies. In a recent McKinsey Automation Survey, 48% respondents identified ‘talent and employee resistance management’ as one of the most significant automation-related challenges in the next three years. Organizational leaders recognize conveying how disappearing of certain jobs does not necessarily translate into disappearing of the need of employees as one of the most difficult aspects of this transformation. The task at hand will be to convey that automation and machine intelligence is here to augment rather than displace workforce, while understanding and leveraging the opportunities of AI and automation.
The way forward
By now, there is enough data to indicate that the impact of automation and other technologies on the industry will be multi-faceted. Therefore, it is imperative that we combine our forces at all levels to minimize the impact and maximize the benefits of this industrial transformation. While corporate will have to create internal capabilities by training and preparing their employees, even policy makers and educational institutes will have to come forward to fill the gap between the current education and industry skill requirement. Amidst the growing debate on the subject of automation, as much as 96% of managers believe that reskilling is important for employees. Industry leaders such as Microsoft have taken the initial steps to bridge the gap in AI skills, by partnering with education provider General Assembly (GA). The initiative aims to provide 15,000 workers with relevant industry knowledge in AI, cloud, data engineering, machine learning, data science and more over the next three years. In addition, GA has also made Microsoft the founding member of AI Standards Board, which is responsible for defining AI skill standards, designing skill assessments, and building industry-recognized credential system. Similar efforts to set specific industry standards are required in order to bring the education and corporate bodies on the same page, so that the skill gaps can be aptly identified and addressed in time.
While organizations prepare to promote continuous learning culture and agile training technologies, they will also have to rethink their skill set requisite. Going forward, workplaces are likely to witness non-linear career paths and flat structures due to the highly interconnected and sometimes even overlapping nature of the new-age job roles. Increased automation will also push both firms and employees to develop other skills, as work becomes less repetitive and more technical. According to LinkedIn annual Global Talent Trends 2019 report, soft skills is one of the key trends impacting the future of the HR and the recruiting industry. Therefore, more attention needs to be given to enhancing capabilities specific to humans such as emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity, etc. From the leadership to the frontline, organizations will have to focus on building these human attributes in order to leverage the on-going technological changes.
The report also divulges a concern with 87% respondents agreeing that candidates with strong soft skills will be increasingly important to the success of their organizations, while only 53% actually having a formal soft skill assessment process. Similar such concerns are indicated when it comes to the preparedness of the industry and society at large for the age of AI and automation. Clearly, reskilling and scientific skill assessment at all levels of job preparation is a must for being able to realize the true potential of machine intelligence and automation in the industry 4.0.