Through the pages of history, the nature of work has changed at different points in time. From the biblical notion of work as punishment, to the Ancient Greek conception of work as slavery- society has seen it all. Today, work is seen to be more holistic. It keeps need, boredom and vice at bay- but as technology advances faster than ever before, the paradigm of work is witnessing a massive shift.
Customers today do not feel the need to interact with other humans when ordering dinner, calling a cab, or stockpiling on household goods. Employees increasingly prefer to complete payroll and benefits tasks using a self-service portal. All this is resulting in many jobs becoming redundant. So much so that several studies show that in next 5 years nearly 55% to 65% of existing jobs will disappear.
Industry leaders – Rajeev Dubey–Group President (HR & Corporate Services) & CEO (After-Market Sector), Member of GEB, Mahindra & Mahindra Group; Rachna Bhanot–HR / Talent Leader IBM, India & South Asia, Ira Gupta–Head of Human Resources, Microsoft, India and Pavan Choudary-MD Vygon India, Author and Coach came together to provide key insights into the changing character of businesses and workforce and how technologies can be gainfully leveraged.
UTOPIA, DYSTOPIA AND THE BALANCING ACT
Pavan Choudary opened the discussion by sharing two perspectives on future workforce:
The Utopian perspective ushers hope for greater inclusion, wages for all, time for leisure and increased creativity, whereas the Dystopian perspective envisions a future with a lack of equality in the workforce, and increased unemployment.
For Rajeev Dubey, the threat of the Dystopian view materializing into reality looms large. His concerns revolve around living in an already unequal world, one where 8 people hold as much wealth in their hands as 50% of the population, and the mounting challenges presented by newer technologies in adding to this inequality.
The world is witness to several revolutionary movements that emerged as an enraged response to perceived injustice and wealth inequality- from the violence stricken Naxalite and Bastar movements in India, to the gradual far right shift in the political ideology of much of the developed world- most visibly seen in the presidency of Donald Trump in the US.
As technology reigns supreme and becomes an ever present part of the working world – jobs of the future will be contingent on education and constant up-skilling, and only a select few will have access to this; for technical skills and competencies cannot be inculcated without some financial investment. This may lead to further discouragement and alienation amongst the deprived sections of the working population.
India in particular, knows what it means to be unequal. As the rest of the population struggles to meet its basic needs – 7% of the privileged population must consider the impact of technology, and how to best use it to solve problems.
Pavan shared that today, machines are learning, and the transition period of moving from the traditional way of work to the new will bring more challenges before it brings success – as was seen in the First Industrial Revolution in England, where it took over a 100 years for the per capita income to restore itself to prosperous levels. It is predicted that Germany is set to lose 35% of its extant workforce to newer technologies.
However, away from the bleakness of the worst case scenario, Ira Gupta and Rachna Bhanot harness the optimism of Utopia. Ms. Gupta believes that doomsday philosophies are not true, because the future is here – and it isn’t scary.
Once upon a time, nuclear power prophesied mass destruction and gene mapping was seen as tampering with biology – but as it stands today, both these explorations have yielded great benefits. With changing technology, comes increased opportunity. When horse drawn carriages went away, taking jobs along with them – they also left possibility in their wake. Ancillary industries like natural gas began to develop further.
By 2030 – 15% of job activities globally will experience a shift towards the technological revolution characterized by AI – which Ira Gupta sees as a steady change. This statistic stands at 33% for the developed Germany, and only 9% for India.
At the precipice of change – both perspectives can align on one fact – change must be undertaken with awareness, and embraced well in advance. Technology is malleable by intent – it can be used to create bombs, or to cure disease. Hence, the most crucial question to ask in the future is – “What do we use technology for?”
The history of labor shows that technology does not drive social change. On the contrary, social change is driven by choices made by corporations and policymakers, on how to organize and adapt to technological shifts.
THE SOCIAL CONSCIENCE OF BUSINESS
A holistic social conscience is greatly important because technological changes do not take place in isolation of social, economic, cultural and political changes. Companies these days are more conscious of their obligation, and are more societally aware and impact driven.
Organizations are far more accepting of diversity. Companies like Accenture recognize LGBTQ partnerships in the realm of insurance, and even provide coverage for gender re-assignment. They are also providing rich benefits to its employees on bereavement or maternity leave, supporting them as they adjust to big life changes.
In the case of Microsoft, the organization looks to democratize technology, and incorporate greater inclusion in design and outreach in order to absorb people of disabilities into the mainstream workforce with ease.
Close to 50% of millennials and generation Z prefer to work for organizations that value causes higher than their own. For this reason, powerful organizations of tomorrow will be successful based on the level of interaction they can achieve with the communities they are placed in.
Rajeev Dubey holds that diversity is the key to innovation, and this diversity lies not only in inclusive policies, but accommodating diversity of thought and action as well. He firmly believes that the days of “command and control”, where one person held all the answers, are gone – and that being a good human being is good business. Leaders today establish authority by openly admitting their flaws, inviting feedback from teams and fostering kindness and compassion.
He also says, that the core requirement of a CEO is to be a philosopher – to pay attention to morals, ethics and human needs. Regardless of the advent of machines, humans will always have the fundamental need to connect, be valued and contribute productively – and leaders of the future must nurture these fundamentals in order to create a strong, valuable workforce.
CHANGING TIDES: WORK, WORKERS AND WORKFORCE
Technology augments and alters tasks within jobs to make them more efficient – and while that may result in people losing the jobs they have traditionally held, the space for more work is ever-present.
According to Pavan, services have taken on a higher percentage of GDP in many countries as opposed to manufacturing, and this divide continues to grow. 54% of Millennials today have businesses in the tertiary sector, and while there is still a need for physical, manufactured goods- services continue to grow.
With an increase in aging societies, the healthcare sector presents prime opportunities for employment; while an expanding middle class in nations like India generates a rise in consumerism, which in turn leads to more jobs and creativity. Workers from traditional sectors like Agriculture will have opportunities to migrate to different sectors when their work becomes superfluous.
In this way, technology may destroy jobs, but never the opportunity for work.
As the landscape of work continues to change, there will be marked differences in what workplaces look like, and how the workforce is shaped.
According to Rachna Bhanot, the biggest disruption in the near future, will be the “Uber-isation” of the workforce, or the gig economy – where talent is acquired on a demand-supply basis from a largely independent workforce. Various stakeholders will come together for the purpose of a project, only to dissemble post its completion.
Due to this shift, she sees great changes in how work spaces are structured. The two biggest trends she envisions in this category include – an entirely AI enabled workplace, where smart technology leads scheduling and tasks – or an elimination of the workplace entirely. Common working spaces are being seen as irrelevant, as workers gain capabilities in creating virtual team environments, and delivering solutions to consumer demands on the go.
For Mr. Dubey, work in the future will be defined by more machine and human interaction, and in this transaction, the management of human relationships and problem solving becomes most important. Pavan further elaborated that the Chief Human Resource Officer will experience a shift in designation as technology continues to gain momentum – becoming the Chief Human-Machine Resource Officer!
HIRING IN A NEW WORLD
When it comes to attracting and developing new talent, Ira Gupta states that organisations must possess the ability to learn and unlearn. She firmly believes that the generation entering the workforce is not restless or disparate from others – but rather more diverse, and more in number than ever before. For this reason, organizations should have a handle on understanding their different needs to create learning and engagement that will eventually facilitate growth.
Rachna Bhanot agrees, stating that a system of “mutual mentoring”- where the coming workforce expands on its goals and aspirations, and the organization delineates where best to deploy them- is the best model of hiring.
At IBM, aspirants are given the opportunity to find their own path, through interactions with a bot. The organization uses ‘Watson’, its powerhouse cognitive computing engine – to hire new recruits. Candidates engage in a process of individual self-reflection, and once they are willing to be a part of the organization, the program handles the life cycle of recruitment. Pavan concurred that with this an attitudinal alignment is created between the organization and the candidate.
IBM’s “YourLearning” platform picks up on applicant’s current and past background to create a profile and learning platform. As Watson learns more about each unique learner, it provides more relevant insights to determine what best supports their needs.
Beyond organizational implements, algorithms on social media platforms like LinkedIn cast a wide net to evaluate skillsets, social, cognitive and behavioural capabilities for companies looking for recruits.
THE WAY FORWARD
Educational institutions provide vast databases to organizations to find competencies that are needed for a particular profile, regardless of degree. In fact, professional skill curation is now being inculcated deep into schooling, at an early stage. However, aligning technical skills and capabilities is only one part of the larger spectrum of hiring in a new, technologically advanced world.
Pavan concludes that, earlier, a worker’s life cycle was like a home with deep foundations of levelled training and experience; now, it can be likened to a foldable tent- more flexible, agile and adaptable. To meet this new state head on, hirers must upgrade their own skill sets to widen their understanding, and keep the doors of opportunity open and non-discriminatory for a fresh spectrum of talent.
The new world calls for a wholesome worker – one who isn’t a prisoner of the past, but a flag bearer of change. A person that possesses the wisdom and flexibility to learn from fear or failure and move beyond success. A person who can employ both left and right brained faculties – a liberal mind with an industry knowledge. A person who creates bonds and trust through authenticity and most importantly, a person whose passion drives his endeavours.
In an ever evolving world, only an ever evolving person can survive, and indeed thrive.
(Edited by Anu Choudary)