Any leader that ignores or underestimates the reskilling challenge brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution does so at their peril. We have had enough warnings from the wave of surveys and studies published over the past year but perhaps none more emphatic than research released by the World Economic Forum that predicts by 2025, more than half of current work tasks will be performed by machines as opposed to 29 per cent today.
WEF reckons the world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a “seismic shift” in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms and predicts that 133 million new roles could be created in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022. It lists reskilling, enabling remote work and building safety nets to protect at-risk workers and communities as among the urgent challenges that need to be addressed.
The Future of Jobs 2018 report sets out to understand the potential of new technologies to disrupt and create jobs. It is also offers guidance on how to improve the quality and productivity of the work currently being performed by humans and how to prepare people for emerging roles.
The report is based on a survey of chief HR officers and top strategy executives from companies across 12 industries and 20 developed and emerging economies which collectively account for 70 per cent of global GDP. It finds that more than half of employees (54 per cent) of large companies would need significant re- and up-skilling in order to fully harness the growth opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, just over half of the companies surveyed said they planned to reskill only those employees that are in key roles while only one third planned to reskill at-risk workers.
Other headline findings include that while nearly half of all companies expect their full-time workforce to shrink by 2022 as a result of automation, two-fifths expect to extend their workforce generally and more than one quarter expect automation to create new roles in their enterprise. Interestingly, compared to a similar study carried out by WEF in 2016, the outlook for job creation today is far more positive because businesses have greater understanding of the opportunities made available by technology. But it notes at the same time, the “huge disruption” automation will bring to the global labour force is almost certain to result in significant shifts to the “quality, location, format and permanency of roles”, and this will require close attention from leaders both in the public and private sectors.
“It is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation. This is the key challenge of our time,” says Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of WEF.
The future of jobs report echoes the view of Rialto when it suggests that as well as technical proficiency, human skills like creativity, critical thinking and persuasion are among the competences that will be “sharply increasing” in importance. Indeed, we firmly believe that it will be these that are the differentiators for many organisations when it comes to gaining competitive edge. The implementation of technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning and all forms of automation has to be extremely carefully thought through but, at the same time, leaders must ensure their workforce have the critical human skills that will make the difference.
Rialto consultants are already helping organisations to put in place the major transformation programmes that will be required. Make no mistake, Klaus Schwab isn’t overstating the mark when he talks about the shift taking place in the workforce being the “key challenge of our time”. And as leaders, we have an opportunity not just to shape our own organisations’ future but the future of work for years to come. While 2025 may seem a long way off at the moment, the WEF research also expects the “robot revolution” to create 58 million net new jobs in the next five years. There is no time to waste.