Future Workforce: Ready, Set, Blastoff!

In part three of our series on Realizing 2030: A New Era in Government, we looked at the pre-requisites for an innovative society. In this article, we explore the impact this innovation could have on the future workforce and how governments should respond.

Now you might ask, isn’t this a job for business (particularly if you’re an advocate of small government)?

In some areas, yes, but governments also want their citizens to have access to honorable, decent paid work. When they achieve this, other pieces of the puzzle often fall into place: tax revenue and the funds to pay for public services, reduced crime, stable families and so on.

Which is why governments care so profoundly about their employment figures, and also why changes to the job market can take on such monumental proportions. With digital disruption, these changes are coming in thick and fast.

Reskilling for the Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships

There’s been a lot of talk about AI taking our jobs, but many new jobs will also be created in the process.

As we mentioned in the introductory post to the series , the Institute for the Future (IFTF) predicts that 85% of the jobs we’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. Which begs the question – how can governments prepare people for these new jobs and the skills they’ll need to do them well?

National governments are already contending with a deepening skills gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As we hurtle towards the next era of human-machine partnerships, many of these new roles will require advanced technology literacy, as well as more nuanced competencies like computational thinking (thinking and expressing solutions in ways that machines can carry out).

This is a tall order and will require the concerted efforts of governments, schools, universities and business to prepare for a new paradigm in work.

Businesses already anticipate this. Nearly half of 3,800 business leaders surveyed across the world expect more companies will need to work with schools and universities to train-up the next generation of workers, and more than one in two believe schools will need to focus on teaching how to learn rather than what to learn.

The workplace will also become an important learning environment. As technology upends the work we do and how we do it, people will find themselves learning new skills in-the-moment. Emerging technology can aid the learning process here.

Technology Advancing Learning

Unlike Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his pals in ‘The Matrix, we probably won’t be uploading technical skills to our brains in an instant by 2030 (although researchers are working on brain stimulation to train pilots). But we could be harnessing technology to learn in more immersive, memorable ways.

Half of our surveyed business leaders expect their workers will learn on the job with virtual reality (VR)/ augmented reality (AR) headsets by 2030. This could become a mainstream reality sooner than that – given the skills deficit mentioned above and the requirement to find creative solutions fast.

For instance, the US solar energy industry has grown tremendously in recent years and demand is outstripping supply of solar photovoltaic installers. To address the shortage of skilled trades workers, Interplay Learning is training blue collar workers in solar energy installation and other heating, ventilation and air conditioning skills (HVAC) with VR and 3D simulation.

Interplay believes that soon people will move seamlessly between realities to apply the skills they learn in the real world and will have virtual assistants to answer their many questions – making learning a constant process.

We’ll also use AR to pool knowledge and troubleshoot situations where a specialist is at the other end of a fieldworker’s AR headset (like DAQRI’s), rather than on the ground. In a few short years, it could become common practice to display guidance directly into a user’s field of vision in real-time.

A Generational Divide

Governments will need to be mindful that as we enter the next era of human-machine partnerships, some groups will struggle to keep up.

For instance, mature, experienced workers well versed in traditional ways of doing things may feel threatened by the next generation of digital natives entering the workforce, who have been adapting to digital vicissitudes all their life and have versatile skill sets that dwarf their own.

To some extent the writing is already on the wall: 87% of leaders surveyed expect to struggle to offer equal opportunities across different generations of workers due to varied digital skill and mindsets.

As a consequence, 75% believe the majority of leadership roles will be filled by digital natives – meaning other age groups would be overlooked.

In a workforce that is expected to be comprised of four different generations by 2030, a culture that favors the young could lead to a significant societal rift.

Keeping the Faith

While deeper, more interwoven partnerships with machines will drive these shifts, they’re not in themselves a reason to disband with technology.

Technology will still help us to surpass our own limitations by enabling us to work faster, make better, more informed decisions and collaborate more.

Of course, certain provisions and safeguards will need to be in place – but we can’t escape the fact that proactive investments in the technologies that will define the 21st century will sharpen nations’ economic and digital edge and strengthen their competitiveness.

It really boils down to how they’re deployed (with certain scenarios being properly thought through and stress tested). As we mentioned in a previous article in the series on trust, the very technologies that could open Pandora’s Box, can also be a force for good when properly deployed.

For instance, VR and AI might intimidate some older workers, but they can also be used to objectively identify talent and remove human bias in decision-making, so rewards are based on merit alone, as opposed to gender, ethnicity, age or the like.

“AI and VR capabilities will be key to dismantling human predisposition. In the short-term we’ll apply VR in job interview settings to remove identifying traits, machine learning to indicate key points of discrimination or AI to program positive bias into our processes.”

— Brian Reaves, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Dell

Innovative technologies and online platforms can make education more affordable, accessible and effective – thereby democratizing opportunity.

In conclusion, the future workforce faces potentially seismic social change. Governments will need to be ready to work with communities, businesses and workers to share best practices, develop hubs of technology expertise and innovation and ensure a level playing field. But when they do, and they harness emerging technologies to these ends, the benefits to society will be huge.

For more recommendations download Dell’s report here.