Business Week: Getting ready for the automated future of work

Will machines take your job or replace humans altogether? As job grabbing robots are no longer science fiction, automation anxiety is kicking in. But the rise of machines, robots and algorithms in the workplace could almost double the number of jobs than it puts at risk of being replaced. Not everyone is ready for it though.


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The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts in a new report that some 133 million jobs could be created globally over the next decade compared to 75 million that could disappear with the rise of automation. Similar to previous periods of economic disruption, such as the Industrial Revolution when steam power and electricity spurred new jobs, new technologies have the capacity to create new ways of working.

More than eight out of 10 businesses surveyed by the WEF in Britain said they are likely to automate work in the next half a decade, making staff who lacked the skills to use technologies redundant. White collar workers in data entry, accounting and payroll services would be among those most at risk of job displacement in the upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the wake of this, the current workforce needs to take personal responsibility for one’s own lifelong learning and career development. It is also clear that many will need to be supported through periods of job transition and upskilling by both governments and employers. Whether that’s through the still controversial idea of a universal basic income, or a more appropriate ‘universal lifelong learning fund for individuals to draw as needed, creative solutions will need be found for today’s ageing workforce.

More importantly, future generations must be prepared for the automated world of work. “We have to prepare our young people for a world of work that is going to be incredibly different in the years ahead,” says Colin Davie, Executive Councillor for Economy at Lincolnshire County Council. “Technology is changing everything and I don’t think the government understands the speed of that change. It is going to accelerate over the next few years and we have fewer young people coming into the world of work. We need to retain our young people, therefore we need to train them in the jobs of the future.”

Colin Davie wants to see planning for the skills of the workforce done locally by working with employers, which is why the Greater Lincolnshire Enterprise Partnership is currently working on a local industrial strategy for the region which will focus on skills and business growth. It will include looking at investing in technology and training, such as the recently announced engineering and manufacturing college in Boston which will be part funded by the LEP. The University of Lincoln also secured £200,000 of funding to create a range of educational materials and courses to prepare graduates and the local workforce for the challenges of the digital industrial age. Employers will be co-producers of materials for the courses and there will also be funding available to get local staff to work with academics and students on relevant digital industrialisation problems.

By 2022, the WEF predicts the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly. Analytical thinking and active learning as well as skills such as technology design are only one part of the future skills equation. Humanities skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, flexibility and complex problem-solving. Emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence are also set to see particular increase in demand relative to their current prominence today. If one thing is clear, it is that lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.


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