AI & the workforce - are we kiwis embracing this change quickly enough?

Technology and AI is changing workforce strategies by the day. And for New Zealand businesses, there’s never been a better time to start taking advantage of this.

Are New Zealand Businesses Prepared for AI?

Following recommendations made to the government from the AI Forum, New Zealand businesses need to take stock of the upcoming challenges that the adoption of AI and robotics will bring, and the lack of preparedness in place.

The conversations I’m having at an executive and senior leadership level on what the plan should be to adopt, adapt and augment businesses, and what role AI will play in the workplace of the future shows there is a very real uncertainty domestically. The core problem is too new and foreign to conceive of and solve, so many businesses resist trying to, hoping that a common plan on how to change becomes obvious. On top of this, there appears to be a lack of understanding regarding  what possibilities exist for businesses and jobs of the future if this new technology is embraced wholeheartedly.

So, based on the information at hand and trends we are experiencing, let's postulate what the future of work will look like for businesses and employees alike.

 

Evolution, not Revolution.

Yes, there will be retraining. Yes, there will be pain. And yes, core business will probably change for some and it could be expensive. No, your job will not be the same as it is today.  The responsibilities you have now, and the tools you use are guaranteed to change. This will play out through rapid, but incremental positive steps of change, and as new technologies become available, jobs will evolve. The progressive development and implementation of solutions to increase business productivity will harness machine learning and automation. This will gradually remove the algorithmic employee tasks and will open up new prospects for more creative work and enable better decision-making for flesh and blood employees.

Don’t expect some big bang, clear the decks, AI revolution. Experimentation with new technology and taking steps to gradually roll out increasingly integrated solutions in your business, will be the path forward. It will be these building blocks of automation and artificial intelligence that create the new cathedrals of business. It will be faster than any historic change, but those who commit to this change will be in control. If not, you risk new players coming along and blowing existing business models away. It’s going to happen and if you don't make the change, someone else will. Once you commit to this journey, on the shoulders of that new technology, will stand future jobs - and this will be core to any current business’ strategy.

 

The Future of Jobs.

So where do we go from here? Well, McKinsey's widely circulated report on this is a good place to start.  What they demonstrate is that predictable process, or physical work, data collection and data processing jobs of any form will disappear.  So taking these things into consideration, I’d like to make some predictions about the future of employment and jobs.

 

  • Algorithmic tasks will be automated.  Relationship building, leadership and tasks involving synthesis of contextual information and creative decision-making will be what humans do.

  • Connectivity and interaction between workforces will be very high, but needing to have a the necessity of a physical footprint for businesses will be low. As with many parts of the world already, employees will be equipped with the technical resources to complete their roles anywhere, anytime.  Interfaces and shared digital spaces will be rich in their abilities to provide outstanding communication mediums.

  • Global and geographically disparate teams will be commonplace. Employers will ‘sip’ from on-demand services of both humans and AI/robots that are not core to their business, for example: common legal and accounting tasks.

  • The way that employees legally engage with their employers may change, however,though legislation to combat this in New Zealand won’t happen any time soon. will be a way off in New Zealand.  Our government does not have the same approach to the gig economy as the USA does. Adam Grant has plenty to say about this. We need to cope with the technology change first, and currently - because this is the most unclear aspect of the future of work.

  • Adaptation and learning will be embedded into the culture of successful workplaces so that ideas can be shared and developed to keep pace with the advances that AI will bring.  Role descriptions will probably shift to capture more outcomes-based metrics. To address this, public and private programmes will be undertaken to fund and fuel re-skilling of people so that they can to allow them to adapt to new demands and accomplish these.  Universities and private educational facilities will change, (or die), to provide the right skills to employers.

  • Feedback from customers and internal stakeholders will be automated and/or in real-time. Productivity systems and highly equipped managers and leaders will guide employees and teams to pivot direction and re-prioritise work on the fly.

  • To cope with these changes, one of the prized characteristics for employers and employees will be adaptability.  In a rapidly-changing, AI-enabled, knowledge-driven economy this will be critical.  Assessment of this adaptability characteristic will become important to people engaging in working together.

  • Due to the increased demands, employers will implement a range of stress-reduction practices that will keep people from burning out in this fast-paced, high-focus world.  Employee care will feature heavily in employer branding.

 

The Bottom Line.

So what does this all mean? Jobs will change, and to quote Andrew Grant from McKinsey during his recent talk during Techweek 2018:

  • 2% of people's jobs will not change

  • 1% of jobs will be completely eliminated

  • 60% (3 in 5) of jobs will not go away, but will be markedly altered

in your day-to-day, 30% of your tasks will not change, the remainder will be directed towards achieving different outcomes than you do today (or to restate, 70% of your time will be spent on different tasks than today)

  • This will all happen in the next 6-7 years

 

The Opportunity for Kiwi Companies.

If New Zealand does not embrace this opportunity, just like 20 years ago with the shift to the knowledge economy, we will lag behind globally. Derek Handley spoke about this in his opening address for Techweek 2018:

If there's ever been a call to action for New Zealand Inc, this is it. The solution is complicated in delivery, but simple as a concept: Employers and government need to start reskilling people now  so we’re in a position to deal with different jobs and tasks - because they will arrive much more quickly then we expect. Otherwise, we will relegate this generation, and probably the next, to playing catch-up to the rest of the world who are already investing  heavily in this change (China in particular as an example).

The actions required for this are myriad for the Education sector, WINZ and large industry employers whose workforces are most at risk. This includes programmes and initiatives that are multi-pronged and orchestrated by the private, public and not-for-profit sector as laid out by the World Economic Forum.

Local people are already at this in earnest. The Mind Lab and OMGTech! are two national inspirations leading the charge.

This illustrates there is a lot of work to be done, but if we extrapolate job and task trends already under examination, the changes required are clear. In addition, if those people who see themselves being underemployed or at risk start now and take ownership of their career skills, there will be change. Couple this with employers and the public sector providing the re-skilling programmes required, we, like other agile and progressive countries, will position ourselves well for the future.

While this might seem like an urgent message laden with doom and gloom, we should be positive about these changes, as the jobs of the future will be more stimulating and rewarding than ever before.