Demise of paper giants & big law marks start of beyond 2020 workforce transformation

Be it the global financial crisis,  manufacturing industry collapses, amalgamations, automation, artificial intelligence, digital disruption, the demise of print journalism or disruption of the legal industry, it seems the only constant is change and only the strongest will survive, although the strongest will not necessarily be those with the deepest pockets.

 In June 2015 CEDA produced a report predicted almost 40% of (five million) Australian jobs have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years due to technological advances and predicts our workforce will be "fundamentally reshaped by the scope and breadth of technological change"  warning if we don't embrace "massive economic reform and focus on incentivising innovation, we will simply be left behind in an increasingly competitive global marketplace." 

A Bank of England study reported in the Guardian in a similar vein cautioned that up to 15 million British jobs were at risk because machines will substitute not just manual human tasks, but cognitive ones with administrative, clerical and production tasks most at risk.

BSR report outlines more extensively the challenges and opportunities for the private sector in the future stating "robots now have heightened cognitive abilities and greater dexterity and sensing, enabling them to do a great range of tasks and raising new questions about human capabilities versus machines and areas where they work by side by side or collaborate" It also clarifies that just because automation is possible for a particular job or industry, this doesn't necessarily mean it will happen on "massive scale" with factors such as wages costs, regulation, ease and cost of automation thrown into decision making.  

The report seeks to balance the cynicism by anticipating millions of jobs will be created or adapted to design, build and maintain many of the machines that will be used albeit it seems the candidates for those new jobs will not (without significant investment in education and re-skilling) be the incumbents of the jobs that have been lost. Further, it predicts with automation organisations may look for more agile workforces that can change roles or locations easily noting technology has enabled much more "on demand" employment with increased part time or contractor work that can be unreliable and offers limited access to employer sponsored benefits and weaker legislative protections for workers.  On the up side it notes remote connection will allow workers to work from anywhere independently providing potentially better work-life balance. 

Demise of Paper Giants & Big Law

This week the big story is Fairfax announcing further editorial job cuts. It seems the disruptive change of digitalisation, increased screen time and our increasing desire for instant gratification has at least played some role in reducing the time and human capital spend on editorial albeit producing publications that are somewhat less gratifying than they used to be in a quest to "break the story".  This will invariably have some impact on the value of the "paper giant" businesses and a vicious cycle ensues with the outrage loud and clear in petitions, strikes and #fairgofairfax trending on social media everywhere.

The legal industry is not far behind with a recently published Deloitte report in the UK indicating there is a high chance we will lose 39% of legal jobs to  to automation and artificial intelligence in the next 20 years with a tipping point as soon as 2020 requiring fewer "traditional" lawyers  and more mobility, flexibility,  non traditional and transient workers including project managers, sales executives, dealmakers, data and technology experts who are more likely be engaged as contractors and who will operate under alternate structures, incentive and training arrangements. In this operating environment, the report writers opine some of the challenges in embedding new talent strategies include "dynamic leadership to set out a vision and motivate teams in a difficult market which has seen restructuring, reduced work and greater pressure to perform. Consideration should be given to risk-averse and conservative attitudes prevalent in the profession".

From box ticking compliance to cultural change 

Where such changes  are occurring organisations must tick compliance boxes ensuring for example consultation under relevant Awards or industrial instrument as generally required where a decision is made to introduce major changes in production, program, organisation, structure or technology that are likely to have significant effects on employees and to consider all reasonable redeployment opportunities across associated entities to meet the "genuine redundancy" requirements and minimise the risk of unfair dismissal claims.

However, the real work and challenge for HR, business leaders and employment lawyers as the workforce evolves is to creatively consider how to design, contract with and lead agile and dynamic workforces with a flexible mix of employment, contracting, partnership and incentive arrangements and non traditional structures to engage the influx of millennial disruptors with whom we will be engaging.  

This evolution from traditional employment structures will create heightened challenges for organisations and industry in Australia from a legal and industrial relations perspective given the resistance to outsourcing, heavy penalties and personal culpability associated with "sham contracting" and stringent requirements of the current transfer of business provisions in the Fair Work Act.  Such provisions must be considered in the context of all workplace change projects to ensure compliance particularly where there is an outsourcing of work previously performed by direct employees who continue to work under "non traditional" work arrangements.

 With increased workforce flexibility and work boundaries blurring, increasing consideration will also need to be given the work health and safety risk management, regulation of employee conduct and behaviour outside of the physical... and business protection including for confidential information and intellectual property created outside the physical confines of the workplace by workers who are not necessarily subject to employee contractual provisions, common law obligations and fiduciary duties ordinarily applying to "traditional" employees. It is clear the law must now evolve with the workplace and as lawyers we must be commercial and creative to enable our client organisations to thrive in these new and challenging operating environments and ensure their sustainability.

Modern workplace environments now demand leaner more agile organisations, infinitely faster turnaround times, flatter structures, high performing teams, engaged workforces, passionate individuals who "love" their work and inspiring, purpose driven leaders who constantly build their change muscles, becoming adaptable to not only ongoing progression but constant reinvention.

Future leaders of the "strongest" organisations that emerge must therefore scan their environments, adopt forward thinking strategies and nurture cultures that embrace change .  If culture is the glue between compliance, policies, procedures and organisational systems, processes and decision making, leaders who drive transformation need as their cornerstone cultures of excellence in change and innovation that can only be built through transparency, authenticity, collaboration, trust and inspiring optimism in the future vision.

 This content is general commentary and opinion of the writer provided for information and interest only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and it does not constitute and must not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers should obtain specific advice relating to their particular circumstances 

Image: www.ph-microscope.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/print-media.jpg

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