Shaping the workforce for the not so distant future

In times to come, focus will be on job content, not job loss or job creation. Organisations cannot protect jobs rendered redundant by technology – but they can nurture agility, adaptability and reskilling.

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Most people are anxious to know how their job will be affected in the coming years — whether their skills, which they took decades to master, will be relevant at all in the next three years; whether their skills will become obsolete while they themselves are rendered redundant.

The general prediction and assumption is that automation will take away jobs. However, the focus should not be on job gains or job losses, but on job content, because that is where the impact will be seen.

Take the Indian telecom industry for instance. On one hand, there has been a loss of 15000 jobs in customer support and finance, and on the other telecom companies are also hiring in large volumes in the areas of project management and IT infrastructure. Profiles including data team leaders, technical directors and network installation are expected to be much in demand.

In the past, technology was used to improve process efficiencies. Now, in the new world, all that has changed — AI systems can sense, communicate, interpret and learn. They can help businesses move beyond automation to elevate human capabilities that unlock new value.

Morgan Stanley, for instance, is augmenting the work of its 16,000 financial advisors through the introduction of AI agents. By learning about their clients, the intelligent advisors continually interact with their human co-workers to proactively recommend a range of options that take into account their clients’ changing financial situations. Financial advisors are consequently better placed to contact clients at the right time with more relevant advice.

Experts say that while technology will take away certain jobs and create new ones, the main issue will be that the number of people equipped with the skills required to do the new jobs will be scarce.

The newly-skilled workforce

The big question is whether organisations are training the existing workforce and preparing them for the future or whether they are waiting for that new generation of skilled workers to be created on their own?

The truth is that every organisation in this world will be affected by automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the internet of things. So, it is high time organisations realise that they need to reinvent and prepare their workforce for the future.

Constant learning is the only way out. What we learn today can become obsolete in the next few months. We have all been witness to how companies and services which became overnight global phenomena, lost their fizz in the bat of an eyelid.

The best way to truly prepare employees to meet organisational objectives is to focus training on three major areas of skill development. Download this Field Guide to learn the 3 major skill areas to focus on.

Organisations need to worry about people and not jobs. While jobs will be available, there should be people to perform the same. Organisations cannot protect jobs rendered redundant by technology – but they can nurture agility, adaptability and reskilling.

Only those companies and businesses which are able to estimate the radical changes and prepare accordingly, will survive. A depth of understanding and keen insight into the changing technology landscape is a must.

It’s natural for people to be anxious about their future. However, it is the responsibility of the organisation to initiate a mature conversation about the future or else, the anxiety will kill confidence and the willingness to innovate among people. This will affect the business in the present itself.

Whenever the big question about the future crops up, most commentators focus on technology, and the role of automation in jobs. However, the answer lies in how humans decide to use technology.

The fact remains that predicting the future will be a complex task. Linear predictions are too simplistic. Businesses, governments and individuals need to be prepared for a number of possible, even seemingly unlikely, outcomes – especially when there are too many complex forces at play.

Many people believe that automation will mainly affect the production pipeline and lower strata of workers. But this denial will not solve the purpose. The fundamental theory remains that jobs will be affected across levels and verticals. Accountants, lawyers, doctors, long-haul truckers, cab drivers and even teachers will need to brace for change.

Growth for the workforce will not be linear either. Rather, it will depend on what problems they can solve in the future.

Reconfiguring jobs is now inevitable. Organisations will have to identify tasks and allocate them between machines and humans. This will help the workforce move beyond functional jobs to specialised, insight-driven, multiskilled roles. Employees will take on work of higher value. They will get a chance to be more strategic and perform more satisfying work.

This will lead to a situation, where operational roles will become insight-driven roles; mono-skilled roles will change to multiskilled ones and technology-oriented roles will turn into creative ones. For instance, a leading Indian telecom company redesigned certain jobs in customer support and logistics support, and provided training to its employees to operate these technologies in an efficient manner.

New Business Models

Turning savings into investments for the future workforce will propel new business models.

With people doing lesser repetitive work, companies will have to adopt an open culture to encourage experimentation. In an agile workplace, hierarchies will collapse and cross-function teams will assemble and disassemble as per the projects. This will lead to an environment, where leaders will become co-creators and collaborators with their people.

Therefore, companies will have to invest in reskilling and training their workforce in the next three years.

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