Work, worker and workplace- these three terminologies are undergoing a massive transformation today, spurred by the three forces of change- technology, demography and customer empowerment.[i] While technological revolution is brought about by the advent and adoption of artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors and data; changing demography is characterized by an older working population, mainly due to increasing population and labor force participation among older age cohorts.[ii] Customer empowerment is on the rise thanks to increasing options to choose between products and vendors. In short, the concept of work is being redesigned from currently what we know of it. But this is only half the picture- a story heavily skewed to the demand for labor. But what about the supply side? Are the skill sets, years of experience, education levels, and expectations of the labor supply matching the demand? A simple example- given the growth of IT related jobs, there has been a steady increase in students graduating in the STEM fields [iii]. However, as the use of cognitive technologies becomes more widespread, the demand for human labor will typically shift to other fields as well. Research suggests that more than 30 percent of high paying new jobs will be social and “essentially human” in nature.[iv] Thus with multiple forces at play, it is difficult to gauge and predict how the demand- supply mismatch in the labor market will play out in the future. In this post, I have tried to summarize the top three trends that will affect the future of work, from both the demand and the supply side.
1. Artificial Intelligence– With the advent of cognitive technologies and artificial intelligence, many workers are scared and concerned whether their jobs will be taken over by robots. Reality, however, is quite different. Jobs essentially comprise of tasks, and cognitive technologies help automating those tasks which are routine and repetitive. This frees up millions of labor hours[v]– workers can be redirected to tasks that require more creativity, empathy and social intelligence. Thus AI and cognitive technologies will redistribute and not reduce the demand for labor.
2. Better alignment of higher education to workforce requirements– One major supply side issue faced by economies historically is the lack of alignment between skill sets that job seekers at the entry level possess, and the required skill sets for these jobs. Most universities hand out degrees with subject level or area level specializations. But what is missing is hands-on training, or customized learning as per industry requirements. Textbook theoretical knowledge of doing things are getting obsolete and this realization is making more and more higher education institutes opt for innovative teaching methods. Focus is shifting from degrees to skills, universities are collaborating with companies to give their students more exposure to the workforce early on. Subjects and teaching methods themselves are undergoing a drastic change with more focus on design thinking, problem-solving and application of cognitive tools.
In fact, the concept of learning itself is very different today. It is no longer a static concept where education stops with a degree in your early twenties. Education is a dynamic “lifelong” process, where even those in the workforce are constantly trying to upskill themselves, thanks to the plethora of MOOCs available and accessible to all.
3. Open talent economy– A possible factor that could lead to a demand –supply mismatch in the labor market is geographical constraints. How many times, in the course of you job search, have you come across a job that you thought was perfectly aligned to your skills and interests, but have chosen not to apply for it anyway, because it required you to geographically relocate? Even at a macro level, it is not very uncommon to find concentration of certain types of jobs in one location, while the potential applicants are spread out across geographies. The open talent economy provides a perfect way to overcome these geographical bottlenecks. Flexible workplace arrangements today allow workers to work in all possible permutations and combinations of on-campus, off-campus, on-balance sheet and off-balance sheet modes, i.e. they can chose to work in traditional workplaces with physical infrastructure or choose more hybrid models like contractual, tenured remote or transactional remote.[vi]