Well, at least I don’t believe that. They will definitely change the how we work or, even better, how we work and learn.
The aging workforce
I wrote this blog on my 40th birthday…and in the older definitions the “aging workforce” was defined as working individuals aged 40 years or older. However, living and working in the Netherlands my expected retirement age is 71. That means I still need to work for another 31 years, which is almost double the amount of years that I’ve worked already.
So, now I’m part of the aging workforce? Well, I, at least, don’t feel like it yet. As our society ages and the average age goes up, that definition has changed quite a bit. Nevertheless, another 30 years? What does it mean for me, but more importantly what does it mean for the countless people who have a job today that may no longer exist by the time they retire? Should they worry about being unemployed? Or not?
The rise of the robots
There’s a lot of talk about how automation supported by technology like artificial intelligence will replace the human worker. And for the most part, that’s true. Many of the jobs that exist today will be replaced tomorrow. If we look at a forklift driver in a warehouse, for example, today many enterprises are already implementing warehouse robots that effectively replace the human driver. In manufacturing, automated production lines and robots are commonplace. And as costs decrease and flexibility increases, it will quickly become the standard in many more industries.
But before we start predicting doomsday, there are some things to consider.
- Artificial intelligence and robotization are hyped tremendously. It will still happen and still have a huge impact, but at the same time it will not goes as fast and as deep as some think today.
- The graying of the population is very true and the simple fact of how our economy works means that people will still have to work—and do so for longer than before. Hopefully, with increasing productivity and wealth we’ll be able to support more with less than today. As it is likely there won’t be a linear relation between increasing average age and retirement age, chances are high that we’ll still need to work longer than today.
- The nature of innovation, proven by history, means that while old jobs become obsolete, new jobs will be invented. Or, as Gartner is predicting, “already in 2020, AI becomes a positive net job motivator, creating 2.3 million jobs while only eliminating 1.8 million jobs”. These new jobs will be different though, requiring different and often more qualified people.
- Today there are more scientists alive than in the entire history of mankind. As an effect of this, technological evolution and waves of technological revolution are speeding up considerably and will likely not slow down. That means the speed at which we transform our workforce will need to increase as well.
- Already today many organizations report challenges in finding the right talent. IFS’ own research has indicated that 34% of companies are unprepared to deal with the talent gap to truly embrace digital transformation.
So, instead of being afraid of there not being any work for us to do, let’s turn it around. The biggest issue isn’t that robots are taking our jobs; it’s that there aren’t enough skilled humans to do them.
The worker of the future
This makes it clear that we can’t expect people to do the same work their entire career anymore. At the same time, we can’t afford to lose them either. That probably means people will have to change jobs multiple times during their career. We need to consider their needs, and instead of focusing only on the technology, we need to focus on how we can guide our work force through many iterations of change.
There are two elements to any solution to this problem; people and technology.
If you consider that people need to do many different jobs, do we still need to give people a dedicated specialist training at the beginning of their career? Why should we send people to school for 4 years for a job they might do for only 12? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge advocate of good education. But, perhaps we should teach people how to learn instead of how to do a job. Give them basic skills allowing them to continuously learn throughout their career. Yes, this is probably already the case in higher education like university, but what about the many “blue collar” workers out there. How do they fit in? Perhaps, instead of working 5 days a week, work only 4 days a week and have them train and learn for 1 day to keep up to date. In any case, we need to make sure that people continue to be up to date on the technological developments that will only accelerate in the coming years.
Forget looking at technology to replace humans (yes, I know we’ll still do that anyway), but focus on how technology can augment humans. How can we apply technology to help workers close the gap in skills and knowledge required during their working career? Whether it is about using augmented reality for remote support or drones to increase worker safety, all of these technologies should also be seen in the context of how they can be used to augment our human skills and to increase employee productivity.
Taking new technologies and applying them to existing business process and business application to augment our users. Trying out consumer-based experiences in enterprise world. Determining the impact of technologies that are further out, like quantum computing. This is what our daily work looks like in IFS Labs. And, of course, we do that with our users, real people, in mind. They will need to leverage these technologies to contribute. Ultimately, it’s about increasing their productivity and satisfaction.
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