The future of work is here

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The ‘workforce’ of the future will include Artificial Intelligence, freelancers and even crowd-sourcing. Artifical Intelligence will do most of the ‘heavy-lifting’ or repetitive tasks, enabling human employees to operate more productively. 

By FRANCOIS VAN DYK

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X

I have always been a bit of a science-fiction fan. Certainly not one of those that get dressed up for comic conventions like The Big Bang Theory’s nerdy scientists Leonard, Sheldon, Wolowitz and Raj but a sci-fi fan nonetheless.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are building my own Lego spaceships (not the fancy ones you get today) based on countless episodes of Star Trek, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. All those views of the future featured huge star cruisers with flight decks filled with many beeping flashing knobs, levers and warp speed engines.

Though these fanciful spacecraft are yet to be built it is amazing to realise that our current technology is far more advanced than even these science fiction copywriters could have imagined. Advances like the internet, mobile technology, social media and the internet of things even caught futurists by surprise.

It is hard to imagine how our lives will look like in another 20 years. A lot of jobs that existed 20 years ago have become redundant – imagine the pool of typists from earlier days – while whole new industries have been created. Who could have imagined a position as a social media analyst or a digital influencer just a few years ago?

As companies like Google, Uber and Tesla experiment with their driverless vehicles one can imagine that positions such as bus, truck and taxi drivers may also disappear. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and satellite navigation, these vehicles will operate much more efficiently as the drivers will not get tired and will probably be much safer too as human error can be eliminated.

In fact many observers, including Elon Musk (Space X, Tesla) and renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, have expressed concerns about the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence and the impact it may have on humanity.

A recent research project led by Katja Grace from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute gathered insights from 352 experts and academics to understand the possible impact of Artificial Intelligence on human work. The team defined “High-level machine intelligence” (HLMI) as being achieved “when unaided machines can accomplish every task better and more cheaply than human workers.”

Their results are quite astonishing and experts believe Artificial Intelligence will be better than humans at translating languages by 2024, write better high school essays within the next 10 years and even creating a Top 40 pop song two years later.

An earlier 2013 Oxford Martin School study suggests that up to 47 per cent of jobs could be automated in the next 20 years.

Even the human resources (HR) function itself is being disrupted with services such as Talla (www.talla.com), which is already being used by more than 2,000 companies. This artificial HR assistant can handle repetitive tasks, answer employee questions around company policy and provide them with the necessary information whenever they need it.

The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report takes a look at the dramatic and rapidly changing digital, economic and social landscape and the challenges ahead for business leaders.

Some trends they identified by surveying more than 10,000 HR and business leaders in 140 countries show that this disruption will rewrite business rules and how organisations operate. Some of the trends Deloitte identified that will need a particular focus are:

The organisation of the future is arriving now

Organisations will need to be agile and adapt with new processes incorporating digital innovations to enable employees to improve their work. A much greater focus will need to placed on the importance of teams and empowering them to actively build business.

Careers and learning: real-time, all the time

Im my opinion continuous learning is probably one of the most important attributes of the employee of the future. Individuals have proved to be quite adaptable to new innovations, even though organisational structures are slower to change. Employees who are not interested in gaining knowledge or improving their own skills continuously will soon fall by the wayside.

The employee experience: culture, engagement and beyond

Though company culture has always been important it is now becoming crucial to engage employees and build a strong organisation culture. A recent buzzword “customer experience” now also translates to “employee experience” and this journey needs to be mapped to improve staff well-being, productivity and alignment to organisational goals.

Talent acquisition: enter the cognitive recruiter

I mentioned in a previous column that degrees may face obsulescence due to changing requirements from organisations and businesses. Many business leaders have also expressed concerns about the quality of graduates. The Deloitte study shows that talent acquisition is now the third-most-important challenge companies face, with 81 per cent of respondents “calling it important or very important.”

Leading businesses now use social networks and analytical and cognitive tools to identify suitable candidates and to best position them in teams where they will be most effective.

The future of work: the augmented workforce

Though we as humans may not be replaced soon, the “workforce” of the future will also include Artificial Intelligence, freelancers and even crowd-sourcing, totally changing the operational dynamics of organisations. Artifical Intelligence will do most of the “heavy-lifting” or repetitive tasks, enabling human employees to operate more productively on functions that can not yet be automated.

Whether we like it or not these new technologies are advancing and evolving at an accelerated pace and the workers of today need to take serious note to grow their own “essential human skills”.

Though an apocalyptic future where intelligent machines has surpassed and enslaved their human creators, as portrayed in movies such as The Terminator or Matrix, is seen as a remote possibility, it concerningly remains a possibility. We need to continouosly grow and educate ourselves as not to face abscolecence as those old typing pools did.

Francois van Dyk heads up Operations at Ornico, the Pan-African Brand Intelligence research company. He worked in public relations before entering the world of media research.

Email: francoisv@ornicogroup.co.za

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