AI and automation are radically disrupting the future of work — here’s what you should know

Employees

  • Digital technologies like AI and automation are set to completely reshape the way people work.
  • We asked a futurist and an industry specialist for their perspective on what that means for companies and workers.
  • Some people will be “left-behind,” as technology-driven systems redesign the workplace, while others will get access to more creative or rewarding work.

The idea of a “job for life” is a relic of past generations. But as tech innovation speeds up and companies shapeshift to take advantage, the employment landscape is becoming even more fluid radically changing what “work” means for companies and their employees.

In our series “Futureproof,” we’re pairing futurists with industry specialists from Deloitte Digital for frank conversations about the outlook of key industries and how businesses can prepare.

Here, Jennifer Jarratt, principal at Leading Futurists LLC, and Arthur Mazor, principal and human capital digital leader at Deloitte Digital, LLP, discuss about what’s ahead for the future of work.

Instead of predicting whether artificial intelligence and automation will lead to job elimination or job creation, let’s talk about how AI might lead to reimagining the very concept of work. In a world where AI takes on all rote-driven tasks, what does “work” start to look like for humans?

Jennifer Jarratt: Anyone running a system (manufacturer, business, service, government any organization in fact) will shape their devices and AI approaches to take advantage of the acquisition, management, and effective use of data. It’s a bit like mining for gold when you know there are piles of ore just under the surface. In the future, most organizational functions, as well as jobs, will be data driven. There will be a huge amount of work to do in designing the hows and whats of data, and what to do with it when you’ve collected it. AI is a likely collaborator in these tasks.

Arthur Mazor: As we increasingly harness the power of digital tools, “work” for nearly every role has the potential to change.

Rich data and predictive insights will enable humans to create and sustain more meaningful customer relationships, beyond the transactional. Leading enterprises are experimenting (and succeeding) with AI-powered bots that work side-by-side with humans, enabling people to turn their attention away from basic tasks, such as stocking shelves on the store floor to better engage with selling to customers, or enhancing quality and productivity on the manufacturing floor.

Technology is eliminating many of the routine tasks traditionally handled by entry-level employees. What does the future of the entry-level job look like? What should companies be doing differently to attract and retain Gen Z employees?

Mazor: Entry-level jobs across many industries will demand new skills and ways of working. We’re seeing this emerge already. For example, food service industry workers have been increasingly equipped with devices to digitize traditionally manual activities — from taking orders to managing seating in a restaurant.

Perhaps more interesting for future entry-level roles is the combination of reimagining work and infusion of digital tools, enabling customers to take control of the basics independently and shift workers’ focus toward creating a positive experience for the customer — and create more rewarding work for the employee.

Look at traditional retail banking. Despite the predictions that bank branches would disappear as the ATM and online banking took hold, wiping out a whole industry of entry level (and more) banking jobs, instead the work at bank branches is being reimagined. Customers at retail bank branches are greeted by employees whose jobs are no longer limited to entry-level teller positions but instead are focused on relationships.

Jarratt: Ideally, with Gen Z spearheading the new knowledge and the new technologies, their first jobs should include pioneering and innovative work, to take advantage of their fresh take on things. However, human nature doesn’t change that quickly and these are inexperienced workers, often, who may still have to learn how to work effectively with others.

Given the workforce’s aging, most work groups will have older workers as members, so the smart managers will have to find a way to get the most out of older and younger workers. It’s likely that new young workers will appreciate having some “doing good” kinds of work mixed in with their regular tasks.

As we move from a place where college degrees are a job requirement to a future where workers will continually reskill to meet new workplace needs, will traditional higher education become a thing of the past? What can companies do to ensure their workers are appropriately skilled?

Mazor: Given the fast pace and hard-to-predict skills or jobs of the future, employers are recognizing that workforce learning and development happens more effectively “in the flow of work” and through experiences rather than formal career-ladder assignments. Some leading employers are experimenting in partnership with top educational institutions across industries to help the next generation of leaders build their skills. Experiments include job swapping across companies, accelerated learning of content once reserved for full-time or executive MBA studies, and virtual learning.

Jarratt: US universities benefited tremendously from the shifts from basic manufacturing to more advanced manufacturing and to information work, attracting more students, domestic and international. It’s not clear that they can benefit in the same way as the world redesigns itself into more intensively managed information systems. It could be the end of a cycle for many of them, perhaps.

The autonomous future worker should be able to plan and acquire knowledge, skills, and information, through the various resources and devices that will gradually become available to him or her.

It’s obvious that a lot of people will be “left-behind,” as the technology-driven systems redesign the workplace. This may be where Universal Basic Income comes in, but that’s a political and social change discussion. Even here, however, having good data and being able to analyze it, may help in solving this kind of problem.

Learn more about how Deloitte Digital is helping guide organizations on their digital transformation journey.

Responses have been edited.

This post is sponsored by Deloitte Digital.

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