Shawn Murphy is the founder and CEO of the change management consultancy Switch and Shift. In his recent article for Inc., he examines the radical impact that technological changes will create for the next generations of talent — and the future of work. “Significant social shifts are influencing the future of work,” Murphy writes. “These changes are forcing businesses to alter the way they remain relevant in the market place. Additionally, these changes are pushing businesses to redefine the talent they want/need and how to find, attract, and retain people.” The dramatic growth and maturity of technology is forcing us to question the role human workers will play in an era of machines. This is especially profound given the increased longevity of people today. Let’s look at the major shifts likely to occur, how we can rise to meet the challenge and how we can reap the rewards.
Living in an Automated Reality
It appears that everything that can be automated is being automated. Microchip implants can trigger the release of hormones in the body. Exoskeletons help the disabled walk. Robotic limbs can connect to the nervous system. On September 5, 2015, a revolutionary artificial organ, the Carmat heart, was implanted into a French patient.
Younger entrepreneurs have capitalized on disrupting traditional business models across every industry through automation. Consider the effects of Uber on the private transport and taxi industries, or the dent AirBnB has made in the hospitality space. And these pioneers aren’t finished. Soon, Uber’s foray into driverless vehicles could render its still novel business model obsolete. And you could be purchasing the service using Android or Apple payment apps, with capital you obtained from trading Bitcoins.
Everything our global societies rely on is becoming inextricably tied to technology. And there’s a fair amount of gloom and doom associated with the concept of this kind of automation. Yet, we are no longer talking about robots replacing workers on assembly lines. Soon, robots could be healing the sick and computer programs will become savvy enough to write legal briefs, reports and other content. Watson won’t just be trouncing gameshow contestants, and Deep Blue won’t be upsetting chess masters — these machines could be developing new environmental protections, cures for diseases and agricultural advances to end hunger.
Many of these concepts have already been well documented. Murphy, however, points out some other influential changes that will reshape the notion of work — particularly in context of our longer lifespans. He cites the book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, authored by professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.
“Gratton and Scott shine the light on five dynamic shifts that are fueled mostly by technological advancement.” Murphy explains. “Equally intriguing and fueling these changes is their forecast of the 60-year career. Imagine that, six decades of honing and growing your skills in business.” What will the business world look like in that 60-year profession? Here’s a synopsis, based on Gratton and Scott’s predictions.
Dynamics That Could Change the Future of Work
“As we age and live longer,” Murphy writes, “growing numbers of older people will create needs that influence how sectors respond to this demographic change.” This shift could signal the rise of significant growth sectors to meet the demands. Bioengineering immediately comes to mind, and exponential technologies are poised to address these needs.
- Though not a new trend, 3D-printing has caught its stride now that companies like Tesla are using it to build engine parts. Better applications of the technology to biological material and food will follow, according to Gartner.
- Telemedicine services could become more prevalent as cost-effective health options to people living anywhere in the world, especially remote locations.
- We have embarked on a new wave of wearable technology that will allow consumers to record their vital signs, including heart rate, oxygen saturation and various other metrics. This trend will extend beyond general fitness applications to a variety of uses in comprehensive medical, dental and visual health care.
- Solar powered desalination tech has the potential to dramatically increase access to fresh drinking water in arid locations. This is already occurring in places such as Chile, Scandinavia and even Kotri, a small village with 300 families in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan.
- In Sweden, amazing “passive technologies” can capture the body heat of occupants to warm homes. The body heat from commuters passing through the central railway station is also used to heat nearby buildings.
Increasingly Diverse Business Ecosystems
Technology is empowering smaller companies to compete with large enterprises in the same space. Lean organizations with innovative tech can scale rapidly, explode onto the scene and dominate marketplaces that once posed insurmountable barriers of entry. Small players are no longer considered small time. They are rattling the cages of old behemoths and inspiring a transformative business ecosystem where big companies must contemplate restructuring or fading into obscurity.
The ongoing introduction of smaller technology pioneers will generate incredible employment opportunities, which will emerge as the result of new roles, requirements, skills, consumer needs and a redefined business ecosystem.
Today’s Cities Are Tomorrow’s Smart Communities
As Gratton and Scott note in their book, more people are moving from the suburbs into large cities. Their research suggests that 6.3 billion people will inhabit urban locations by 2050 — an almost 50-percent increase from today. “The cause for the migration is proximity to ideas and high-level skills,” Murphy says. “Opportunities are more abundant in cities.”
This trend is clearly evident among younger talent. Millennials, close to half of them, live in urban areas where the bulk of commerce occurs. They have their fingers on the pulse of today’s target demographics. Tapping into their vast knowledge of market research and trends can open up entirely new, if nontraditional, channels for progressive employers. There are other issues at play here, as well.
The face of our planet is changing forever. And the rise of eco-communities is combatting those issues. Ecovillages are planned communities whose goal is to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Most range from 50 to 150 inhabitants, yet larger ecovillages of up to 2,000 individuals do exist.
Not only do smart cities and ecovillages hold great appeal with Millennials, they expose opportunities. Just as in smart cities, the participants in ecovillages are educated and industrious. They produce their foods, develop renewable energy sources like solar power, and limit their impact on the environment. Because of global advances in clean energy and water, they are likely to grow in the future. This is critical as technology extends life expectancy.
The greatest hazard facing our sustainability is not pollution – it’s overpopulation. By developing eco-based communities, resources become sustainable in a perfect marriage of technology and conservation. Creating these cities of tomorrow will require developing the right talent today.
A Jobless Future?
The final two shifts mentioned by Gratton and Scott are correlated. They involve what the professors term “a hollowing out of work” and worries over rampant unemployment from evolving automation. As futurists, academics and analysts all believe, some jobs will be eliminated due to the takeover of certain technologies. Very soon, for instance, our parcels could be delivered to us by drones instead of UPS or postal workers.
We must acknowledge a shift in the difference between cognitive and manual expertise, and routine versus non-routine work. Robots and intelligent computers have begun accepting greater responsibilities in automating routine tasks. However, the acceleration of smart machines for unskilled work actually creates more work for skilled talent. In response to concerns about the automated future, Google’s Ray Kurzweil offers some reassurance: though we can’t predict what will come to pass, we can anticipate that burgeoning technologies and industries will present untold opportunities we can’t yet conceive.
Most experts agree that computers have a long way to go before mastering the “common sense” test in artificial intelligence. And while tomorrow’s talent will not be focused on recognizing patterns and taking actions — things machines can automate and enable — they will be responsible for designing the curricula that direct computers toward the patterns to discern.
They will be the programmers, the teachers and the counselors who determine what actions the computers should perform and the ends they should serve. Entertainment writers, performers and actors will remain vital to augmented reality, video games, digital movies and more. Software developers and engineers will continue to develop skills and evolve exponential technologies. Bioengineers and gene programmers will play a pivotal role in designing health systems to support the needs of a longer living population.
Forget Fear, Focus on Future Success
Even with technology enabling humans and automating processes, future talent will still be needed to program the computers, provide medical services (even if those would seem to imply genetics and cloning), maintain and build the new infrastructures, educate computers and their users, provide entertainment, and deliver professional or personal support services. In short, technology will demand talent who can direct the common sense attributes of the programming through scientific and creative thought.
As staffing leaders, I believe we should expect and embrace these shifts. We should prepare for them now and refine our practices to cultivate and recruit tomorrow’s talent. Instead of succumbing to fear, we have the opportunity to shape the success of our shared future.