When people think about the future of work, their minds instantly go to thoughts of Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Blockchain and the fourth industrial revolution. However, this is the key reason why many companies and individuals are actually failing to prepare adequately for the future of work. For you see, the future of work is not about technology, it is actually about people. Technology has always been an ever present, whether it be the wheel, the steam engine, the internet or Artificial intelligence. But at the heart of the issue is how people adapt to these changes and remain relevant. The only people who will suffer as a result of this fourth industrial revolution, will be the same type of people who suffered in the last three, those who failed to adapt to those changes and clung to the status quo.

What will automation mean?

McKinsey’s research indicates that roughly 50% of the work people do today, could theoretically be automated with existing technology. I will repeat that again, 50% of our duties today could in theory be automated by existing technology. Not some far off, magical new piece of technology, but what we have available to us today in some form or another. However, they also found that less than 5% of jobs today could be replaced in its entirety by technology. What this means is that, yes, technology can take parts of the work we do, potentially as much as 50% of what we do, but it could not replace 100% of what we do.

Further research from McKinsey estimated that we could automate about one third of about 60% of the most common occupations. Therefore, at its core automation is not something to fear, but instead something to embrace. 95% of all jobs cannot be replaced by technology, but instead, will replace the more basic tasks. This will free up capacity for workers to use that extra time to perform higher value activities and become more valuable to an organization, assuming of course these workers upskill themselves. 

A societal mindset shift is needed

For the last few generations, the advice we received from our parents and passed down to our children was as follows. You go to University and you get a good degree and then those skills will serve you until you retire. Life is essentially broken down in to 3 stages, education followed by career and then retirement. This approach will no longer be workable. People are going to discover that their skills are going to be outdated by the time they hit 45, potentially even as soon as 35 given the pace of technological advance. It will no longer be enough to just study in the early part of your career and then just do a job. There needs to be a shift to lifelong learning. Whether that is at an institutional level, a business level or purely at an individual level, there needs to be a continuous learning journey. Quite simply, if there is not a continuous learning journey, then a lot of folks are going to hit mid-life and find that it is incredibly difficult for them to stay employed.

How can this be achieved?

At an educational institute level this will require a shift in emphasis away from the current model of teaching facts and figures to nurturing personality traits aligned to a growth mindset. The ability to know algebra will be insignificant in a world of automated calculators when compared with the need to be curious and resilient in the face of change. At a business level, this will require a shift away from wanting an obedient workforce who do what they are told and to follow the process to one where your employees are constantly experimenting and questioning why things are done, and rewarding them on their ability to disrupt the status quo as opposed to fitting in to it.

But without a doubt, the best way to ensure relevance will be for people to take ownership of their own careers and be accountable for ensuring their own skills are up to date. There is an old statistic that people used to have 6.5 jobs on average in their career. As we move into the future of work, it may be more appropriate to expect 6.5 different careers as opposed to jobs. A growth mindset, continuous micro learning and a transferable skill set will go a long way to ensuring a person thrives in the future of work.