The robots are coming (but it’s okay)

Just a few years back, who would have thought the largest taxi company in the world wouldn’t own a single car? Or that cars in some cities would be self-driving? Or that this very article might have been generated by a computer? It wasn’t, actually, but the point is made. The world is changing. It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the future of the workplace and how this will affect the current talent landscape. Is a huge global talent deficit on the horizon? Can trends throughout history predict our future reality? The only certainty is that the global workforce will transform utterly as we head into the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

72 percent of UK CEOs believe that AI will change how they do business in the next five years. Rapid advances in AI and robotics are happening in ever shorter cycles, changing the very nature of the jobs that need to be done – and the skills needed to do them – faster than ever before. In 2018, Google’s CEO suggested that as far as human progress is concerned, AI will prove more important than fire or electricity.

In short, this is the old good news / bad news combo. On the one hand, humans aren’t being made redundant any time soon, it seems. On the other hand, if the labour force is not speedily equipped with essential new skills, we face a looming crisis.

To address the problem, it is imperative that companies invest more in enabling their workforce to reskill. Nearly 60 percent of employers are struggling to fill job vacancies within 12 weeks. The World Economic Forum predicts that more than 54 percent of employees will require significant reskilling by 2022. The European Commission figures show that around 37 percent of workers in Europe do not have even basic digital skills, not to mention the more advanced and specialised skills needed now and in the future. Almost two-thirds of UK CEOs believe the government needs to intervene and incentivise organisations to retrain workers whose jobs will be automated.

So rapid is the pace of technological change, it’s tempting to say we’re in uncharted waters. But a little knowledge of history demonstrates we are not. According to the Bank of England, “average unemployment rates today are similar to those of the 18th century”. The invention of the steam engine, the lightbulb, the computer and the world wide web all contributed to significant shifts in the labour force. For those who lost their jobs to tech innovation across the centuries, it is likely that the process of reskilling and finding new work was slow and costly. But as history has proven time and again, technological progress has raised productivity and wages to the benefit of the majority. Once the dust settles on the dawn of a new technological era, the world is no longer fearful of change and actively embraces it.

In summary, the dizzying pace of technology ensures the world will face a global skills gap in the years ahead. Robots will replace many human jobs and people are unlikely to be able be qualified to do the jobs the robots can’t perform. Nearly every industry and country will feel the effects of this revolution. But that doesn’t mean it’s something to be afraid of. History shows it is within our power to adapt and thrive. We simply have to be prepared. Companies need to continually upskill their workforce and focus on building talent from within. Learning and development should no longer be a perk but a necessity. We are moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution – who’s ready?

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