The defining labour challenge of our time

The Defining Labour Challenge of our Time
Rarely a day goes by without news of digitisation, artificial intelligence and virtual reality impacting the workplace. Our recent research found more than 90% of employers expect their organisation to be impacted by digitisation in the next two years.

Business leaders, politicians and economists want to quantify technology’s impact on employment – but no one knows for sure what the outcome will be. Plenty has been written predicting the future: more jobs, different jobs, less jobs, even no jobs. Few are telling people that they will need new skills and they will need them more often to stay employable for jobs we may not even have heard of yet.

What lies ahead?

We are seeing the emergence of a Skills Revolution. During this period of change, helping people up-skill and adapt to the fast-changing world of work will be the defining challenge of our time. Added to this, learnability – the desire and ability to acquire new skills to stay employable – will be more important than ever. People will need to learn, apply and adapt throughout longer working lives to stay relevant for a rapidly changing world of work.

On the whole, technological advances are a positive evolution. Although some may associate the terms ‘AI’ and ‘automation’ with a negative impact on the workforce, ManpowerGroup believes the future of work is bright and that, in the end, more jobs will be created than destroyed.

Digitisation and growth in skilled work will bring opportunities. Technology will replace both cognitive and manual routine tasks, so people can take on non-routine tasks and more fulfilling roles. Skills that tap human potential, such as creativity, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility, will allow people to augment robots rather than be replaced by them.

Although the impact of AI will vary from industry-to industry, our belief is that changes will be incremental. This period of transition will take considerable time to work through – therefore, organisations and individuals should take action now and use this period of time to prepare for what lies ahead. With purposeful planning and a clear awareness of what’s coming, companies will be able to navigate through this.

What needs to happen?

Organisations and policy makers cannot afford to ignore the implications of digitisation on the world of work. The fact is, the way work gets done is likely to change substantially, and aggressive workforce development is needed to help our future workforce make the transition and develop the necessary skills and learnability.

Companies need to tighten the alignment between their workforce strategy and their business strategy. As employers, we want to help individuals navigate the changes – from a financial, security and a training perspective. Businesses should ask themselves – how are we ensuring our workforce is agile enough so we can continue to compete?

We can’t slow the rate of technological advancement, but we can invest in our employees’ skills to increase the relevance and resilience of our people. Employability – the ability to gain and maintain a desired job – no longer depends on what you already know, but on what you are likely to learn. The future of work will require different skills and employers will need to focus on re-skilling and up-skilling people more than ever before to address today’s talent shortages and anticipate the demands of tomorrow.

We need to shift our focus from job security to career and employment security. Policy makers must think about how they ease the transition we’ll be going through and how they can help support individuals. For example, what are the changes that need to happen within education? At the same time, we must acknowledge that while education is important, it does not hold all the answers, and time is required for this to impact the talent pipeline. It’s, therefore, crucial that employers are proactively involved in this transition.

The value of human connection

Now is the time for leaders to be responsive and responsible. Employers, governments and employees must work together to be part of a long-term solution and be an active voice in that process.

We should not underestimate the value of human connection. Transformation of work need not be a battle of human versus robot. Although digitisation and automation will ensure our future workforce will look very different to how it looks today, smoothing this transition, in whatever way we can, is part of ManpowerGroup’s work with more than 400,000 clients and 3.4 million people every day. This is what gives us a unique employer and employee perspective.

We believe meaningful and sustainable employment has the power to change the world. And we are passionate about helping people and employers better navigate the impact of technology today and tomorrow as we adapt to the changing world of work.

To find out more, download our whitepaper The Skills Revolution.

This article first appeared in the sixth edition of The Human Age newspaper.