The Future of Work, By Olujinmi Akintunde
I often wondered what the future of work holds. As a human resources practitioner managing talents for future growth for organizations and country, this often crosses my mind. We wake up everyday to go to work, at least for those who are opportune to have a job, but really what does the future of work holds. I attended a leadership program recently about the future of work and the common theme was around digitization, artificial intelligence and the line affecting the way we work. Most organizations and public service are now looking deeply into future regarding work. Change is happening faster than ever with majority of Nigerians on phones, data plans to access key information and useful apps for our phones and tablets that connects us to the world. The world is now a global village and reaching out to billions is no longer farce but reality.
I learnt that it took telephone 75 years to reach 50 million people. Radio took 38 years to do the same. Television took 13 years and Facebook took less than 5 years. Today, a popular app on your mobile device can reach over 500 million in a matter of weeks. The world is more connected than before and the way we work is changing pretty fast as well, Automation is now a key work in businesses and organizations…automating our product lines, human resources records, financial records. Simplification is becoming a buzzword and with artificial intelligence on the radar, we are moving into a space of radical change. I was watching the Google Assistant on YouTube the other day making an order and booking appointment for clients as if it were human and I do wonder again, what the future of work holds.
I guess we need to start changing the way we see work too. Our daily efforts, energy, struggles combine with workplace issues and physical offices will start changing too. Online meetings, video chats, flexi work schedule and working from home is fast taking over and we will see more of this in Nigeria pretty soon. One question though is: are we prepared for the future of work? Are we building skills towards the changing faces of work? Are we getting ready for the disruptions that will come? As Robots become more skilled and adept at copying humans, most tasks with human interactions are gone forever. We are already seeing this with virtual assistants, ordering kiosks and service apps. All those jobs that require answering questions, taking down information and completing simple tasks will be a thing of the past. I hear someone say bank tellers, of course, this is already changing with people cashing and depositing money through ATMs.
Demand is shifting to people with technical skills combined with soft skills. The language now with recruiters is, we want those with technical skills+. The plus will be those people with the right people management skills, patience, communication abilities, and approachability and of course bringing value to work. I don’t believe the future of work is about robots taking over nor about jobs disappearing but there will definitely be changes to work and the way we work and this trend is bound to continue. The future of work to me looks bright but are we ready? Globalization, technological progress and demographic changes are having sound effect on the labour markets affecting both the quantity and the quality of jobs available and by whom they are carried out. There are challenges associated with these trends.
For me, I have started by reading through the White Paper from “The World Economic Forum” – Shaping the Future of Education, Gender and Work System Initiative Project on Preparing for the Future of Work and the project is aimed at bringing clarity to the future of work through the dissemination of accessible, balanced and sector specific knowledge as well as the development of actionable insights to help businesses and governments to manage these dramatic shifts.
I was reading an article recently on the discussion of future of work among youths titled “Internet and Jobs: What do Young People Think of the Future of Work”. Interestingly, education was the key of the debate but conversations centered on the future of work and several themes came up and some of these are that we need to start developing skills that endure for life. While digital skills are good for the future but particular attention needs to be paid to skills that endure – assertive communication, perspective thinking, emotional intelligence and critical thinking.
Another theme was on memorization against critical thinking. While in our primary education, memorization of information was an essential part of our learning experience; this is precisely what the thing that machines do best. We should start emphasizing the importance of critical thinking as a tool that will help the youth to better prepare for the future. I believe schools – secondary, colleges, technical and higher institutions – in Nigeria should start focusing more on building essential skills that will no doubt endure for life but also help with critical thinking. Learning skills outside of the school environment should be the goals for most of our public and private schools. The time to get ready for the future of work is NOW.
Akintunde is a lawyer and an expert in HR and Communication.