Just as with the three previous industrial revolutions that forever changed society, the fourth industrial revolution and the fusion of technologies it encompasses are transforming the workplace. By 2030, digital technologies like automation, robotics and machine learning will have changed how we carry out almost every task. Jobs we take for granted today will have either morphed into something new, or will have simply disappeared. Business cycles will be shorter, thanks to increased productivity, more agile processes and smarter operations.
But there is something that could derail all this progress: a 2030 workforce with today’s skill-sets that views technologies as just tools and not independent entities with the power to get things done.
Luckily, enterprises already have at their disposal technologies to help them develop and hone the necessary skills. We are years away from realising artificial general intelligence — systems that can mimic human intelligence. But basic forms of artificial intelligence (AI), such as robotic process automation (RPA) that can mimic human action, are already in use, as are systems that employ intelligent automation to augment both RPA and human judgement.
The digital world demands new competencies
Once upon a time, if you wanted to use advanced technologies, you had to go work for a tech-savvy company. Not so anymore. Today, the tech we use to interact with family and friends, shop, study and play is fast and reliable, available wherever we are and whenever we want it. It is able to perform any number of services, from monitoring our heart rate and encouraging us to exercise to discovering new favourite restaurants, making reservations and then guiding us there with voice-activated directions.
Technology is increasingly ingrained in our daily lives, and its omnipresence will help strengthen and hone the key skills critical for workers in 2030 and beyond. So, what skills will be in demand?
Today, the business world tends to think of planning in three phases: operational, tactical and strategic. With automation carrying out many of the tasks in the operational phase, the ability to think strategically and anticipate what’s coming will become more valuable.
AI may be able to extrapolate trends based on history and offer up probabilities of what may happen, but people often have a sixth sense that lets them see the most likely outcome of a situation, even when the probabilities from AI don’t agree. This strategic thinking won’t be used to develop 3- to 5-year plans; those days are gone. Instead, it will be used to make better decisions and anticipate what might be just around the corner so action can be taken quickly.
Perhaps the most important skill people have, and which technology may never be able to master, is creativity. Ultimately, the greatest strength of machine learning and AI — their ability to use data to understand what has happened and predict what will happen next — may also expose their greatest weakness. These systems are a complex array of algorithms that use a pool of data to tell us something. But those algorithms, as powerful as they may be, are limited by the integrity of the data and the ingenuity of the people who use them. One of the future’s most important skills will be our ability to ask AI systems the creative questions necessary to discover innovative answers.
Collaborating with intelligent life and systems
The days of individuals working in isolation are behind us. The ability to collaborate will be seen as a core competency for almost every job by 2030. And it won’t be just about collaborating with human colleagues, but also with the advanced, intelligent and independent technologies that will be pervasive in the workplace.
Today’s smartphones, tablets and laptops will be replaced by entirely new types of devices and interfaces. Eyeglasses with tiny, embedded displays, smart wearables and other devices are already hitting the market and setting the stage for what is to come. Workers will have to learn how to use these devices as extensions of themselves, rather than supporting tools.
Automation and ML systems will assist with the creation and analysis of data that will arrive faster, in greater volume and from more sources. The workforce will need to know how to collaborate with those systems.
People engaged in strategic planning will need understand how to rely on AI-driven systems – when to stand back and let the systems drive operations, and when to take over if external forces demand new sets of business rules. have access to the information they need to uncover insights.
Digital technologies are transforming our society and the jobs within it. Some jobs will even disappear, but new ones will be created. Despite the uncertainty these changes bring, there is time to prepare for the workplace of 2030. And by focusing on the core skills of creativity, strategic thinking and collaboration, the uncertainty will lead to opportunity.