In a world of work that was already in upheaval amid the technological revolution, the COVID-19 pandemic is further fanning the flames of digital transformation. From retail to banks, from manufacturing to education, the pandemic is forcing whole industries to change operating models, throwing up new kinds of workforce and skills challenges.
To be sure, the writing was already on the wall; pre-pandemic, experts predicted that over the next decade, one in three jobs was likely to be severely disrupted or disappear due to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics. This disruption was expected to impact almost half of all low-skilled and one-third of semi-skilled jobs. While some roles would be lost and many others created, almost all professions were expected to change.
Cutting to the present, the pandemic holds twin threats over lives and livelihoods, ramping up further pressure on states, industries, and workers. The International Labour Organization warns that 436 million enterprises face high risks of serious disruption, risking the livelihoods of 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy – nearly half of the global workforce. If anything, the pandemic will force enterprises to reduce dependence on people for low-skill jobs that can be automated, cutting risk, and costs.
Skills based on an outdated education model
In a PwC global CEO survey conducted at the end of 2019, 74% of respondents were concerned about the availability of digital era-relevant skills – creativity, problem solving and an understanding of how digital technology can be used. But this is hardly surprising. The problem lies in the fact that our current education system is rooted in the Industrial Revolution model, when relatively fixed set of skills and knowledge were required. Its focus on memorisation and standardisation – skills that will be easily and efficiently supplanted by artificial and augmented intelligence – is insufficient for the age of innovation.
The jobs of tomorrow will require a blend of intelligence, emotional intelligence, resilience and the ability to work alongside machines. New technologies like artificial Intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing are creating new types of jobs. The Institute for the Future predicts that 85% of the jobs that workers will be doing in 2030 haven’t yet been invented.
“The jobs of tomorrow will require a blend of intelligence, emotional intelligence, resilience, and the ability to work alongside machines”
Every large enterprise and government ecosystem is thinking about what will perhaps be the biggest workforce challenge of the coming decade: matching jobs with skills. Add into this mix the expected maturing of the gig economy, which will bring variability and agility to our workforce, along with scale. All this will mean that what we need to learn, how we learn and the role of the instructor will all change.
As repetitive tasks at the workplace will be automated with machines and AI, humans will need to do higher order cognitive, non-repetitive tasks using digital machines that amplify their own abilities. As machines learn to problem solve, human jobs will evolve to the creative task of finding the pressing problems of business and society and then finding ways to apply machines and technology to solve that problem. To succeed in this new paradigm, workers will need to nurture their curiosity and learn problem-finding.
Students for life, workers for life
In the future, humans will need to do what only humans are uniquely equipped to do – use their empathy and emotional quotient to use technology meaningfully for businesses to make our lives better. This will need an anti-disciplinary approach to learning, where there isn’t one discipline to master but rather a continuum of learning, unlearning and relearning. This approach is already being embraced across industries with diverse technologies. Enterprises will also need to spawn a much more diverse workforce coming from liberal arts, design, humanities, anthropology and disciplines of almost every kind in addition to pure technologists.
“As machines learn to problem solve, human jobs will evolve to the creative task of finding the pressing problems of business and society and then finding ways to apply machines and technology to solve that problem”
To thrive in the Fourth Industrial revolution, humans will need to make the fundamental shift from linear to lifelong learning. This will be as significant as the mechanisation in prior generations of agriculture and manufacturing, if not more. People will have to learn to learn, to unlearn and to re-learn. Yet, adult learning is difficult. Failure as an adult is really difficult, but it is a part of the unlearning process. So for any individual to imbibe a culture of being on a learning curve for a lifetime is a big switch.
This will be the most valued attribute in the digital era, helping workers stay relevant and directing their own careers – whether that be sales staff experimenting with principles of software engineering, or programmers enhancing their talents in user experience and human interface design. By gaining new experience and knowledge, workers can enhance their career to span a wider net and help them grow laterally within their organisation. Online and any time learning can support employees with an effective and accessible opportunity to develop expertise in new areas and functions. We, at Infosys have deployed a next-gen learning solution called WingSpan for our employees that allows them to access learning, from anywhere, anytime and from any device. Workers of any age and career stage can pursue virtual learning on a flexible, tailored basis, throughout their working life, as part of the daily routine.
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be a turning point in how people work, transforming their approach towards work flexibility and mobility. Similarly, many organisations will embrace alternative work delivery models and employment constructs. Whatever comes out on the other side of this crisis, both employers and employees will be closer to the work model of the future, which will be built on lifelong learning.
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