In 2018, the World Economic Forum released the Future of Jobs Report that kicked straight into one of the most important points – the new world of work is already here.
A reality lived by millions.
Automation is already here.
The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is already being felt.
It also highlighted concerns about the future of jobs that go beyond just whether the machines will take them; there are other threats that affect people, economies and business too: corporate blinkers, limited skills investment, talent poaching, and poor long-term visibility.
An analysis released by the United Nations’ Development Policy and Analysis Division (DPAD) was quick to dismiss the fears that robots were out to destroy careers.
The research found three critical things: machines are designed to do specific things and can rarely undertake a complex job role; they create jobs in as much as they destroy them; and various economic, legal, regulatory and socio-political factors will prevent many roles from being replaced.
Real threats are less “sci-fi dystopia”, more “inequality”
The real threats don’t lie in a bleak dystopian future, but in the ways in which technology impacts on issues like inequality and bias. The analysis said, “Technology is one of the reasons behind the growing disparities within the work force in many countries, with middle-wage earners losing ground. Internationally, the lack of access to new technologies in least developed countries and the rapid gains by manufacturing powerhouses threaten to increase inequalities between countries even further.”
The future of certainly work looks bleak for many organisations in South Africa. Nobody is fully geared up to manage the current situation and few know the right routes to take to mitigate the damage already done by poor politicking, administration and infrastructure.
In some ways, the paints have run into one another, creating a picture as gloomy as perhaps Dickensian England.
Or have they…?
Less harsh, more visionary
“If we look at the future of work through different lenses it becomes less harsh and more visionary,” says Anton Herbst, Chief Executive Officer, Tarsus On Demand. “We need to change the dialogue to focus more on the future we want to create rather than the one the statistics keep telling us to have. We need to ask questions about the workforce of the future, what skills they need, the relevance that they offer, and how the business can facilitate this.”
It is time to ask what characteristics are critical to develop in individuals that will allow them to remain relevant in the future rather than slip into redundant obscurity. It is also time to look to leadership to stand up and take people, organisations and government into a space where achieving these goals is possible.
“We cannot force people to become relevant in the future, but we can create the frameworks within which they operate so they can ensure they are relevant,” says Herbst. “We are entering a time of massive flux and change and nobody – from the individual to the executive to the corporation – can avoid it. The real danger lies in the inability to adapt or in not having the wherewithal or the passion to handle change.”
Leadership is Essential
Leadership has to ensure that people are given the tools and information they need to adapt to change and undergo continuous learning. Give them the opportunities they need to develop their skills. And potentially give them the kick that they need to stop worrying about how automated machines will steal their jobs and to channel that energy into something useful.
After all, human society has endured numerous shifts over the centuries, and every one has brought about huge change.
“Just look back to the age when mankind was entrenched in the hunter-gatherer society,” says Herbst. “Then this changed. People built agrarian societies, they built homes and fields and utterly changed the entire way society operated. There are few hunter-gatherer societies today because we evolved. The same applies today – we need to open up to learning and have the foresight to take the opportunities on offer.”
Leverage our humanity
Leadership needs to create the frameworks, organisations need to pay attention, and people need to embrace opportunity. This is where the work comes in. Business can’t sit back and wait for talent to arrive, or allow for their people to lose jobs to the new automation systems they just installed.
They need to leverage the experience, the passion and the people to create corporate cultures that thrive within this changing ecosystem. It is by nurturing talent, regardless of age or education, that the business is more likely to grow.
“We have to change the way we think, educate and approach the future,” says Herbst. “We need to offer our people courses that allow them to learn as they work. We need to remove the rigidity of systems that destroy ingenuity and creativity and give people scope to innovate and create.”
Poaching is not sustainable
Sure, a company can survive by refusing to build up its own people. As skills become an increasingly scarce commodity, it’s easy to see why companies get bitter as the talent they’ve nurtured is stolen by someone else. A very common problem, locally and abroad. That said, it isn’t one that’s sustainable.
“If companies keep poaching their labour, it’s going to get very expensive,” concludes Herbst. “You can have the cynical view that if you wait, someone else will do it, but that is the kind of thinking that will leave the country behind.”
Invest in your people
“If you want to be relevant as a company, invest in your people. If you don’t, they’ll leave. A culture built out of poached talent isn’t one that’s going to keep the talent. The companies with the highest value, like Microsoft and Apple, they are old companies and yet they are surviving because they put their people first.
“That is how we adapt to change and ensure the country and its corporations remain relevant in the age of automation and 4IR,” ends Herbst.