VTT Global - Strategy and Management Consultancy

How are people responding to technology and the future of work?

There is a fundamental transformation in the way people will work in the 21st century with automation replacing human tasks and jobs. This is prompting changes during a period of political and societal changes – organizational, talent & HR challenges. Businesses need a clear & meaningful purpose and mandate to attract and retain the right employees, clients and partners in the decade ahead.

The core drivers of this shift in trends in the workforce are largely because of:

  1. Technological breakthroughs: Rapid advances in technological innovation
  2. Demographic shifts: The changing size, distribution and age of the world’s population
  3. Rapid Urbanization: 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050
  4. Shifts in global economic power: Power shifting between developed and developing countries
  5. Resource scarcity and climate change: Recent years have seen an increase in concern over whether rising demand for natural resources such as food, water, land and oil will increasingly begin to hit limits to supply growth, and thus trigger intensifying zero-sum competition or increased violent conflict over scarce resources – particularly, but not exclusively, because of the projected impacts of climate change

The issue now is to understand how intelligent technologies will impact our jobs, augment them and enable us to be more productive in and out of the office, not to simply focus on job obsolescence. A recent study from the Oxford University suggest 35% of the existing UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.

Julia Kirby and Tom Davenport have researched and devoted an entire book to this subject called “Only Homers need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines”. Their hypothesis is that machines are less likely to dislocate entire jobs, but will most likely replace certain tasks and in the process will augment many jobs.

So, the question is: What will we do to broadly share the advantages and ease the challenges?

We don’t know how quickly machines will displace people’s jobs or how many they will take but as we can see the process is well under way not just to factory workers but to financial managers, engineers, doctors and trade marketing professionals. Speaking of which, in days gone by Trade Marketeers used to record sales in a note book and all transactions were recorded in this fashion. In 2018, most major Fast-Moving Consumer Good (FMCG) organizations have provided their sales reps with machines which record all sales transactions which augments the sales process for sales representatives and retail owners, plus providing distribution owners with active status of purchase deals.

Given the advantages of technology the logical answer seems to be to educate people differently, so they are prepared to work alongside the robots or do the job which machines can’t.

But how to do that & whether training can outpace automation, are open to questions.

The future of work is being shaped by two powerful forces: The increasing adaption of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace and the expansion in the workforce to include both on and off-balance sheet talent.

Fears of AI based automation forcing humans out of work or accelerating the creation of unstable jobs may be unfounded. AI thoughtfully deployed could instead help create meaningful work. Going forward some key messages for leaders are:

  1. Act Now: Change is already in process; you need to adapt to it and act
  2. Make a big leap: Don’t be constrained by your strategy point, instead you might need to take more radical steps to remain up to speed to with the changing dynamics
  3. Take ownership of the automation debate: Don’t leave the debate up to one certain department like HR to handle. The change is far reaching and entire organizational hierarchy needs to consider this while making important human resource decisions
  4. Build a clear description: How your employees feel and understand your narrative will affect their performance both today and going forward so have mature conversations with them about the future