The Future of Work

That we’re living in a period of unprecedented change is something that is said so often it runs the risk of becoming a bit cliched, but despite the frequency with which this is said, we should not be lulled into complacency.

In the last few years alone, we’ve seen social changes ranging from the rapid aging of society (and the multi-generational workplace this will support) to the rise of the gig economy, whereby a growing number of people work as independent contractors, often on short-term engagements.  Technologies from big data to artificial intelligence continue to propagate. The political landscape appears to be one of constant disruption throughout the world, whilst the news has been peppered with stories of cyber-terrorism on everything from media companies to presidential elections.

For many, these changes are fairly epochal, not least the World Economic Forum (WEF), who believe we’re in the midst of a 4th Industrial Revolution.

“The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril,” WEF executive chairman Klaus Schwab says.

He boils the drivers for this change down into three core areas:

  • Physical changes, including new materials such as graphene, 3D printing, a new wave of robotics and of course driverless technology
  • Digital changes, including the cheap sensors that underpin the Internet of Things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and pervasive platforms
  • Biological changes, including rapid reductions in the cost of gene sequencing and manipulation technologies such as CRISPR

Put all of these together and you have a speed and breadth of change that is unparalleled, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the workplace.  It’s perhaps not surprising therefore that one of the hottest topics of the last decade has been what the future of work might be.

The future of work

Indeed, whilst searching for ‘the future of work’ a few years ago might have yielded perhaps 50 million results on Google, now it’s 2.3 billion.  There are conferences, books and a rainforest of articles on the topic, covering everything from AI and automation to the gig economy and gender equality.

We have a somewhat paradoxical situation whereby unemployment is low across the western world, yet companies bemoan the shortage of skills.  Such paradoxes exist elsewhere too, such as in the rising productivity counterbalanced by stagnant wages, or the recovery in western economies coinciding with declining social mobility.

When we couple this with employee engagement figures of just 13% globally (31.6% in Denmark), it creates an overwhelming impression of dissatisfaction in terms of both the skills on offer in the labor market from an employers perspective, and the jobs on offer from the employees perspective.  This general sense of disenchantment has been typified by a degree of uncertainty over just what the future of work will be. This blog will aim to remove some of that uncertainty.

The future is already here

The science fiction writer William Gibson famously said that “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed,” so when we explore the ‘future of work’ we can see many of the changes people predict already evident in pockets around the world.  We can see that people are changing jobs more often than in the past and that there are a growing number of us working in the gig economy. We can see the onward march of new technologies such as AI, robotics and the Internet of Things. We can see income inequalities throughout western society that is causing fissures in political and social life.

By looking at the early adopters in each of these areas, it enables us to take an evidence-based approach to understand the changes likely to become widespread in the workplace of tomorrow.  There is no shortage of wild and extravagant predictions out there, especially on the impact of new technologies on the workplace, but by looking for how these technologies are already impacting society, we can take a more grounded and realistic approach.

Deloitte’s Josh Bersin broke the ‘future of work’ down into the personal, organizational and societal.  This series of articles will aim to demystify all three.  It will explore how we work, why we work, how we develop our skills, search for meaning and progress our careers.  It will examine what jobs are, what are the different roles man and machine will play, how the gig economy can provide a flexible workforce and how the new workforce can reshape our business models.  Last, but not least, it will explore how this change will impact society, especially how we train and support learning among the population, help people transition from one career to the next and maintain robust standards of work.

All of these topics will be explored in depth over the coming months, and we will endeavor to cover each of them through a robust and evidence-driven lens.  We will attempt to separate the realistic from the fanciful by relying on early signals to guide us.

As Gibson rightly said, the future is already here, and we will help you to identify those areas where change has already taken place and where experimentation is yielding results.  It is in these places where the future is already here, and these will drive the changes we see throughout society.

We can’t make changes for you, but we will be able to point you in the right direction and ensure that the efforts you make will stand you in good stead to ensure that your own future of work is a strong and prosperous one.  Change need not be scary, so let’s get started.

Read the next article in the Future of work series – Lifelong Learning

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