How to envision the Future of Jobs

In September 2018, the World Economic Forum released The Future of Jobs Report 2018. The latest report has a focus on the potential for automation and algorithms to augment existing jobs, and the importance of human capital investment in maximising the benefits from this transition. You will find below three key points we have extracted. 

AIs are rapidly becoming standard practice for tasks that are repetitive, procedural, data-driven, and large scale. 

Businesses are harnessing new and emerging technologies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to improve efficiency, expand into new markets, and compete for a global consumer base composed increasingly of digital natives. By 2022, 73% of companies will be utilising machine learning. The report lists many jobs that will decline over the coming years, including data entry clerks, business services and administration managers, accountants and auditors, telemarketers, cashiers, bookkeeping and payroll clerks, operations managers, and postal service clerks. The common features of these roles are that their tasks are repetitive, procedural, data-driven, and large scale. The report describes the need to augment human staff with technology, such that “they are freed of the need to perform routinised, repetitive tasks and better able to use their distinctively human talents.”

To increase job security, employees should develop their human strengths: communication, empathy and emotional intelligence, critical thinking, common sense, creativity, persuasion and negotiation, etc., as these will increase in demand and importance, particularly for customer-facing roles. 

As one would expect during periods of rapid technological change, demand is high for staff with proficiency in new technologies, including technical skills – analytical thinking, technology design, programming, reasoning, and systems analysis – and key technical roles – data analysts and scientists, software and applications developers, and E-commerce and social media specialists. However, human skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will also increase their value. Emotional intelligence, leadership, and social influence, as well as service orientation, see an increase in demand. 

The report findings suggest the need for a comprehensive “augmentation strategy,” in which businesses look to technology to enhance their staff’s human strengths, empowering staff to extend to their full potential. Responses from the employers surveyed for the report provide evidence supporting the effectiveness of such an augmentation strategy. 

Moreover, research shows that customers want to deal with human staff. When banks moved customers from using tellers in bank branches to using ATMs and internet banking, customer satisfaction levels reduced. The report expects growth in roles that leverage distinctively ‘human’ skills, such as customer service workers, sales and marketing professionals, training and development, people and culture, and organisational development specialists as well as innovation managers. By strengthening these inherently human skills, employees will be better positioned for the growth in job opportunities. 

Businesses need to invest in structural changes to remain competitive, and that includes adopting AI and restructuring human roles to take ad- vantage of human strengths. 

To prevent an undesirable, lose-lose scenario — technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment, and economic stagnation — it is critical that businesses take an active role to invest in structural changes. By 2022, 59% of employers surveyed expect that they will have significantly modified how they produce and distribute by changing the composition of their value chain. We saw in Key Point 1 that businesses need to adopt machine learning and AI to remain competitive. But the required strategy includes supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling. Rather than narrowly focusing on automation-based labor cost savings, a strategy should consider the broader horizon of value-creating activities that can be accomplished by human workers, often in complement to technology. 

By 2022, 38% of businesses surveyed expect to extend their workforce to new productivity-enhancing roles, and more than a quarter expect automation to lead to the creation of new roles in their enterprise. The report predicts that 133 million new jobs will be created, resulting in a net increase in employment. 

The transition period to AI-powered jobs should take time to radically transform the way we work throughout the world. With this in mind, we must make this time valuable so that we meticulously understand which human skills can be better used in today’s jobs as well as tomorrow’s. Indeed, raising these key points about work and AI is necessary as we now must study the future of work through understanding which tasks a job requires. This task-by-task approach, rather than a job-by-job one, has been more popular over the last few years, as an increasing number of reports illustrate. Tasks give a better level of granularity of workers’ activities, which help to give a better understanding of how their role can evolve and provide key insights for organisations to anticipate these changes. It will enable human and AI strengths to live together for the good of organisations. 

Colin Priest – DATAROBOT

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