The Future World of Work Is Changing - Are We Ready?

17/06/2016 12:33 | Updated 17 June 2016

The world of work is changing. And it's changing fast. It's rare a week goes by without new evidence proving this.

The World Economic Forum believes a 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' is imminent, and that the role of humans in the workplace will change in favour of smart machines and automation. Earlier this year American company, Pew Research Centre revealed that 'two-thirds of Americans think it's likely that in 50 years' time, robots and computers will do much of the work currently done by humans.'

And, according to Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, some 15 million British jobs could be automated in the future.

Factors such as increased globalisation, demographic shifts and labour mobility will also have a significant impact. According to PwC, by 2020 there will be a 50% rise in the number of people being assigned to roles outside of their home country. In addition, the world's population is expected to increase to eight billion by 2025, with over-65s the fastest-growing group. Even Asia, which has seen substantial growth to its youth population over recent decades, will see the number of 15-24 year olds decline by almost 100 million between now and 2060.

So change is clearly happening rapidly. But what's not clear is if people are ready for it.

Blissful ignorance

Research from the City & Guilds Group into skills confidence among employees revealed that the British workforce is unthreatened by the predicted rise of automation and artificial intelligence. 92% of British respondents are confident in their own skills and productivity, and just 10% believe that automation and artificial intelligence will impact their job prospects over the next decade. What's more, 89% are confident their skills will be relevant in five years' time.

Likewise immigration - often touted as a threat to people's job opportunities and job security - caused little concern. Only 27% were concerned that immigration would have an impact on their future job prospects.

These findings don't tally up with what we regularly see in the media, nor predictions about the future world of work. Should we be worried about this apparent complacency, and the lack of awareness for what the future world of work may hold?

Be prepared

For businesses to succeed in the new world, they need to stay on top of any future industry developments - and that requires a skilled workforce. However if employees are too complacent about their current skillsets, there's a risk that they won't be developing their skills in the right areas.

For example, if automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace become a reality, there will surely be an increasing need for skills that robots can't offer - such as leadership and management skills.

Unless employees' training matches employers' future skills needs, we risk increased skills gaps and lower productivity. Businesses and employees alike have a responsibility to stop this happening.

Businesses need to help educate their people and increase their awareness about what the workplace could look like in the future. They also need to continue investing in training and development, ensuring it's aligned to business objectives. And staff need to be made aware of any training initiatives, so they can make the most of any opportunities that may arise.

Individuals meanwhile, must take responsibility for driving their own development. They need to think carefully about what skills they need to develop, both now and in the future, and work with their manager to seek out solutions to help them enhance their skills and knowledge.

We'll never be able to predict perfectly what the future workplace could look like. But the bottom line is, businesses and individuals need to be prepared so they are in a stronger position for whatever the new world holds.