You could be forgiven for thinking the workforce of the future has very little to do with us, the people who – at least for now – work.
Constant talk and fears of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) paint a picture of a dystopian future where jobs are scarce and completely at risk once machines’ intelligence can catch up and perform the role in a similar or better fashion.
A recent poll from Unions NSW revealed more than 80 per cent of respondents feared robots would soon replace much of the current work they’re doing and many even suggested the Government should step in as an ‘employer of last resort’.
Changing our mindset
These fears indicate we’re missing the bigger picture – the workforce of the future will not be made up of machines. They’ll just be doing a lot of what we’re doing now, freeing us up to focus on more challenging and – ideally – fulfilling roles that continuously evolve.
Automation has been around for centuries; the only thing that changes is the nature of it and the speed at which it moves, which is currently quite scary. While there’s a journey to shift us to the new digital workforce that involves plenty of reimagination in how we educate and train for jobs, thinking we’re heading for a jobless society is misplaced.
To help guide us to that more ideal future and ensure technology is working for us and not the other way around, we need to rethink how we approach technology in the workplace, and achieve innovation through the right focus on people, processes and technology.
People’s unmatchable skills in the workforce lie in their emotion and empathy, reasoning and decision-making skills. Robots and automation are some distance away from being able to replicate any of the skills we possess in these areas, and that’s where our focus on training and reskilling needs to be.
Industry, government and educators need to band together to consider how we prepare the next generations for new roles the future will bring, and how we retrain people whose jobs are ultimately going to disappear.
One way we can improve things for people in the workforce is by changing or automating processes. Many organisations are guilty of deploying technology without considering the processes it will change or new ones it will introduce – after all, a broken process won’t be fixed simply by ‘digitising’ it.
People, processes and technology – in that order – will better shape the digital workforce of the future. Workforce management and digital transformation in this mindset will lead to a more enhanced workforce, where the right parts of a role are automated.
The collective buy-in
The right focus is one thing, but buy-in is another. One of the main reasons why digital human resources (HR) and workforce management tools ultimately fail is that a number of stakeholders in the business don’t understand the reason behind them or the desired outcome.
That means everyone – from the coal face to the shareholder – needs to understand what is happening and their role in seeing it through.
If you’ve got the first part right, it means they’ll understand that the aim of the initiative is to improve processes with the right technology so that people can do more and contribute to organisational goals at a higher level.
Taking this approach to how we train and how we work will see us land on the right side of the disruptive technology making its mark on the modern workforce, and will help Australia evolve and remain competitive in the new digital world.
Jarrod McGrath is founder and CEO of Smart WFM, an Australian company specialising in people, workforce management and HR strategies
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