The Future of Work: Look on the Bright Side?
By Stuart Pallister, Head of Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne
Whenever you hear a news item about artificial intelligence and robots, which are now gaining a foothold in the hospitality industry and other sectors, the message is usually this: jobs are going to disappear, with perhaps millions of people facing long-term unemployment.
"Robots and software don't take jobs, they take tasks," he told Hospitality Insights following a keynote address to EHL's international advisory board. For humans, work means three things: solving problems, performing tasks, and using our skills.
If we think differently about our skills and the kinds of problems we like to solve, we can continually look for the kinds of problems that robots and software can't perform. We actually can do more creative tasks that require more collaboration between people.
As we transition to a digital work economy, educational institutes should be looking to provide lifelong learning rather than a chunk of education early in our lives. It will involve the 'unbundling' of work to provide dynamism and flexibility.
Education "isn't this massive investment upfront and then very little as time goes along. It has to be a set of continual processes."
"Some educational institutions see that as a threat because their model is so focused on early education. But instead I would encourage people to think of it as an opportunity. In the United States we always say: 'What business treats you for four years as a customer and for the rest of your life as a cash register, constantly donating back to your alma mater?'"
"Instead, if you're continually providing value to your customers, helping them with their lifelong working processes, that's a tremendous business opportunity for many educational institutions."
"We're transitioning to what I call a digital work economy and it's happening in a blindlingly short period of time. But if we see this as a market transition, not just disruption, and the whole world of work is going to change, every school is going to change."
"One of the biggest challenges of this transition to a digital work economy is that many of the analyses of what's happening to the world of work essentially look at the negative side of the ledger."
As there's still a great deal of uncertainty as to the future which is somewhat murky, such analyses are speculative, Bolles says. (In his keynote address he refers to the 'fog on the highway' which is "so heavy we can't see 20 years down the road" and know exactly what skill sets are going to be needed.)
People or Robots?
On the positive side of the ledger, if we can use technology to make us better, "we can solver greater and greater problems" and that might lead to "an abundance of work". Otherwise, many will be left behind as they won't be able to acquire the new skills that are needed "and then it's going to be a rational act for many employers to say 'we can't find the people, so we'll have to automate those new tasks.'"
With lifetime employment less and less likely, young people entering the workforce will need to be problem solvers who are able to adapt and are creative "because that's what will keep us ahead of robots and software." Plus they will need to be entrepreneurial in their mindset. "They need to go towards problems, solve new problems, as opposed to waiting for those problems to come to them."
Gary A. Bolles is the Chair for the Future of Work for a think tank called Singularity University.
Want to know more about the future of work? Check these additional resources out:
- Unbundling Work: Learning to Thrive in Disruptive Times - Gary A. Bolles
- Technology, jobs, and the future of work - McKinsey
- 5 things to know about the future of jobs - World Economic Forum
Stuart is Head of Academic Editorial Content. After working as a television journalist in Asia and Europe for nearly 20 years, mainly at CNBC, Stuart switched to digital content development at INSEAD business school and the National University of Singapore. He is currently the Head of Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and Editor-in-Chief of Hospitality Insights by EHL.More from Stuart Pallister