Fu­ture-proof­ing work­ers

The Observer (Sarnia) - - OPINION - R. MICHAEL WARREN

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. r.michael.warren@gmail.com

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