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? From Uber to Airbnb, autonomous cars, medical diagnostic devices, financial robo-advisers, the evidence suggests it’s different this time.
Software is already disrupting our economy. Computers have become exponentially better at understanding the world around them.
And we are not prepared for the new work world that lies ahead.
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 skills-first, 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 future-proofing 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