The future of work
As technology expands, we must future-proof our workforce with durable, portable, transferable skills
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the future of work has been a source of anxiety. Never has that concern been more acute than it is today.
the creation of the job as we know it — regular hours, specific pay and defined tasks — was a by-product of that revolution. Since then technology has mostly influenced how efficiently work is done, not the definition of the job itself.
but today the future of work is being profoundly changed by an “intelligence revolution” that’s developing at warp speed. it’s fuelled by a combination of automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots. Short-term contracts and freelance work (the “gig economy”) is rapidly replacing permanent jobs.
are we simply experiencing another technological revolution? the evidence suggests it’s different this time. and we are not prepared for the new work world that lies ahead.
Software is already disrupting our economy. uber is basically a software tool that allows the company to offer an attractive car-sharing alternative to regular taxi cabs. uber doesn’t own any cars and yet it’s now the biggest taxi company in the world.
airbnb is now the largest hotel company in the world, and yet it doesn’t own any properties. it is an online hospitality service that enables people to join the sharing society by leasing out short-term lodging.
both these software applications are changing the work world in these sectors. thousands of full-time taxi drivers around the globe have lost their jobs to part-time uber drivers with their own cars, whom the cabbies say compete unfairly. Since it was founded in 2008, about 150 million travellers have stayed in three million airbnb listings in 191 countries. that’s thousands of hotel jobs lost to homeowners making extra money with a spare room.
Computers have become exponentially better at understanding the world around them. using artificial intelligence a computer beat the best Go player in the world 10 years earlier than expected.
ibm’s Watson is an advanced computer that diagnoses cancer four times more accurately and faster than humans. it provides basic legal advice within seconds with a high level of accuracy. the implications for the medical and legal professions are unnerving.
autonomous cars are coming. they will disrupt the whole automotive industry.
People in cities won’t need to own cars anymore. they’ll call a car on their phone to take them wherever they want to go.
far fewer cars will be needed. there will be fewer accidents. traditional car companies will face bankruptcy. it will undermine the current car insurance business model.
there’s a prototype medical device called tricorder that works with your phone. it takes a retina scan and blood and breath samples. it can then analyze dozens of disease biomarkers and provide people anywhere in the world with cheap access to basic medical analysis. Specialists will still be needed, but what about family doctors?
the financial sector will undergo more changes over the next 10 years than over the last 100. online banks and digital wealth management platforms are growing. it’s estimated that robo-advisers will have $20 trillion under management by 2020.
more concerning is the likelihood of computers becoming intellectually superior to humans over the next decade. they will learn from experience and evolve much faster than humans. beyond their impact on work, it raises the question of how we teach these creatures right from wrong — in our own self-defence.
a new report co-authored by deloitte Canada and the Human resources Professionals association of Canada addresses these daunting developments head on.
“the changes we are seeing are nothing less than historic” says Scott allison, vicepresident of public affairs for HrPa. “Governments and educators have to take a skillsfirst, not jobs-first, approach.” they stress these urgent recommendations for business and governments:
• “modernize provincial labour laws and social safety nets to reflect the reality of the gig economy”. ontario has already moved in this direction despite strong business resistance.
• “rethink universal basic income”. ontario is launching a basic annual income pilot project in three cities next year.
• “reimage how we organize our schools, from physical setup to the school year itself.” Greater emphasis should be placed on critical thinking, mental agility and teamwork.
• “empower Canadian workers to manage their careers and thrive in the new world of work.”
their underlying advice to individual workers? try to develop one universal capacity that is durable, portable and transferable. that universal capacity is not simply the capacity to search for information. “it is the capacity to make sense of what we find and recognize opportunity and make decisions that lead to effective agency.”
if this widespread workplace transformation is to be beneficial, we have to stop debating how many jobs will be lost or gained, and start futureproofing our workforce. R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, TTC chief general manager and Canada Post CEO. firstname.lastname@example.org