The hard­est thing about the future of work is defin­ing the con­cept. The chief rea­son has to do with change. It’s con­stant with new tech­nolo­gies com­ing online at an increas­ing pace and chang­ing the way peo­ple com­plete their work.

If the data is to be believed, what HR knows about work is quick­ly dis­ap­pear­ing. Korn Fer­ry pre­dicts by 2030 a glob­al human tal­ent short­age of more than 85 mil­lion peo­ple will exist. That’s an aston­ish­ing pre­dic­tion, but changes are expect­ed well in advance of that year. Forty per­cent of today’s For­tune 500 com­pa­nies, accord­ing to Deloitte, won’t exist in 2025. Addi­tion­al­ly, the World Eco­nom­ic Forum pre­dicts 133 mil­lion new jobs will be devel­oped by 2022 through arti­fi­cial intelligence.

For HR, this data points to a very clear path: pre­pare your com­pa­ny now for the work of the future.

“The fact is we can guess all we want, but we can’t ever tru­ly know what the future holds,” excites Gran­ite Group chief peo­ple offi­cer Tra­cie Sponenberg.”

Despite all the dif­fi­cul­ty in defin­ing the future of work and some of the con­cerns that come with it, Spo­nen­berg said there is some excite­ment to be had. Oth­er HR pro­fes­sion­als agree.

“What excites me most are the new tech­nolo­gies that are going to sup­port employ­ees in mak­ing leaps in speed, agili­ty, effi­cien­cy, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and over­all per­for­mance,” Andrew Saidy said.

He’s the vice pres­i­dent of tal­ent dig­i­ti­za­tion, employ­er brand­ing and uni­ver­si­ty rela­tions for Schnei­der Elec­tric. As the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of HR con­tin­ues, we’ve cer­tain­ly seen advance­ments in those spe­cif­ic areas. Employ­ees are using more tools that are either dig­i­tal in part or com­plete­ly so. Both help employ­ees increase effi­cien­cy which leads to an increase in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and per­for­mance. Tech­nol­o­gy has also allowed com­pa­nies to be agile in their approach to work.

GE Health­care head of glob­al dig­i­tal learn­ing Christo­pher Lind agrees with Saidy say­ing tech­nol­o­gy helps orga­ni­za­tions break all the rules when it comes to con­nect­ing, col­lab­o­rat­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing work. Even so, he acknowl­edges there is still some fear around technology.

“Instead of being afraid of machines tak­ing our jobs, I believe we should be excit­ed that machines can do the rudi­men­ta­ry things we waste so much time doing, so we can focus on the high­er order things that real­ly dri­ve us,” Lind said.

Learning and Development

Despite Lind’s state­ment, there is still some con­cern around the poten­tial loss of jobs to tech­nol­o­gy solu­tions — specif­i­cal­ly around arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and automation.

It might sur­prise you to know that’s not an uncom­mon feel­ing to have. There have been con­cerns about tech­nol­o­gy tak­ing away jobs since the First Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion in the ear­ly 1900s. Here we are 100 or more years lat­er enter­ing the Fourth Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion and we’re expe­ri­enc­ing sim­i­lar con­cerns. While that’s an under­stood feel­ing, HR needs to help move the work­force away from this type of con­cern and focus more on skilling accord­ing­ly… what is, some­times, referred to as future-proof­ing skills. That’s real­ly the name of the game.

Dur­ing this par­tic­u­lar rev­o­lu­tion, new indus­tries and roles will be cre­at­ed. For­rester pre­dicts robots, AI, machine learn­ing and automa­tion will cre­ate 9 per­cent of new jobs by 2025. Some of the new jobs expect­ed to be cre­at­ed include:

  • Robot mon­i­tor­ing professionals
  • Con­tent curators
  • Data sci­en­tists
  • Automa­tion specialists

Nat­u­ral­ly, some will go away. By 2025, For­rester also pre­dicts those same tech­nolo­gies will replace 16 per­cent of US jobs. Most of the impact will be felt on office and admin­is­tra­tive sup­port staff roles as well as roles where work­ers have a low amount of for­mal edu­ca­tion – the so-called “at-risk jobs”. Learn­ing new skills and build­ing on exist­ing com­pe­ten­cies will be cru­cial to com­pa­nies want­i­ng to remain com­pet­i­tive in the cur­rent cli­mate. The chal­lenge there lies in try­ing to fig­ure out which skills your employ­ee will need.

The data pro­vid­ed gives HR some indi­ca­tion on where to begin. With more robot, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, automa­tion, and oth­er relat­ed jobs expect­ed in the future, employ­ees should start build­ing their knowl­edge and skill base now.

While it seems daunt­ing, there is some good news. A World Eco­nom­ic Forum and Boston Con­sult­ing Group report says “95 per­cent of at-risk U.S. work­ers could be suc­cess­ful­ly retrained for jobs that pay the same as or more than their cur­rent posi­tions and offer bet­ter growth prospects.”

So How Does HR Move Forward?

Tak­ing employ­ees off-line for weeks to train is pret­ty much a “no go” at this point in the game. Learn­ing and train­ing almost have to be con­duct­ed “on the job” in real­i­ty. This isn’t just a need. Many employ­ees actu­al­ly pre­fer learn­ing on the job. Keep­ing up work­flow and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty is impor­tant to the con­tin­ued suc­cess of the busi­ness. Dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies are using dif­fer­ent meth­ods to accom­mo­date this need.

Wal­mart, for instance, has auto­mat­ed tasks at their stores such as cus­tomer check­out. That means asso­ciates have more time to train on a mul­ti­tude of con­cepts includ­ing cus­tomer service.

The depart­ment store giant is using vir­tu­al real­i­ty to sim­u­late dif­fer­ent issues their asso­ciates will expe­ri­ence dur­ing their employ­ment. For instance, VR is being used to sim­u­late Black Fri­day rushes.

AT&T is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent approach. The com­pa­ny has insti­tut­ed a pro­gram called “Future Ready”. Essen­tial­ly, the $1 bil­lion, web-based ini­tia­tive includes online cours­es through a myr­i­ad of ven­dors and uni­ver­si­ties. This allows employ­ees to fig­ure out what skills they need and train for the jobs the com­pa­ny needs right now and will need in the future. Their online por­tal, called Career Intel­li­gence, allows work­ers to see avail­able jobs, the skills each requires, the sug­gest­ed salary and whether or not the area is expect­ed to grow or shrink in the future. It is career pathing at its best and allows employ­ees to fig­ure out how to get from where they are now to where they want to be and the com­pa­ny needs them to be in the future.

By Mason Stevenson

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on