The world of work had been changing, driven by the twin forces of globalization and digitalization – one older, the other a more recent phenomenon. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this change. To survive and prosper, businesses now have no choice but become agile and embrace change like never before.
The power of digital in multiplying efficiency and productivity is unquestionable. As the fourth Industrial Revolution sweeps through our world, it is fundamentally altering how businesses serve customers, and how organizations enable strategy. Roles, organization structures, and skills are rapidly evolving as well. We are witnessing Schumpeter’s creative destruction where many jobs, roles and skills will become obsolete and will yield space for new ones to arise.
The imperative for businesses is therefore to prioritize Reskilling, the process of learning new skills so one can do a different job, or of training people to do a different job and Upskilling,the process of learning new skills or of teaching workers new skills. A case in point is a recent Gartner survey incorporating view of 113 learning and development leaders, where 71% said that more than 40% of their workforce needed new skills owing to changes at the workplace with the onset of Covid-19.
In my view, the jobs of the future will place heavy emphasis on activities that are non-transactional, which cannot be reduced to an algorithm and thus done faster, cheaper more efficiently by machines. Things that make us more human – judgement, emotional connections, leadership – will take centre stage, while everything transactional will be fully or partially automated. This lens yields three interesting job paradigms.
- Global opportunities/threats: Labour supply gaps can be filled anywhere in the world. For emerging nations, this is a cost arbitrage opportunity. This already exists to an extent in the offshoring industries, digital will accelerate it. An equivalently skilled individual from Bhopal can work for an industrial company in Latin America supported by digital innovations such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Someone from Vietnam can similarly work for an Indian company, without leaving their home city. This will emerge as a threat for those individuals and organizations whose skills are stale or redundant. It is also an opportunity for those equipped in the new-age skills to be unshackled from physical borders.
- Language and culture intelligence: This will be the necessary condition for future job requirements. Only those organizations that invest in building cross-cultural and multi-language competence will be able to take advantage of the digital disruptions. To be able to interact with customers, suppliers, partners and regulators across borders, the future jobs will require fluency in cultural intelligence with an ability to speak 3-4 different languages – that will be a currency for such jobs.
- Unlocking the power of gender diversity: Women, who often face the double burden of managing work and home expectations, can benefit from virtual working becoming the norm. Organizations that struggled earlier to make progress on gender inclusion due to commuting or distance challenges, can now rapidly unlock their full potential from anywhere in the world with physical presence becoming a non-issue in future jobs. Consequently, both employees and organizations will benefit from future jobs becoming truly gender-agnostic.
- Skills of the future: While it is difficult to ascertain the specific nature of technical skills and the role it will play in the future, however the emotional and human related attributes and skills are poised to gain prominence. In a Harvard Business Review article of 2019, Stephen Kosslyn wrote:
“Our ability to manage and utilize emotion and to take into account the effects of context are key ingredients of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, adaptive learning, and good judgment. It has proven very difficult to program machines to emulate such human knowledge and skills, and it is not clear when (or whether) today’s fledgling efforts to do so will bear fruit. And in fact, these are the very skills that employers across industries consistently report seeking in job candidates.”
All the skills that make us uniquely human – context, emotional intelligence, communication, judgement – they will be more relevant than ever in the future of a job. The good news is that we do not have to build those from scratch, organizations only need to reclaim the space for humans to be more human in future.