The Role of Humans in the Future of Work

This past July, McKinsey published Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet),an article on its automation study, which examined the technical feasibility of automating 7 different occupational activities. (The results are presented as a percentage of the time spent in these activities that can ben automated by current technologies):

  • Predictable physical work in e.g., manufacturing, packaging, warehousing, food service: 78% automatable;
  • Data Processing, e.g., billing, payroll processing, bookkeeping, insurance underwriting, delivery route optimization  69% automatable;
  • Data collection, e.g., customer and product info, maps and addresses, health insurance claims, 64% automatable;
  • Unpredictable Physical work  e.g., construction, trash collection, agriculture: 25% automatable;
  • Stakeholder interactions, e.g., customer service, personal financial advising. patient care: 20% automatable;
  • Expertise in decision making, planning, creative tasks, e.g., scientific and technical services, goal setting, education leadership,: 18% automatable;
  • Managing others, e.g., management, law enforcement, social services, educational: 9% automatable;

While there are other factors involved in what is automated and how much of a particular job can be, this data, along with a myriad of similar reports on the future of work, clearly demonstrates that there is a large amount of work that humans currently do that will be done by machines in the near future.  Jobs will disappear, others will be radically changed, and there will be new jobs needing new skills.

Last week, Dataconomy.com posted AI is Disrupting Everything and These 3 Industries are Next that discusses how some of these changes are happening already.

So what does this mean for Learning and Development professionals?  How do we prepare individuals and organizations for a world that is changing this radically, this fast?

Ross Dawson, a futurist who writes and speaks on the impact of technology and social networks, has developed a Framework: The role of Humans in the Future of Work in which he differentiates what work will be done by machines in the future and what will remain uniquely human.   Expertise, Relationships, and Creativity are the broad catchalls that define the capabilities that Dawson sees as uniquely human.  The framework also addresses the structure of work.  Many of these concepts are part of every day conversations amongst L&D folks:

  • WORK DESIGN
    Machine-human complementarity
    Fluid work roles
    Location independence
    Serendipitous connections
    Job sharing
    Emergent collaboration
    Continuous learning
    Analytics feedback loops
  • HIGH-PERFORMANCE ORGANIZATIONS
    Aligned values
    Diverse perspectives
    Ad-hoc networks
    Internal work markets
    Culture of participation
    Mutual trust development
    External work ecosystems
    Open peer communication

I believe the L&D community is aggressively driving the items I’ve highlighted in blue through various initiatives like communities of practice, social learning, working out loud, personal learning networks, learner-generated content, collaborative learning, 70:20:10, personal knowledge mastery, etc.

While the challenge that we are faced with is daunting and will create a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety in the workforce, I believe that our profession is poised to lead the necessary change to adapt to the future of work.

I’d love to hear your perspective on all of this.  Please comment below.

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