The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

The future of work: the opportunity to think differently about jobs

Technology is driving rapid change in our work processes and the way we source talent. Indeed, we need to consider the concept of “peak human”. As we saw when horses dominated industrial activity in the 19th century and were replaced by the rise of machines, so too is there pressure now on routinized work where technology can replace people.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics will not replace all human jobs, but we will continue to see an enhanced role for these technologies. To fully understand how automation will affect work, we need to look beyond jobs to the activities that underpin them and understand their true nature.

No matter what business you’re in, your future will hinge on how you use digital media and emerging technologies in a way that is core to your business model

Start by looking at the jobs your organisation will need in the future and pull them apart into their components or activities. Having people work beyond a traditional employment model can often help you achieve outcomes on three key metrics (speed to capability, cost and risk) that far exceed what could be achieved if you went out and hired talent in a traditional way.

Say we’re looking to hire a software engineer, a critical role in an increasingly digital future. That role has three key elements/tasks: core programming, integration of technology with existing company and client systems and change management – the understanding of how the technology might be used by various stakeholders and the resulting implementation to ensure adoption.

Usually we’d hire one person to do all the elements, but by pulling the job apart, we may well deliver a solution that is one-fifth of the cost, takes less than a third of the time and for almost no risk to the business model because it has virtually no fixed costs.

This is the fourth industrial revolution. Work can often be done more efficiently outside the organisation than within it.

So what is changing the world of work? We’re seeing:

  • Democratization of work – increasingly work is being fragmented and being pushed around the world to be done in the most efficient way
  • Technological empowerment – the exponential rise in the power of computing is transforming work in a significant way.

A McKinsey report indicated that the combination of these factors is leading, worldwide, to a deficit of 40 million people in skilled roles and a surplus of 90 million in unskilled jobs. While some jobs will be made obsolete and replaced by AI or robotics, new jobs that don’t exist – and we can’t yet conceive – will be created.

The rise of robotics and cloud computing, mobile phones and sensors is creating a human and tech interface that will drastically reduce labour costs. Indeed we’re seeing the rise of the “robo gig” economy. Research we did with Oxford Economics shows skills surpluses in places like India, coupled with a shortfall in much of the developed world.

Organisations are rethinking their structure to move from rigid constructs comprising a  fixed set of functions to more malleable structures where work flows in and out of the company more seamlessly. Deciding what work get done inside the organisation is a big part of strategy. What should be automated, what should be outsourced, what should be deployed to a talent platform and what should be done by employees in jobs?

These are going to be the critical questions facing the business leaders as we shift from a singularity of focus on employment to embracing a plurality of means for work.

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