Predictions around the future of work highlight uncertainty, upheaval, and disruption, with success hinging on our ability to collectively meet the challenge.
Our challenge – co-creating a plan that delivers inclusive growth for all.
What’s at Issue
A 2019 report on the status of work from the International Labor Organization launches from the premise that “Work sustains us. It is how we meet our material needs, escape poverty, and build decent lives. Beyond our material needs work can give us a sense of identity, belonging and purpose.” Work is a fundamental element of the social contract. As a unit of analysis, it must take a place of prominence in any assessment of our collective future.
A host of new forces are changing the landscape creating new opportunities but also presenting new challenges. These include:
- Rapid technological advances, especially in AI and robotics. These are creating new high-value jobs, but at the same time threatening to put segments of population out of work.
- Sustainable economic transition is predicted to create new opportunities as well. However, it is undeniable that this transition will be painful as it forces those employed in fields deemed unsustainable to change careers.
- Digitization and the ability to leverage capital beyond physical resources has the potential to deepen inequality, whose gap has disproportionately grown in the last 50 years, when comparing year-over-year economic growth and output against household income.
In short, work as a human phenomenon is changing, the changes are hopeful but also potentially painful.
COVID-19 and Hybrid Work
Adding to existing changes, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the hybrid working environment. Many workers expressed support for hybrid work, but remote working also presents challenges. Remote coordination requires new skillsets or the retooling of old skills to maintain productivity and output. Beyond technical capability, longer-term pivots to hybridized working environments require sustained culture change to support all segments of the workforce, each requiring differentiated responses to enhance engagement and impact.
As mentioned above, the speed of innovation and change is a pressing issue for the future of work. Often workers educated for certain tasks, find, upon graduation, that industries have changed to the extent that new skills are already required. In the same way, labourers skilled in the operation of processes susceptible to automation impact need to repurpose skills for new industries.
In this environment, just-in-time and demand-driven digital education and skills development is critical. Organizations across the spectrum need to invest in continued learning and development that that enables workers to manage disruption throughout their careers.
Current trends, left to themselves, threaten to deepen inequality.
While it is recognized that the responsibility for change falls to all segments of the economy, the private sector and government remain the best positioned to convene multistakeholder dialogue towards commitment, action and ultimately, impact.
In this vein, ongoing skills-based and demand-aligned education for all ages should be a priority for private organizations and governments.
Employers should maintain hybrid work environments while at the same time investing in process coordination and remote maintenance of the corporate environment.