Accelerated change in the way we work

10.11.20 09:38 AM Comment(s) By Jonathan Faurie

Work, as we know it, is set for major disruption. 

If we go back over the centuries, the biggest impact of the various industrial revolutions that the world has been through is that there has been a significant change in the workplace.


Technology enables productivity but also creates various opportunities that were not present in the past. This has been at the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and its impact has only been enhanced by the Covid-19 Pandemic.


Changing landscape

If we go back to the industrial revolution, many skeptics were unconvinced that inventions such as the car and the printing press would replace horse drawn carriages and conventional forms of media.


Industrialization saw the mass printing of newspapers and books and the mass production of motor vehicles. This caused unemployment for many who filled these rolls in the past. While technology enables productivity, it also is a catalyst for social change. Many of the jobs that exist today will not exist 20 years from now.


While there will be significant social change, the role of humans will never totally disappear. While technology is becoming more self-governing, it will not be independent. Humans still need to govern the process.


So, what does the future of the workplace hold?


Accelerated change

I recently read an article which pointed out that the automation and digitization of the workforce has accelerated, partly due to Covid-19, but new jobs are coming and may be more accessible than you think.


The article pointed out that workers around the world are facing "double disruption": not only is the global workforce automating faster than expected, but the Covid-induced global recession has reversed employment gains, making it even harder for workers, especially those already disadvantaged, to make the transition to new types of jobs.


This is the core message of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 Future of Jobs report, a survey of mostly big, white-collar companies across 26 countries.


Hitting the breaks

According to the report, the bad news is that, in contrast with previous years, job creation is slowing while job destruction is accelerating.


By 2025, the so-called robot revolution is set to disrupt 85-million jobs globally, according to the report. By then the average employer expects to divide tasks roughly equally between humans and machines.


Referencing the report, the article points out that, astonishingly, even half of the lucky ones who retain their jobs will need reskilling. Fortunately, the report finds that 73% of South African firms would look to retrain current staff to meet their changing requirements.


"Of course, it depends on the choices we make today," notes WEF MD Saadia Zahidi. "It depends on the kinds of investments governments make today and the investments workers make in terms of their own time. And it depends on the choices that business leaders make when it comes to retaining and protecting jobs vs shorter-term decisions that are more focused on quarterly results."


The article points out that the report warns that in the absence of support from governments and employers, inequality is likely to worsen because of the double whammy of technology and the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected millions of low-skilled workers.


Key investment

The article points out that improving access to online learning is an investment all countries should be making. According to US online learning provider Coursera, there has been a fivefold increase since the start of the pandemic in employers offering online learning to their workers, and a nine fold increase in people accessing it through government programmes, including in developing countries.


In Costa Rica, for example, the government has worked with employers to identify the skills in demand, partnered with Coursera to build the required online learning programmes, and helped match graduates of these programmes to available jobs.


"No matter what prediction you believe about jobs and skills, what is bound to be true is [a] heightened intensity and frequency of career transitions, especially for those already most vulnerable and marginalised," says Hamoon Ekhtiari, CEO of FutureFit AI, a Canadian reskilling firm that contributed to the report.


New roles

Refencing the report, the article points out that the good news is that 97-million new roles are expected to emerge over the next five years in existing fields such as the care sector, as well as in newer industries such as those involving big data, artificial intelligence, the green economy, cloud computing and product development.


"We think the future of work is digital, but it’s also human," said LinkedIn chief economist Karin Kimbrough at the report’s launch. Kimbrough believes the world will increasingly value tasks that involve collaboration, managing and caring. In fact, the pandemic has taught society to revalue in-person, frontline services such as nursing.


Moreover, getting into new digital fields isn’t as difficult as people may think. According to LinkedIn data, about half of all people making career shifts into these new industries come from unrelated fields.


"So, you can come from just about anywhere and manage the transition," says Kimbrough.


Advanced skills not necessary

The article points out that you also don’t need advanced levels of digital literacy to make the jump, which is important for a country such as SA where, according to the report, less than 30% of the population has digital skills.


Coursera’s head of data science, Emily Glassberg Sands, points out that, for those without university degrees, there are still lots of opportunities in administering technology, including, for instance, as Google IT support specialists (who are employed by thousands of firms to help debug Google every day).


The article added that it takes just six to eight months to train online as one, she says, and is a useful stepping-stone to unlocking more formal IT qualifications over time. "It’s difficult and requires support, but it’s less the exception than we think."


Kimbrough says if policymakers could identify the small clusters of skills with an outsized effect on opening more sustainable career paths, it could make a real difference to reducing global unemployment.


But the window of opportunity for managing this change is closing fast, Zahidi warns. "In the future, we will see the most competitive businesses are the ones that have invested heavily in their human capital — the skills and competencies of their employees."


Enhanced thinking

When James Cameron brought us The Terminator in 1984, we thought that giving machines the power of enhanced thinking was a bad idea. It really was not a good portrayal of the benefits of technology.


However, a recent article, referencing a report by Forrester, points out that its not all bad news though. I read an article which points out that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will help organizations rethink the future of work.


Automation, not surprisingly, is aimed at the employee experience. In 2021, digital transformation initiatives in more than three-quarters of enterprises will focus on automation, the firm said.


"The 'great lockdown' of 2020 will make the drive for automation in 2021 both inevitable and irreversible,'' according to Forrester's Predictions 2021. "Remote work, new digital muscles, and pandemic constraints will create millions of pragmatic automations in 2021; document extraction, RPA (robotic process automation) from anywhere, drones, and various employee robots will proliferate; and, as expected, the mad dash to automate will bring trouble."


Driving efficiency and elasticity

The article points out that, while AI didn't predict the pandemic, it will help businesses rethink the future of work; drive more efficiency, elasticity, and scale in operations; and reimagine customer and employee experiences, Forrester said. AI is driving the growth of automated processes, helping them become smarter. Companies that adopt machine learning, a subset of AI, "will massively multiply their number of AI use cases, including for employee augmentation and automation,'' the firm said.


Forrester expects "hypergrowth in AI, along with the proliferation of artificial data and the beginnings of a Blockchain-based approach to data trust."


AI adoption grew 15 percentage points in the past year, and maturity is rising as firms move past small, incremental deployments, according to Forrester. "In 2021, the grittiest of companies will push AI to new frontiers, such as holographic meetings for remote work and on-demand personalized manufacturing. They will gamify strategic planning, build simulations in the boardroom, and move into intelligent edge experiences."


The article adds that Forrester also believes there are many deterrents to AI success: A lack of trust, poor data quality, data paucity, a lack of imagination, and a dearth of the right power tools to scale.


"But 2021 will see companies tackle these head on, not because they want to or suddenly have the wherewithal to overcome these in this unprecedented year--but because they have to,'' Forrester maintained. "They have to rebuild their businesses not for today or even next year but to prepare to compete in an AI-driven future. 2020 has given leaders the impetus, born out of necessity, and coincidence to embrace AI, with all its blemishes."


Don’t shy away

The article points out that Forrester advises firms not to shy away from AI. "Plan to quadruple your investment next year. Build your internal AI team, engage consultancies to implement domain-specific solutions, and upgrade your data, analytics, and machine learning platforms to rethink how you use AI."


Automation is also a top priority now, and thanks to the pandemic, it is aimed at the employee experience, Forrester said. In 2021, digital transformation initiatives in more than three-quarters of enterprises will focus on automation—whether for core records, customer operations, or engagement, the firm said. Advances in AI, changes to work patterns as a result of the pandemic, and a fierce global recession have made this drive for automation inevitable—and irreversible, according to Forrester.


The article adds that other predictions Forrester is making in AI and automation in 2021:

- No-code automated machine learning (AutoML) will be used to implement more use cases. AutoML can dramatically accelerate ML model development versus the traditional coding approach. In 2021, lucky laggards will use AutoML to implement 5, 50, or 500 AI use cases faster, leapfrogging their competitors. AutoML lets data scientists configure parameters and run hundreds or even thousands of experiments in one go. With AutoML, Forrester estimates that these teams can implement eight times the number of use cases aimed at operational efficiency or personalized customer experience—and greatly amplify the impact of digital transformation;

- A fifth of enterprises will expand investment in intelligent document extraction. Even before the pandemic, there was strong investment in intelligent document extraction platforms (IDEP) as firms wanted to use it to classify many types of documents. Combining computer vision with advances in machine learning has made platforms more valuable and easier to build and maintain;

- A notable failure will occur as a result of the rush to automation. The pandemic accelerated investment in various forms of business process and IT automation. Two-thirds of enterprise organizations that encountered broken processes during the pandemic were pressured to patch in automation solutions. But rushed and haphazard automation exposes systems and the business to serious risk. This can lead to monumental failures that not only damage a company's reputation and customer trust but also limit broader public trust in automation (specifically AI) as a result of media scrutiny. In 2021, up to 30% of organizations will ramp up their focus on quality by better planning and testing automation before deploying it to production or exposing it to employees;

- Intelligent automation suites will provide a quarter of all RPA solutions. Commoditization, major enterprise software acquisitions, new entrants, specialization, and public market ambitions are resulting in a diverse RPA market. Like machine learning, RPA will become an embedded feature of many platforms by the end of 2021;

- A fifth of enterprises will use commercial drones to automate business operations. Recent rapid growth in the consumer drones industry has sparked momentum in the commercial drone market. While social distancing is a factor in drone usage, two forces will accelerate adoption in 2021. First, governments are crafting better regulations to facilitate drone adoption and commercialization. Second, the rapid evolution of computer vision and 5G will enable real-time drone intelligence over ultra-reliable, low-latency communications; and

- Intelligent automation will advance to support one in four home workers. Three times as many information workers will work from home all or most of the time, while many companies will institute hybrid models. As a result of the pandemic, new forms of automation will support one in four remote workers either directly or indirectly by 2022. Direct support in the form of giving a bot to individual workers to support their daily journey will be rare. But indirect support will blossom, with intelligent automation handling employee benefits, questions, and supporting documents, customer service, and line-of-business tasks that are often invisible to the home worker.


Another report, which was the result of a joint study by Citrix, futurist consultancy Oxford Analytica, and business research specialist Coleman Parkes,  revealed the expectations of over 500 C-Suite leaders and 1,000 employees.


The report pointed out that:

- Three-quarters (74 per cent) believe that in fifteen years, artificial intelligence (AI) will significantly speed up the decision-making process and make workers more productive;

- New jobs will be created, including roles such as: Robot / AI Trainer, Virtual Reality Manager, and Advanced Data Scientist;

- Work will be more flexible and fuelled by technology. 75% of the study’s respondents believe that tech platforms will provide instant access to highly specialized, on-demand talent;

- 57% of respondents believe AI has the potential to make the majority of business decisions by 2035 and potentially eliminate the need for traditional senior management teams; and

- “AI-ngels” – digital assistants driven by AI – will draw on personal and workplace data to help employees prioritize their tasks and time and ensure mental and physical wellness.


Efficiency is key

One of the advantages of technology replacing human skills (according to employers) is efficiency. Robots are programmed to carry out a task and can do so without error, provided that the inputs are correct. Further, these tasks are carried out more efficiently and technology does not take leave days.


However, as pointed out at numerous points in this article, human skills will never be fully replaced. This was reinforced in a recent article by the World Economic Forum.


The article points out that, to do this, we must mobilize the best of human capabilities, technologies, innovative policies, and market forces in service of a new vision.


Moral and economic imperatives

The article points out that, to imagine the future of work, we must start with defining how human beings can adapt and grow.


Every person has the right to a productive life. Every person has the right not just to work, but to realize their purpose so they can participate fully in society. Every business has the moral and economic responsibility to help protect people’s livelihoods, even when they cannot always protect the jobs they do.


The article adds that you cannot have a healthy business in a sick world. For businesses to thrive, society must also thrive: from employees, to consumers, to suppliers, shareholders and other stakeholders. When you leave some people to fall through the cracks, you lose all the benefits they bring to society, from their skills and talents, to their experience and unique understanding. And yes, their buying power too.


It isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s also an economic one. Take gender equality. McKinsey estimates that if no action is taken, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030. Conversely, immediate action to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030.


Re-imagining work

The article points out that, to reimagine the working landscape we need to attempt something that seems almost impossible: we must imagine not just what the world of work is going to look like in 10, 15, 20 years, but what we want it to look like. We must imagine what it will look like if human beings are thriving.


This means involving people as part of the solution rather than as a problem to be solved. Only by doing all this can we continue to build a better business and a better world - for everyone.


Actionable change

The article points out that there are three actions that businesses can take to facilitate this change.


- Support people to find their own sense of purpose and realize their full potential by working with them to develop a purpose-led, future-fit development plan. This is more than just running reskilling programmes. This is  about equipping people to lead the change, rather than having change done to them;

- Pioneer new forms of employment to provide flexibility with security. This is about enabling people to choose how they want to work depending on their life stage. A socially responsible alternative to the gig economy; and

- Putting mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of preparing for the Future of Work with meaningful action (not just ‘raising awareness’ campaigns’). This is about providing practical support and coaching to people as they figure out their future options.


The article adds that, while the jobs of tomorrow may be resetting, people are not. People are not widgets; they are the soul of any successful business. Businesses can help people to follow reskilling and other career pathways by: putting them at the heart of the future of work; ensuring they understand their own personal purpose; providing the support they need to feel happy and healthy; and giving them a sense of belonging.


This will ensure that people are able to thrive, adapt and grow as they are empowered to proactively shape the future of work.


Where does GTconsult fit in?

“GTconsult has been at the forefront of innovation and embracing enhancing productivity through technology. GTconsult started off as a small company with a big heart and grew because we knew where the future of tech was heading, and the impact that it would have on society. We continuously strive to drive change and focus on how trends impact our journey,” says Craig Tarr, Co-Founder of GTconsult and newly appointed CEO.


GTconsult has always focused on how technology can drive change and is involved in a number of projects which are helping clients improve efficiency and productivity. Stay tuned to find out more about these exciting projects. 

Jonathan Faurie

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