Constant technological innovation is massively changing the world of work. More than five million jobs – almost 40 per cent of Australian jobs that exist today – are likely to disappear in the next 15 years, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s (CEDA’s) Australia’s Future Workforce? report. But that’s only part of the story. Many more jobs – with titles not yet invented – are on the way, experts insist. So what happens next? While there’s no definite answer, there are ways to prepare for the career odyssey ahead by building the right capabilities for leadership and management, keeping abreast of the forces of change, and learning to expect – and deal with – the unexpected.
1. Creating the right credentials for the future
There are three big game-changers to watch in the world of work says Dr Marcus Bowles FAIM, founder of The Institute for Working Futures, who has been researching the skills and capabilities needed for next-gen leaders for several decades.
First, there’s the “continuous discontinuity” of technological disruption, which is creating new business models and changing customer expectations. Second is demographics: with our ageing population, people with valuable skills in problem solving, communication and critical thinking, gained through years of experience, are retiring and moving out of the workforce. Ironically, these are just the sort of skills that will be vital in the future workforce. And third is globalisation, which through virtual presence is delivering new markets and competitors.
Change is moving fast. At least 30 per cent of the jobs in fast growth areas, such as cryptography and data-driven marketing, didn’t exist two years ago, according to Bowles.
So when it comes to building capabilities for the future, the old methods of training and qualifying people no longer are enough. Degree programs, including the former gold standard MBA, are hard-pressed to keep up with the rapid changes required for tomorrow’s leaders, he says.
“People need a portable currency, an independent verification of applied expertise, that shows specifically what they can do,” Bowles asserts. This is particularly relevant as the “gig economy” powers on and people work more as contractors and short-term experts. What’s needed is “more than the same qualification everyone else has”, Bowles suggests.
At least 30 per cent of the jobs in fast growth areas didn’t exist two years ago.
Along with a team at Deakin University, Bowles has been configuring a way for people to gain the credentials they need in a speedily evolving workforce.
One way ahead is allowing people to present evidence of experience or capabilities acquired in the workplace that can be redeployed for another employer.
Deakin Digital chalked up a world first with its internationally recognised validated credential “badges”. In some instances, recognised credentials may count as points towards a degree, while in others they may enhance a degree in a discrete way or be a stand-alone qualification.
The idea is catching on. The Australian Taxation Office is currently credentialling its employees in risk management, and up to 5000 financial planners at NAB are breaking away from the disparate ways they recognise their expertise to rack up credentials that will count towards a Master of Professional Practice.
Global IT giant Cisco also has been credentialling the previously hidden skills of its people, such as problem solving and critical thinking. The rise of social media and big data has also seen ADMA (the Association of Data-Driven Marketers and Advertisers) join the fray.
Another fast-moving field requiring recognition of expertise is innovation, says Bowles. “Everyone talks about innovation and creativity, but you need to define them separately.” There are those who have the inspiration and then there are the expert innovators working in start-ups or in large organisations, who can execute and deploy that inspiration into a business solution, aka Knowledge Architects or Innovation Masters.
2. Develop workplace skills we’ll need in the future
So what capabilities do leaders need next? A reasonable level of digital literacy is an essential. A penchant for self-development is also a key capability, especially as the gig economy keeps growing and the workforce becomes more mobile.
After working with 20 Australasian public and private organisations, Bowles used a data analytics engine to isolate 12 core leadership capabilities needed for now and the future:
- Lead and develop people
- Empower others
- Adapt and change
- Drive strategic results
- Professional expertise
- Global citizenship
- Emotional judgement
- Critical thinking
3. INVEST IN CO-CREATION
Collaboration is a key skill for the future; it’s also a killer strategy for business. Done between organisations, it’s called co-creation. It’s the way some of the world’s most successful companies, from Procter & Gamble to Harley-Davidson, have grown – by working with customers, suppliers, distributors and even competitors.
To build capabilities for co-creating, it’s important to know its scope. The most popular methods involve getting consumers in on the action, like Nike’s invitation to customers to design their own shoes or IKEA’s construct-it-yourself furniture. But UNSW Business School’s Professor Adrian Payne and a team of researchers have developed a co-creation framework that pinpoints 12 co-creative possibilities, ranging from co-disposal (airlines that ask passengers to help them clean up the planes) to co-pricing (the trend to letting people pay what they want for goods and services) and co-distribution (Unilever’s use of “last-mile” local women distributors in India).
It provides potent food for thought on new ways of doing business.
4. GET READY FOR ROBO-BOSSES
It’s no longer science fiction. Smart machines are increasingly making workplace decisions that previously were the preserve of human managers. By 2018, more than three million workers globally will be supervised by robo-bosses, according to Gartner research company’s vice-president, Frances Karamouzis.
Far-fetched? Well, no. The University of Birmingham has robot office manager Betty already monitoring staff and keeping an eye out for clutter in the Transport Systems Catapult office, an innovation centre in UK town Milton Keynes. Sydney property company JLL has robotic receptionist JiLL, who’s admittedly still learning the ropes, and robotic security guards also are on the way.
It’s not all artificial intelligence (AI). Every day, ride-sharing company Uber’s automated management system is evaluating performance and has managerial control over hundreds of thousands of drivers globally. Software at Freelancer.com is delivering more work to higher-performing freelancers.
“Supervisor duties are increasingly shifting toward monitoring worker accomplishments through measurements of performance that are directly tied to output and customer evaluation,” says Karamouzis, and this gives clever machines the edge in objective decision-making, especially as big data grows and analytics develop.
“Robots actually are superior micro-managers, spotting details humans miss, such as the angle at which a plate is presented to a diner or the speed at which a driver turns a corner.”
Robots actually are superior micro-managers, spotting details humans miss, such as the angle at which a plate is presented to a diner or the speed at which a driver turns a corner. And they’re faster. As an example, once productivity-enhancing methods in factories surface they can deploy them in seconds and across many locations.
“I’d rather have a computer as my boss than a jerk,” Daniel Barowy, a University of Massachusetts developer, told New Scientist after he helped design the AutoMan software for Amazon, which manages easier grunt work but delegates tricky tasks to human workers. And it’s true that AI and canny algorithms won’t bear grudges, play politics or whinge about change.
So what role will human leaders play in this brave new world? Although automated systems may have it over humans when it comes to clear-cut decisions, that’s not the whole story, says Teresa Amabile, research director at Harvard Business School. After studying 200 workers’ diaries, she found happy productive people need to feel they can make mistakes, and that they perform better with encouragement and respect – qualities for which human interaction remains essential.
In the brave new robotic world, human leaders will still have a vital function and often a harder task as storytellers and agents for “softer” relationship management skills.