Posted in Workforce

Preparing our Workforce for an Uncertain Future

Placeholder ImageThe Elephant and the Mosquito

Disruptive changes are happening in the industry today. Large organizations are struggling to survive. The newer and smaller entrants into the market are making the lives of the larger organizations miserable. Big organizations are like elephants. They are mammoth in size but often slow in action and movement.Small organizations are like mosquitoes. A mosquito is tiny in size but fast and agile in action. If it wants, it can make the life of an elephant miserable and an elephant can do nothing about it. The major driver of these rapid and disruptive changes is technology. Agile and lean organizations which have been able to adopt new technology and new business models at a fast pace to create more value for their customers have flourished. Organizations which have shown laxity in adapting have perished.

What is in store for our Children?

So what is happening as a result of this rapid technology adoption? Well, technology adoption is creating never-seen-before experiences for customers. It is not only improving product and service quality but also creating revolutionary products and services which are transforming lives. While technology is transforming lives, it is not all hunky-dory at the same time. Technology is slowly replacing human beings at the workplace, in factories, in farm-lands and so many other places. Many of the transactional, low skilled jobs like office secretary, accountants, teller clerks, call center agents, translators, interpreters etc. have already been taken away by machines. Now many of the white collar and blue collars jobs are under threat. In China, the first robot-only factory is being built in Dongguan city. The factory, owned by Sehnzhen Evenwin Precision Technology, aims at reducing the current workforce of 1,800 by 90%. Huh, isn’t that scary?

Let’s look at a few more examples. At the Dusseldorf Airport in Germany, robots are being used for valet parking service. Once you reach the airport, just step out of your car and press a button on a touch screen at the entrance. And then a machine lifts your car off the ground and parks it at a secure place. Robots at the Aloft hotel in San Francisco deliver towels, toothpaste and other stuff to guests in their rooms. That is not all. Driverless cars now have become a reality. We may be just a few decades away from pilotless commercial aircrafts. It appears that technology would virtually take away almost every possible job. According to a study, “Automation will displace 22.7 million US jobs by 2025.” So will there be any jobs be left for our children? What is in store for them in future?

 

Well, it is not as bad as it sounds…     

Experts claim that while many jobs will disappear, many new jobs will be created. And that is the good news. For example, if robots come to the workplace, we need experts to install them and to troubleshoot them when these artificial humans develop a snag. Repairing robots is not an easy job and it requires a specialized skill-set. Automation will spur the growth of many new jobs—including some entirely new job categories. Here are a few examples of jobs that we did not hear about even a few years ago:- Social Media Champion, Millennial Generational Expert, Digital Making Technologist etc. Moreover, while technology may take away jobs in one sector, it might open up new job opportunities in another sector. Over the decades we have seen the number of people engaged in agriculture, manufacturing etc. has been on the decline. At the same time number of people employed by IT, Hospitality, Health, Insurance, Education sectors has been on the rise.

Some researchers are of the opinion that technology will not take away jobs but it will only transform jobs. In other words, technology will change the way we work, but it won’t necessarily take away our work. For example, now a doctor will spend more time with his patients counselling and advising them rather than trying to keep tons of patients’ data in his head. A Finance Head in an organization would spend less time with spreadsheets and calculators working through loads of data and spend more time on building strategy for the organization.

 

The aforesaid examples confirm that automation always keeps on creating new types of jobs and also constantly changes the mix of skills required in existing jobs. While this is good news, the two questions that remain to be answered are:  1. Will automation create enough new jobs to absorb the victims of automation itself? 2. Will these new jobs be within the reach of people with average capability?

 

These two questions lead us to the biggest irony of our times. In near future, thousands of people would become jobless and at the same time thousands of positions would remain unfulfilled in organizations. Many would lose their jobs at their mid-career stage because all of a sudden their skills would become obsolete and their current skills may not meet the demands of the new jobs. It is clear that we are heading for exciting yet turbulent times.

So, how do we prepare our workforce for the future?

How should we prepare our workforce for these turbulent times? Well, Business leaders, HR leaders, Policy makers, Legislators, Social entrepreneurs, Academicians and other key stake-holders must start thinking seriously about it. With old skills getting obsolete and new skills emerging as new needs, organizations need to figure out a way to enable their employees to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn at a fast pace. Traditional methods of skill-development would not be effective because of the longer cycle time. Enterprises must use crowd-sourcing, communities of practice and social learning as tools to upskill and reskill their people. HR and L&D leaders must become architects of continuous development in their organizations. They must build effective learning habits in their workforce.

Organizations must ensure that they not only train their young workforce but also train their workforce who are in their mid-career stage. In fact, Governments, Corporations and Academic Institutions may have to work together to up-skill and reskill millions of workers in their mid-career stage (who would lose jobs) to help them find alternate and new opportunities.

Oh GOD, Protect us in these Uncertain Times!!

In the context of the technological revolution and today’s workforce, GOD has a different connotation altogether. Here GOD stands for:

Generate

Operate

Destroy

These three words are of great essence to our workforce today. Here are my two cents for both white collar and blue collar professionals. First of all, generate a new idea or solution. Then make your idea or solution operational by taking it to the real world and making it relevant. Then destroy your idea or solution before it loses relevance. After you destroy, prepare to generate, operate and destroy again. And let the cycle continue. Remember, if you don’t destroy, you cannot generate again. Smart professionals who gain mastery over the cycle of generation, operation and destruction would outlive the average ones.

So how do we help our workforce generate, operate and destroy? Well, shouldn’t that be the topic of my next blog? Watch out this space!!

 

 

 

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