Future of Work
April 1, 2021
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This week, as part of its annual meeting in Davos, the World Economic Forum released a report entitled “Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All”. The report seeks to deepen the level of information and debate on the future of work and offer a practical tool to begin examining job, retraining and upskilling transitions and pathways for the occupational types that they forecast will be most displaced by automation over the next seven years.
Recognition of the 4th Industrial Revolution and its potential impact on economies, societies and labour forces has now become a top priority. The World Economic Forum, in partnership with the Boston Consulting Group, now joins many of the world’s thought leaders in this space (McKinsey, Deloitte, World Bank) in prioritizing the issue of the rapid changes occurring to the workforce.
There are several common themes that are encroaching into the global dialogue on the future of work that can serve as a primer to understanding the issues at a macro-level.
“Economic value creation is increasingly based on the use of ever higher levels of specialized skills and knowledge, creating unprecedented new opportunities for some while threatening to leave behind a significant share of the workforce.”
An industrial revolution can be simply defined as a substantial leap in productivity gains as a result of innovation.
It is an absolute fact that the fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and it will lead to mass job displacement. The world will continue to produce more stuff but will require far fewer people to produce it, leaving these people looking for work. Advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, internet of things, overall connectivity, the processing speed of computing, etc. are all factors that are leading the world to be able to produce more stuff but requiring fewer people to do it.
There are four primary stakeholders in the discussion around the future of work: Governments, Companies (Employers), Workers and Training Institutions.
Such radical shifts to the landscape of economic value creation, directly and indirectly, touch most elements of the public policy dialogue. At a high level, the Government must remain focused on ensuring each citizen has a clear pathway to flexible and efficient lifelong-learning and a clear pathway to job transition. It must focus public policy dialogue more on agility and flexibility and forecasting the near future, and less on rigid, established strategy development predicated on lagging information.
For employers, thought leaders have continued to stress the priority of ensuring that existing workers have increased access to training and development opportunities. The idea is that the more skills a worker can gain and refine, the most relevance they will have to the changing demands of the business.
There are other considerations that employers should be making that extend beyond the training and development of its workforce. First, having a clear and established method of rapidly and continuously assessing the strategic and competitive landscape will be essential in remaining competitive in this period of rapid change. The companies that stay abreast of these rapid changes and will be able to remain operationally agile (assuming execution on strategy) and able to implement value chain improvements within the company quickly. Research shows that companies are often “late to the game” with respect to significant changes that impact competitiveness, and the fourth industrial revolution will offer such changes so quickly that most will be challenged to keep up.
Understanding the skills required to adapt a company to changing industry demands, and knowing the skills of the existing employee-base will allow employers to quickly identify gaps and find solutions. It is assumed that the quickest action to garner a solution will be most preferred, and will include either “upskilling” existing resources or finding new ones. Once a skills inventory is complete, employers also find surprising skills and abilities in existing employees that they didn’t know were there, which enables them to apply these skills to their company at no additional cost or time spent.
It is often misunderstood that the transformation of the world labour markets will only impact those in the lower-skilled labour category. This is absolutely false. Many occupational categories spanning high tech, to hospitality through to manufacturing are going to be drastically disrupted by the fourth industrial revolution.
To effectively navigate this transformation, workers must have a much deeper understanding of their own skill-sets, the breadth of how those skills can be applied across multiple occupational categories, and a clear direction on ensuring their skills are kept up-to-date and relevant.
Several job-types will become redundant during this period, others will change considerably, and new ones will be created. There are several pitfalls coming to tomorrow’s workforce, but also several opportunities. It will be incumbent upon the workers themselves to have a very clear plan for their career, whether working full-time in one company or working independently across multiple companies.
Training institutions play a critical role in supporting this labour market transition. Now more than ever, the responsibility falls to academia to provide relevant lifelong learning opportunities to learners to ensure they are equipped with the skills in demand by employers now into the future. The goals should be relevancy, agility and accessibility in training. Continuing to offer standard degree and diploma programs through multiple channels (in-class, online, distance) will be critical. Offering micro-credentials or nano-credentials that focus on agile, succinct skills acquisition will become increasingly important.
The fourth industrial revolution presents an incredible opportunity for academia to re-engineer how it develops curriculum and measures the effectiveness of learning outcomes. Big data and machine learning will enable institutions to see real-time the skills in demand by employers and allow programming to be efficiently adapted. Monitoring the skills actually in-use by alumni will enable the institution to validate the learning outcomes it set out to accomplish. Measuring the application of both hard-and-soft competencies by workers into the labour market will evolve what faculty deem to be the “important” skills emphasized for learner acquisition in curriculum development.
The World Economic Forum stresses that although a great deal of forecasting has been provided regarding the transformation to world labour markets, little has been done by the way of developing practical solutions.
Recognizing the transformation coming to the world’s labour market, two years ago SkyHive began developing a solution to support workers and employers through this transition. It has applied the very technology that is creating this fourth industrial revolution to automate and simplify the process of transitioning from training through to work. To evolve the way workers use their talents, and the way employers source talent in an effort to drive efficiency, inclusivity and accessibility into the labour market. To enable prediction and forecasting of labour market changes for governments, and to support employers in identifying the skills gaps that their companies face and finding the most efficient way to fill them.