As if there wasn’t enough for us to worry about, the noise around the Future of Jobs has been growing louder and louder.
With headlines like “What jobs will still be around in 20 years?”, “How the 9-to-5 workday has disappeared”, “How long will it take for your job to be automated?”, “Oxford University … estimated that 47% of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades” and “As robots rise, how artificial intelligence will impact jobs” it’s hard not to feel despondent.
I have also however noticed the growth in headlines like “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots will take our jobs – but better ones will emerge for us”, “Will the most freelance-friendly generation reshape the future of work?”, “Don’t Panic. AI won’t put you out of work – your future job doesn’t exist yet” and “Digital transformation: How businesses are reskilling employees for the future of work”.
I find much of the conversation around jobs to be fundamentally flawed because as has been stated by many of the brightest business brains, the conversation should be around the Work of the Future.
The world we have grown up in has been built upon the foundations of a sausage factory-like school and university system that prepares individuals to take their place in the world, in a job, possibly for 20 years-to-life. This has been premised on the world changing at an incremental pace. As we can see from our own experience in not only the general business environment, but in the ICT space in particular, we no longer live in a world of incremental change. Exponential change seems to be the guiding force for our times.
As humans, it’s a little tough for us to exponentially upgrade ourselves with better RAM, CPU’s or other hardware that would allow us to function at a higher cognitive or faster-processing level. We can however do much in the way of upgrading the software that runs on top of the hardware that we already have. We most often do this through learning.
In the world of Jobs, we went to college or university and learnt a set of skills and little was made of keeping those skills up to date or learning entirely new skill sets, unless, you were a doctor or in a position that required you to re-sit certifications regularly. That was then.
Now we live in a world where the jobs that are process driven, repetitious and that could easily be automated, probably will be. Although that sounds scary it is in fact a wonderful opportunity for us to move toward the Work of the Future, which is based on life-long learning and the assumption that we should continually relook at what we do, what Work the world needs doing and upskill ourselves accordingly.
An interesting example of this is the American telecommunications giant AT&T. “… the CEO shares with the company where they are going, what world they are living in, and what skills you need to be a lifelong employee at AT&T. They then partner with Udacity to create Nanodegree courses for each one of those skills. Then the company gives each employee up to US$8,000 a year to take those courses, but it says to the employee, ‘Your responsibility is that you have to take them on your own time.’ The company, with help from the U.S. government, will create the lifelong learning opportunities but the employee, will have to seize them on their own time.”
This has resulted in a more visionary approach to the topic of Work and a move away from viewing what we do each day, between 08:00 and 17:00, as a job. Work is not just about what we do for the company we work for, it is also about how we move to a path of continual growth and development. Employees who are curious, engaged and in a continual learning cycle will be able to contribute on a far larger scale to not only their own well-being, but to that of the organisation/s they work with.
If we view what we do each day as a Job, it is quite possible, even likely, that we may be replaced by AI, automation or outsourcing. If, however, we approach the Future of (Our) Work life as a way to continually learn, then in all likelihood we will be well ahead of the curve of any of those scary “AI causes job losses” headlines we see.
It’s an exponential shift in our thinking to move from the thought of Jobs to seeing it as the Future of Work. It will take a while before this conversation becomes common place in South Africa but according to the World Economic Forum; “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is interacting with other socio-economic and demographic factors to create a perfect storm of business model change in all industries, resulting in major disruptions to labour markets.”
We can’t escape the exciting change that’s coming, so I invite myself and you, to embrace it.
Anton Herbst is the Head of Strategy for the Tarsus Technology Group.