The Impact of Digitisation on the Future of Work
Changeboard is a global community of ambitious HR and business leaders, with a mission to inspire individuals and organisations to change the way they work. Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup Chairman and CEO, recently participated in their Future Talent podcast series.
In conversation with Jim Carrick Birtwell, Co-Founder and CEO of Changeboard, Jonas discussed the ways in which technology is reshaping the role of human capital within organisations. He shared ManpowerGroup’s perspective on why the debate around the Skills Revolution is so important, the vital role of learnability, and the opportunity for HR to take an increasingly strategic role at the heart of their organisations.
We have shared excerpts from their interview below.
Jim: How have structural changes affected organisations and employees from a skills perspective – in particular, the impact of technology, AI, and automation?
Jonas: Technology is benefiting individuals with the right skill sets and making it more difficult for people who have insufficient skill sets to take advantage of technology. In such a highly disruptive environment, organisations must build agile and faster-moving business models that are able to adapt. Employers may not be able to predict what the future will portray, but they need to be able to react at speed so they can take the curve when it comes.
Essentially, the world of work is divided between those who have the skills and can take advantage of these trends, and those who do not have the required skills. You can see that polarisation of the labour market being replayed in unemployment numbers all over the world, in both developed and emerging markets.
This is an extremely important debate and exactly why we want to ensure we provide insight into what we see happening in the labour market as it relates to skills, because this bifurcation is accelerating and is not converging at this point.
All prior industrial revolutions have been accompanied by an education revolution as a way of coping and providing a more skilled workforce to be able to take advantage of that phase. We believe exactly the same kind of revolution needs to take place, as it relates to bridging the skills between those that have the requisite skills and those who do not, so we have a society that is able to gain and grow in prosperity. That will inevitably occur as we see the fourth industrial revolution play out.
Jim: I really like the explicit focus on education as the abiding theme that keeps reoccurring throughout history. Is that what you see when you talk about learnability? What do you mean by this term?
Jonas: As a backdrop – you can open any newspaper anywhere in the world and see the concerns about artificial intelligence making jobs redundant and replacing them. This is why we think the debate around the Skills Revolution is so important. We focus far too much time on the potential impact of the disruptive elements of technology (as in job elimination), and far too little time on the actual impact that we need to affect, which is the Skills Revolution.
To date, all of the data will tell you that this is going to play out the way it’s played out in the past. We have gone through many evolutions all over the world, and the end result has always been the same. After a period of transition and disruption, which requires a new Skills Revolution, new jobs have been created. The counter argument to that is the current speed of change, driven by globalisation, and how quickly technology can leapfrog and replace human activities.
That is the reason why we think learnability is such an important aspect of the Skills Revolution. Your ability to acquire and continuously acquire new skills at faster cycles, will dictate your ability to guarantee employment security for the long–term. That is one of the defining features of the Skills Revolution. Learnability will be the capability we need our education systems to provide, so that individuals are ready to continue to learn. This will, undoubtedly, be accelerated by our changing environment, which we are always going to be faced with going forwards.
Jim: What is your perspective on how aware leaders are of their responsibility to create environments where learning is continuous, and are you seeing that being implemented at a strategic, structural level?
Jonas: Many organisations realise it is important. The difference is that a minority at this point realise it is a strategic imperative. Most organisations think of it as an operational imperative, driven by an improving economy, the fact that it is getting harder to find people with the right skills, that individuals with in-demand skills are increasingly mobile and willing to change employers as they try to acquire and build their own skills portfolio.
I think that we will continue to see this evolve because, from a business strategy perspective, your most critical resource is going to be access to human capital. It is that human capital, augmented by technology and great processes, which will enable an organisation to execute their business strategy. While the awareness may not fully be there yet, on a broad-based scale in many organisations, if you look at CEO surveys and what their top-of-mind concerns are today, within their top priorities is access to human capital to execute on their business strategy.
Jim: Are there any examples that you could share of HR functions transforming the way they think about developing skills within their own organisations?
Jonas: We see a number of organisations taking very radical steps to grow their talent pipeline internally, with very explicit employee engagement and attraction strategies. In effect, they are saying: ‘You don’t need to join this organisation to get a job for life, however, our commitment to you is to develop your skills. We hope to use your skills for a long time, but if we don’t, you know that our agreement with you is that we have enhanced your skill sets so you are more marketable in any circumstance you may find yourself in as you look into the future.’
I would also say that we have seen a number of organisations recruit leaders into C-suite HR roles who come from their business. These individuals understand the operational impact of human capital and their business, and that is their primary lens with which they then make the other traditional lenses in HR drive a more business-centric HR strategy. So the evolution of HR functions, and how HR leaders think about how to best align with their business strategies, is extremely important.
I believe that the most important aspect of that is a profound understanding of how the organisation creates value through its human capital at a very fundamental level.
Jim: This creates the opportunity for HR to be taking an increasingly strategic role right of the heart of the executive team, creating and shaping their workforces of the future. This is one of the reasons the HR community are so genuinely engaged by the disruptions. They cause big challenges, but from that disruption, there is almost a new settlement of that relationship between HR and the business.
Jonas: I think that is a great observation and I absolutely believe this is true. This is a significant opportunity for the HR profession to make those kinds of contributions and have a tremendous impact on the overall success of the businesses and where they lead their organisation. It is a very disruptive time – it’s highly transformative – but as we have seen in a number of other areas, when those opportunities come, the prominence and the importance of those activities become magnified.
In most organisations that I’m familiar with, technology plays an extremely central role in the success of the business. Of course, human capital is what’s going to enable technology to have the desired impact and that’s why human capital really is the most important resource in determining the success of a business, as well as a country. Looking ahead, the space of human capital is where the battleground is going to be.
To listen to the podcast in full, please visit: manpowergroup.co.uk/digitalskillsimperative
This article first appeared in the ninth edition of The Human Age Newspaper.