A Q&A with Jon Arnold on Changing Careers, Job Training, AI and ML
Companies are rapidly embracing the future of work (FoW), why?
Well, they’re certainly trying to adapt and if possible, get ahead of the curve for what FoW (Future of Work) entails. Of course, the term “FoW” must be taken with a grain of salt, since we can’t predict the future, and the terms implies that it will be different – otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it now.
What really matters in 2020 is that the digital workplace is here now, and it’s evolving in ways we don’t fully understand. Two forces are driving this – technology change, and the ascendancy of digital natives, who are now represent the dominant age demographic in the workplace. Together, these trends are transforming the workplace now, and for businesses that want to attract and keep top talent, they have little choice but to embrace FoW.
How are careers changing as a result?
It’s probably too early to talk about careers changing specifically due to FoW, but clearly there will be needs for new skills and types of roles. We’re seeing new types of job and titles now, such as Customer Experience Officer or Digital Evangelist, and these are largely driven by the impact of new technologies. Work is increasingly being defined by the technology around us, and career success will soon depend on how well we use that technology as much as the formal skills needed for doing the work itself.
Since technology is constantly changing, this means that careers will be more project-driven rather than based on following a linear progression of success built up over a period of time using a fixed set of skills. As such, there will likely be less upward mobility in most jobs, and organisations will maintain flat hierarchies. In this environment, adapting to change is the key to longevity, and the concept of a “career” will have a shorter lifecycle, where workers will gravitate to where the best projects are, rather than the tenuous promise of a stable, long-term role they can grow into over time.
Is new job training needed in the workplace?
Of course, the right type of training really starts much earlier than the workplace. There’s a strong case to start training for FoW in primary school, and this ties into a broader narrative for getting more students into STEM streams of education. There’s certainly more to education than Science and Technology, but given how tech-centric our world is now, there is very little in school curriculums to prepare students for the future.
We don’t all need to be coders, but FoW does demand a level of technology literacy that public education does not really provide. This topic will continue to be examined, and it’s a genuine concern for employers, as many of them struggle to find new hires with the right skills to thrive in today’s workplace.
How are AI and ML changing the workplace beyond FoW?
This depends how broadly you define FoW, not just in terms of what constitutes “work”, but also how far down the road you’re looking. At some point, the “future” will be here, and we’ll stop calling it FoW. Ultimately, that point will be reached when almost all forms of work have been automated, and “machines” are able to do our jobs better than humans can – but is that really the end game? This is clearly a be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario, and the long tail of FoW is really anybody’s guess.
Even if AI and ML get halfway down that path, the concept of the traditional office environment will change. The workforce will become increasingly distributed, with less personal interaction, and more virtual forms of working and collaborating. There will be less need for office spaces, and from there, less need for cars and travel. AI technologies will get to the point where workers can have virtual agents that can interact with other virtual agents, doing all the tedious work that takes up so much of our day.
This “brave new world” does hold some promise, but the impact of these changes means that workers will need different skill sets. As noted earlier, success for FoW will be based on the skills workers bring to their jobs, so the impact of AI/ML goes back to the classroom to properly prepare students for what’s coming in the workplace.
Do you see the democratisation of AI and ML?
Not really. That would be a great scenario, and while the democratisation of information may be the ultimate virtue of the Internet, things are more complicated with AI. As messy as the Internet is, AI is far more complex, and few of us have the data science background to really understand it. Unfortunately, as AI matures and becomes more central to how we do things, its complex nature very likely ensures that control will be in the hands of the digerati.
This is the stuff of dystopian science fiction, and while it would be great for our benign nature to prevail, I’m not optimistic that will happen without external forces curbing market forces. AI is already the domain of a few giant companies and institutions, and that’s not going to change unless industry forces emerge to self-regulate, and/or the public sector develops policies and regulations to ensure AI is used to support the public good. There’s much more to discuss here, but this is well outside the scope of our conference.
Who will be the leaders in FoW solutions?
In basic terms, the leaders really should be the ones who reflect the above ideals to democratise AI. For them, the business value comes from the data produced from AI that make FoW a good thing. In other words, workers being more productive, making smarter decisions, less wasted time, lower costs, faster time to market, etc.
Hopefully, that’s what we’ll get, but if we’re not careful, the leaders will be those who make it much easier for employers to monitor employees, control their access to information, ensure behavioural conformity, shape company culture, etc. This is certainly the dark side of FoW, but it’s still early enough to keep it in check and ensure that FoW is based more on things that bring out the best in people.
Which organisations are leading the adoption curve?
At a high level, these would be companies already well along on their digital transformation journey, as FoW is largely being shaped by digital technologies. While the usual suspects would be companies that are in technology-centric sectors such as software development or biosciences, the reality is that there are early movers in every sector, including traditional spaces such as retail, insurance or government.
The best indication of leading adopters would be companies with young workforces, as well as those struggling to keep up with changing customer expectations. The common thread here is the rise of digital natives, and their fundamentally different nature compared to the older generations of digital immigrants.
As consumers, they expect personalised service, and that doesn’t come from organisations bound too tightly with legacy technologies and business processes. By extension, they will not be very productive in workplaces like that, so FoW will largely be dictated by the need to properly support this demographic.
What is the one best way companies can become ready for the FoW?
Being ready to embrace new technology is a key part of being prepared, but more important is the need to think through how these technologies will impact everything around work. The workplace as we know it is going to change dramatically over the next few years, so the “future” will be here sooner than you think.
To find out more, why not Register FREE for UC EXPO 2020!