The World Of Work 2030

By on 24/11/2014
2030- What Work Will We Do?

The last year has seen a constant stream of data, reports and research on the future of work. The general conclusions have been remarkably similar: the world of work is going to change even faster than most of us can imagine. And it is accelerating right now.

While we have become used to stories about how all our jobs will be taken over by robots and AI (Artificial Intelligence), it is worth noting that the research has come at this issue from several sides. Everything from The Economist looking at a historical timescale of workers versus technology since the first Industrial Revolution, to the latest research by a combined Chinese and American team looking at the issue more from a construction and city perspective.

The latter is a report prepared by Genesis, who commissioned CBRE, and the focus was as much on China and the surrounding area as anywhere else, since it was seen as the focus of not only rapid growth but also where there was less infrastructure already in place.

Fast Forward

Fast Forward 2030 The Future of Work and the Workplace points out that because of the colossal scale of change in everything from careers to office development in Asia, this area could be the first to put new ways of working into practice. It’s also noticeable that, because of the demographics, the views of the young are more represented than older workers.

It is the working world these younger workers will have around them that gives focus to the debate. Along with one single statistic they quote: ‘Experts predict that 50% of occupations in corporations today will no longer exist by 2025.’ That is effectively a single decade away.

What competitive advantages could a corporation or organisation have that would help them thrive in this world? Fast Forward 2030 thinks that the key attribute will be attracting and retaining top talent. This came ahead of all the other things you might imagine would come top, things like ‘adoption of technology’.

In fact three times more people thought attracting top talent would be the key compared to those who thought that ‘organisational vision, culture and philosophy’ was most important.

That is a significant difference compared to some current mindsets in major organisations and departments in the West.

Top Talent

The challenge will be in finding ways of managing this top talent since it is anticipated that much of the talent will exist outside the main buildings and potentially outside the main organisational shapes of a corporation. In the USA 45% of workers are described as ‘contingent’ already.

This more flexible shape will mean that many people you’re working alongside will, in the report’s words, be working with you rather than for you. This has many implications, from how work groups are integrated and managed, to how such loose structures can be organised efficiently within a building or buildings.

The report sees buildings with flexible office space which will allow for small groups to meet, for individuals to spend time in quieter areas working things out, and for there to be an absence of the rows of desks and cubicles currently seen everywhere from London to Tokyo. If this is the future then it represents some major structural changes to government departments, which will be coming within the next ten years.

But some governments and civil service organisations have already put in place programmes to attract top talent from the private sector, although keeping them is still work in progress. When it comes to a future where skilled workers are interacting with Artificial Intelligence, though, the picture looks very different to today.

‘A growing proportion of jobs in the future will require creative intelligence, social intelligence and the ability to leverage artificial intelligence. And for most people that will be a route to happiness and fulfilment.’ That, according to the Genesis/CBRE researchers, is the world of professional work in about ten or 15 years time.

Watson Wins

Earlier we mentioned the figure of potentially 50% of jobs disappearing by 2025. A review in The Economist highlighted a 2013 paper that, after extensive research, found that 47% of occupational categories were at high risk of being automated. These included many categories that would apply to the civil service and governments of the world, including: legal work, technical writing, accountancy, word processing and typists – lots of white collar jobs that involve routine or tasks that involve repetition.

And even ‘smarter’ jobs such as lawyers, architects and so on could be at least semi-automated with the job being broken down into blocks with each block being managed by software and then further software bringing it all together – and that is before Artificial Intelligence really gets involved.

Watson, the IBM supercomputer that has beaten chess grand masters, that has won the very tricky and human general knowledge quiz Jeopardy on television in 2011, is now also a chef, turning out surprising ingredient combinations that appear to work. This isn’t the future, this machine exists now and is developing at a furious rate.

What Jobs Are Safe?

Robots and computers have taken over many low-skilled and repetitive jobs already – bookeepers are a lost breed for example. But, as The Economist points out, skilled labour working at competitive rates can still compete. Nissan makes cars in Japan with a heavy reliance on robots, but their plants in India rely more heavily on workers, since they are cheaper.

How long this lasts, given the next wave of technological breakthroughs, is open to question. We currently have programmes like Uber breaking open the taxi markets in the West. But the report in the Economist doubts if there will be many taxi drivers by the 2030s. Or airline pilots, or traffic policemen or journalists.

But it will be considerably easier to design a new product or service, using massive data and Artificial Intelligence, bring it to a global market and make billions. Small start-ups will be able to do this. So those who can work with technology and who are highly skilled and preferably highly intelligent could face a future of untold wealth.

This puts an onus on governments to change education to bring out the very best in every citizen so that they have a chance in this new world, with the right education, and the right skills in a world dominated by technology.

And for everyone else? The answers are not so encouraging for those who work in the public sector. The Economist reckons the safest jobs in the future, in terms of keeping employment, include recreational therapists, dentists, personal trainers and the clergy.

Three Areas To Work

But Erik Brynjolfsson from the MIT and co-author of The Second Machine Age, sees three categories where workers will still be able to prosper.

In an interview he outlined the three categories: Creative tasks and inventing new things that machines aren’t very good at.

Interpersonal relationships – motivating people, comforting people, caring for people. Machines have not proven good at this kind of interactive task.

Routine motor skills, and fine motor control. The skills of a barber, or gardener, cook or janitor. Machines are still incredibly bad at manipulating the world.

Automated Solutions

Not all of this is comfortable reading for those currently running large public sector organisations, based in huge buildings, with a workforce that may have been trimmed but which is still high relative to some private sector companies.

Of course, the world has had predictions since the dawn of time and not all by any means have come to pass. We’re not driving round in hover cars and eating pills for meals.

But Joshua Gans, co-author of the book mentioned above, sees no place for complacency:

‘No company lost out betting on Moore’s Law in the Internet age. [This law sees exponential computing growth.] Companies that say, “I should explore these opportunities for automation and start experimenting with them sooner rather than later” are probably going to be the ones that come out on top. The sooner you start thinking about an automated solution for work, the better off you’re likely to be.’

About Graham Scott

Graham is an experienced editor and publisher and an award-winning writer. He has travelled extensively and is interested in world cultures.

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