The future of work looks full of promise. Combining human brainpower with artificial intelligence, virtual reality and automatization will revolutionise how we work. Already, robotic enhancement is helping humans exceed their natural capabilities; AI is opening the door to real-time, personalized intelligent services cutting waste and maximising results. And virtual and augmented reality are enabling real-time learning, human-robot collaboration and better work safety.
Disruptive innovation is not exclusive to our age. Farming turned mechanized from manual; the manufacture of automobiles moved from a craft industry to assembly line production. But it raises huge questions for companies and workers who face the challenges – and opportunities – of digital disruption.
Technological revolution is our prime hope for meeting issues like ageing and shrinking societies. But we must acknowledge it can trigger fears, explaining, perhaps, the growing calls for radical responses, such as a state-guaranteed universal basic income to support swelling numbers of unemployed. Either way, digitalization throws up huge questions about people’s self-worth and sense of humanity.
So how should we react to the opportunities, and, if necessary, prepare for the challenges? I’m an optimist. In workforce solutions, our industry, automation is already releasing time for more added value tasks: in other words, more time to hold face-to-face meetings, offer training, coaching and the human touch, along with strategy development and process optimization.
Take Ella, the chatbot digital career agent developed by Lee Hecht Harrison, global leader in career transition and development. Ella screens all available jobs, publicly advertised or at the company’s clients, matching the profiles and needs of the candidates, freeing up HR professionals for other tasks.
I’m confident digitalization and technology will be key drivers of inclusive growth. Just look at WoWooHR, a Chinese company that started life offering social insurance management through an online HR platform and serves enterprises with a highly efficient and high quality “Internet Plus” HR Service. It plans to expand into payroll and employee welfare management. Using mobile online technology, big data management and cloud platforms, WoWooHR aims to provide any employee, in any company in even the remotest corners of China with professional, efficient and high quality HR services.
Technology’s impact is as evident in education. Whether generating educational materials, distributing content (just think of all those MOOCs - massive open online courses) or evaluating learning outcomes – notably through big data – the art of learning is being transformed. The opportunities are particularly exciting for developing countries, which can now guarantee their young populations have more access to education and upskilling.
Of course, the opportunities provided by digital sustainability go much further. For workers, there is now real potential to work from anywhere and at any time. Talented individuals no longer need to restrict themselves to a local or even regional market, but can compete globally.
Technology has also boosted the scope for inclusion. People who need flexible arrangements, such as parents, have much greater opportunity to participate. The same applies to people with disabilities or remote workers.
To maximise the new technological order, governments, companies and workers all must adapt. These are just some of the priorities that need to be on the agenda of governments and companies:
- Invest in research and innovation: you can’t stop progress, but you can harness it.
- Reform schooling: STEM and digital skills are a must. But don’t forget the people skills needed for the new world of work: flexibility; the ability to ‘learn how to learn’ and adapt to continuous change; as well as communication and collaboration skills to nurture team work and results within geographically dispersed teams.
- Invest in life-long learning and upskilling to keep pace with rapid change. A must for workers, who now face the multi-career age.
- Embrace flexibility and mobility to foster international experience and networks, and intercultural skills.
Digital transformation is having an enormous impact on jobs and society. If we act now and invest in developing and shaping the right skills, then the ‘digital’ workforce will be the real catalyst for sustainable and inclusive growth in the 21st Century.