Do you want the good news, or the bad news? Let’s start with the bad.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of Jobs study predicts that 5 million jobs will be lost before 2020 as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers.
The good news? The report says this very same technology will create 2.1 million jobs. But very different jobs from the 5 million to be lost. Actually that isn’t good news at all.
So at the CIPD conference earlier this month it is no surprise that a key theme was a rallying cry to the HR industry, to step up to the challenge and help shape the ‘human’ future of work.
What does all this mean for the future of work?
Put succinctly by the WEF:
“if a routine task can be performed cheaper, faster and better by a robot, there is a chance it will be. What is also true – and even more certain – is that machines push us to specialize in our competitive advantages: more “human” work, creative and social intelligence, interpersonal and non-routine tasks are what makes us resilient and adaptive to change.”
What does this mean for employees?
It is a somewhat frightening parallel to the decline of traditional industry. People have talked at length about the need for core sectors to evolve or face becoming irrelevant. Now this adaptiveness has come down to a more personal level than ever before. If we can’t learn to ‘keep learning’ we run the risk of becoming outdated as purposeful human beings.
Perhaps as some form of consolation for us mere mortals, the World Economic Forum has published a study that sets out the skill sets people will need, to be fully equipped for this future world of work.
In summary, we need to have a strong EQ and a good IQ. In other words we need to ‘play nicely’ with other people and whether we are old dogs or not, keep learning new tricks.
What does this mean for employers and the HR function?
We have to stop recruiting people solely for what they know today.
We have to stop hiring the ‘hotshot’ and pinning all our hopes on them. And we have to start looking at ways of binding together the teams we already have, so they achieve more together. As Margaret Heffernan, author of Wilfull Blindness put it: “We have spent time evaluating the bricks when the mortar really counts.”
The sharing economy got there before us on that one. Connectivity combined with collaboration is already showing us how scarce resources can be used more efficiently for the benefit of greater numbers of people.
HR teams need to play a key role in unlocking this kind of increased value within companies. Purposeful, social collaboration is suddenly an important source of competitive advantage.
We also need to crack the challenge of teaching concepts that are really difficult to convey: non-routine analytical and non-routine interpersonal skills. These are the things that mark us out as human. But of late, we have moved many people to learn standardized skills in favour of consistency and perfection, because this is what our customers expect.
But perhaps therein lies the ‘real’ good news. Instead of work turning people in to robots, maybe the use of robots can free people up, to make companies work in more human ways.