What’s next for work – and what does that mean for people?


What’s next for work – and what does that mean for people?

In his first blog for the Festival of Work Peter Crush, Editor-at-large and HR Journalist of the Year 2018, explores the four genuinely important trends that will underpin how we work in the future.

The inaugural CIPD Festival of Work in June 2019 will bring together pre-eminent thinkers, academics, practitioners and suppliers together in one place to celebrate the theme of the human future of work.

But while there’s plenty of discussion about the implications of automation, AI, demographic trends and economic shifts on the way we work, it can be hard to know what really matters and what amounts to little more than hyperbole. We consulted the experts to identify four genuinely important trends that will underpin the way we work in future.

1) The future of jobs

Dystopian predictions that the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution will destroy 2 billion jobs worldwide by the middle of the century are enough to scare employees and employers alike. But this is a more nuanced debate than many imagine.

While the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, for instance, says 75 million jobs might well face the chop by 2022, it predicts these losses will be more than offset by the 133 million new jobs automation will actually create. In truth, our understanding of both what’s possible technologically and how businesses and economies will react is still evolving and it’s likely we will temper the trend towards automation with a re-emphasis of human skills.

“The future is still about people,” argues Edmund Monk, CEO of the Learning Performance Institute. “Automation will come, but humans still need to interpret data and create new solutions.” He adds: “Machine learning engineers, data scientists and big data engineers rank among LinkedIn’s fastest in-demand jobs – up 650 per cent since 2012.” But don’t think that leaves employers off the hook. Not only is it unclear what all these future jobs will be, it’s unclear what skills people will need to do them.

2) Emphasising soft skills

Technical knowledge is often a relatively easy think to teach. But while we might not know exactly what jobs will exist in future, but argue our economies will be dominated by the demand for soft skills – the ability for staff to collaborate, experiment and cogitate as well as the expression of empathy and emotional intelligence in our interactions.

“The prosperity of organisations will be based on the ability of their people to decompose complex problems into simpler ones,” says Professor Pierre Dillenbourg, academic director of the Center for Digital Education at The École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He says computational skills will matter more than computer skills – what others call the move from digital literacy to digital fluency.

3) Embracing technology

Smart businesses will be prepared to let smart technology take them to new places. Artificial intelligence already has the power to reveal new data on an almost industrial scale (regression analysis now links employee turnover to company strategies while even aggregating ‘sentiment’ from internal social media posts to unlock the ‘mood’ of organisations). But this is only the half of it.

Predictive technology is next and is already moving to places you many not have even expected. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are using eye-tracking technology to analyse how gaze-time and joint visual attention correlates to effective collaborative learning; augmented writing technology (using machine learning and predictive analytics) can write job adverts to target specific groups; and pre-application psychometrics now tell job seekers if they’re likely to ‘fit’ an organisational culture before they even apply.

But HR is not yet taking a lead: Richard Shinton, business intelligence and analytics product manager at NGA HR, says: “Our own research finds 77 per cent of CEOs require better insight into their workforce, but while finance, sales and marketing are all using automation and predictive technology, HR seems to be falling behind.”

4) Learning matters

Taking on new skills and competencies will be vital in a reshaped economy, and the responsibility for that falls on both employers and individuals. But what’s clear, particularly from an organisational point of view, is that the way we learn needs to change.

For many learning experts, Netflix – with its huge amounts of content available on an unlimited, on-demand basis – shows a potential way forward, Jean-Marc Tessatto, former Google executive turned co-founder of Coorpacademy, says: “It’s content that keeps learners coming back. The eat-as-much-as-you like model is where learning must go. L&D simply needs to provide content. It’s now up to employees to consume.”

He adds: “Staff need to realise it’s they who are the custodians of their careers. As firms demand more agility, future recruitment will be based on identifying those who demonstrate the greatest propensity to learn, rather than the skills they currently bring to a business.”

About the Festival of Work:

The CIPD’s Festival of Work (12-13 June 2019, Olympia London, www.festivalofwork.com) promises to be a landmark event for both people professionals and business leaders. By focusing on the most innovative strategies in management, technology and learning, the festival will help you, and 7,000 of your colleagues, to harness the latest transformations and drive a human future of work. With 7,000+ attendees, 130+ inspiring speakers, filled with inspirational live experiences and challenging ideas, it’s the ultimate celebration of people in the workplace.


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