mwah. Big Thinking

Big Thinking

How do we get ready to work WITH robots – Live from Davos

The report out of Davos this week on how to prepare for the future of work, Towards a Reskilling Revolution – A Future of Jobs For All, gave us something real to work with. Finally! And it’s actually really good, so we shared it through our social channels, and many of you commented on it. That said, we acknowledge it’s a long and data-intense read.

So, I took some time to break it down for the time poor.

Meet Sam. Finished high school in the suburbs, got a Diploma. Found herself a single mum raising kids three streets away from where she grew up. It’s home and she’s grateful, hey – things could be much worse. Sam works in customer service at a large car dealership. It works in well with her kids and pays their way. Now everyone’s talking about driverless cars, and pretty soon no one will even buy a car. She’s thinking about a loan to go back to school before the doors of the dealership shut. But she’s been in the same game so long – what else could she do?

Brett would rather sell his mother than move to the city. He’s bringing up his family in regional Australia, it’s a better life for them than in the city. He’s got a few trade certificates and his job on the assembly line at the local cannery suits him well. Until his boss tells him the plant’s going to be decommissioned in five years’ time.

Charlie loves her job. She’s a nightshift DJ on a radio station in the city. She was hired as an intern straight after finishing uni. Promoted three times in 18 months, from production assistant to announcer – her dream job. But something’s starting to shift… In the five years she’s been there, she’s noticed resources keep getting squeezed, there are fewer people working the mikes, and every six months’ or so, a few more people quietly exit the building… but they don’t pop up at the competitor. She’s getting a prickly feeling in her stomach.

The ‘news’ on the daily commute is getting louder. AI, robots, zombies teaching kids how to game, factories closing, teams of hundreds – thousands being shed for a computer system. Someone’s got a VR pet cat on Facebook. Geez! Even the animals can’t catch a break.

For Sam, and Brett and Charlie, the ‘fourth revolution’ is starting to feel pretty scary.

Who cares? Well, maybe more people than we realise, because we’re all Sam, Brett or Charlie, or any other human. And this is real life.

And that’s what the WEF paper is all about. Not just the change, but what we might do about it.

The WEF brains trust has done the deep dive analysis to uncover some practical pathways to give people, businesses, government and policy makers, some ideas (and optimism!) about how to upskill, re-skill, transition to new roles, plan workforces for the future and make sure all of us humans remain relevant, productive and happy as we figure out how to work well together with robots (and not compete with them).

How did they do it? They used a range of data on US employment in 2016, and projections by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on expected employment changes by 2026. (The modelling can also be adapted for industries or circumstances where higher or lower disruptions might be expected.)

The aim was to uncover pathways that are both ‘viable’ and ‘desirable’ for people in jobs that, in their current state, are highly likely to be disrupted. The idea is to provide a plan for anyone who wants to upskill, earn more money and have more job satisfaction.

In the face of the revolution (happening now) the reality facing the Individual worker is: I need to change to stay relevant, employed… happy. But what else can I do? And, also importantly, will it be fulfilling for me?

We know – and it’s reflected in the Happy Workers Report* – the three things that impact most peoples’ happiness at work the most are, the job itself (the actual work that you do), relationships (I feel secure in my work), and agency over how you do it (flexibility and hours of work comes into it).

The organisations grappling with how to reshape, reskill, transition and support workers through the revolution, have big, crunchy questions too!  Forty percent of organisations report real difficulty in finding skilled talent, and the number of businesses filling the gaps through re-training and internal promotion have doubled since 2015* (yes, in just three years!)

Here’s how the researchers produced job transition pathways.

Basically, they looked at three things:- Activities – what are the tasks I do to carry out my work. Aptitudes – what knowledge, skills and abilities do I use to do them. Experience – how much time have I spent in education, years in this particular job, and years working in the field or related fields that have a similar work/role profile.

Then they used big data analysis of online job postings to map similarities between jobs and the desirability of transitions between jobs.

The data crunching has computed a ‘similarity score’ between current roles and roles relevant to the future, to identify ‘viable’ job pathways.

But while a job may be ‘viable’, it may not be ‘desirable’ for Sam, or Brett, or Charlie. Or you. So the researchers looked at key factors for job satisfaction – key long-term prospects (security), and wage continuity or increases (a level of pay that won’t fall below a level where an individual’s standard of living drops). Then they created a series of example pathways, based on all kinds of real jobs now, and future growth roles.

Let’s go back to Sam, in the car dealership.

The similarity index and desirability scale, combined, identify a few pathways for Sam based on her great track record in customer service. A pay rise into Sales and related opportunities in Real Estate. Or, take a pay cut and bring all of her attributes to a role as a hotel Concierge. A bit less pay, but a chance to help give people a fantastic experience every day. Her choice – and maybe one she hadn’t thought possible. Now she’s getting excited, and feeling back in control.

Brett’s looking into the rail network, the backbone of regional Australia. A few more tools in his toolkit and he could land himself a job at the depot in Rail maintenance and repair. Stay put in the country and maybe even get a pay rise. If not, his skills line right up with other jobs in the transport industry like packing and handling. He has options, and they’re achievable.

Charlie doesn’t let the dust grow under her feet. She’s taking the leap (not as wild as she’d thought) into sports media direction. It’ll take some upskilling but she’s got similar industry experience to help with the transition and the learning curve.

Back to the theory. None of this is fool-proof, and there’s a lot more perspectives the authors of the Report are unpicking to build on this work. Real outcomes also rely on finding ways to incorporate educational pathways into learning new skills while working.

What the Report does though, is provide a solid place to start.

Over the period up to 2026, the US Bureau of Statistics predicts a structural employment decline of 1.4 million redundant jobs, against growth of 12.4 million new jobs, increasing through 2026.

And you’re giving me some pathways into Pathways into new roles – now that’s a conversation worth having.

Through a Leadership lens it provides a way for corporates and policy-makers to put in place strategies to anticipate where the next disruption will be and identify job pathways, and importantly, how to support workers through job transitions.

Through the Individual lens, it’s about giving people ideas, and a way to start taking charge of their own careers when everything around them is changing. What could I do? What could you do? Nothing like a few good tools to make the prospect of change less scary and more compelling.

One takeaway that made me sit up straight, is that without reskilling, professions at risk of disruption that are more female will only have 12 job transition options, compared to male (22 options). By reskilling, women increase their pathways to 49, and men to 80.

There’s a bunch of other good details in the Report. If this has whet your appetite, you can read the full Report here

*mwah. Curtin University. Happy workers research

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