The future of work is human
Future of Work We are entering a new era of technology with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, sophisticated robotics and the burgeoning internet of things.
Access to huge amounts of data is giving businesses invaluable insight, and putting knowledge into the hands of the many. In line with Moore’s law, computing power continues to leap ahead as prices drop. Many new opportunities are opening up, but it’s also likely that significant proportions of the tasks and jobs we do today will be transformed or displaced. AI that can replicate or indeed improve more analytical type activities, means even higher skilled jobs are becoming prone to displacement from fields as diverse as law and medicine, to financial advice or journalism.
"Significant proportions of the tasks and jobs we do today will be transformed or displaced by technology."
Application of these technologies will be driven by new market opportunities and by economics. The UK’s low productivity is holding back average wages growth, and international competitiveness as well. Sectors like retail with narrow margins and rising labour costs clearly see more automation as part of the solution, as do industries like construction looking to address skills shortages. Then there are efficiencies offered by technologies such as blockchain that could transform financial services.
Yet, people will always be our most important assets. They can adapt and collaborate, innovate and create, apply judgement and empathy. But these very human skills are not always what we have most valued or built our workplaces around. Organisations need to move from command-and-control hierarchies and enable structures that give voice and invite contribution. We need to design work that is meaningful, develop managers to support and engage their teams, build more inclusive workplaces that multiply the wider talents of our diverse workforce, and reduce levels of stress and improve overall well-being. Rather than wrestling robots and people into an either-or line on a balance sheet, we need the foresight to understand how they can be multipliers of one another, and then to structure investments in skills and automation accordingly.
"People will always be our biggest assets; they can apply judgement and empathy, adapt and collaborate."
Technology can also enable more flexible working and access to work opportunities — the gig economy is part of this, but we have to shift working cultures and take a hard look at the tax, benefits and legislative systems that are still built around traditional employment models of work. Education must adapt, and we need to develop greater support for lifelong learning and investment in the development of new skills to correspond with job changes in the future. And last but not least, we must find ways of distributing the wealth which is in danger of accruing much more to those that are creating some of this future, than to the many who may be impacted by it.