In 2016 Singularity University hosted a summit that invited top experts to speak on a topic that was the new ‘it’ thing. The summit on the ‘Future of Work’ examined various views, looking at the topic from different angles. Some of the big questions that were raised were :
Will the arrival of an open talent economy reshape the workforce?
Will the evolution of new technologies like artificial intelligence prompt organizations to redesign jobs?
And most importantly – Are companies equipped to use new technologies in a way that creates and rather than replaces jobs?
The evidence and insights presented at the summit pointed in two directions:
AI is Creating New Skill Sets: While artificial intelligence is slowly eliminating low level jobs that involved repetitive tasks, it is also creating a niche set of new job roles that require a higher level of technical expertise along with essential human skills.
Shift from Permanent to Contingent Workforce: The other thing that’s clear is the rising prominence of a more flexible contingent or temporary workforce is that it treats jobs in the context of projects or tasks and can help organizations meet their requirements for project-based knowledge workers.
Are Technologies like Automation and AI Prompting the Rise of Gigging?
Over the last decade the American economy has seen a surge in gigging, and according to experts, the acceptance of technologies like AI and Automation is only going to spread this phenomenon further.
“40% of US workers now work in the contingent segment”
Source – US Government Accountability Office
With the collaboration of AI-human interfaces on the production floor and implementation of narrow AI in technology sectors, a lot of new job roles have been created like Machine Learning Engineer, Data Scientist, and Robotics Process Analyst. With limited universities dedicated to teaching these roles, the onus lies on an individual to try and find work where they can learn through experience. As most organizations are still learning about the various applications of these technologies a lot of these roles are available on a project basis.
As a result, while contract workers were mostly associated with manufacturing or creative roles in the past, this rapid advancement in technology has meant that the gig economy now encompasses nearly all job roles pertaining to different industries like financial, IT, banking, healthcare, and many more.
So Here is the Big Question – Is AI Creating or Replacing Jobs?
According to a survey done by Gartner, Artificial Intelligence will put at least 1.8 million people out of work by 2020. But that’s only one part of the survey, as much as 2.3 million new jobs will also be created due to AI by 2020.
“AI will create 2 million new jobs by 2025”
Source – Gartner
This disruptive cycle is not unprecedented. While AI will replace jobs with repetitive tasks like that of a floor worker, it will also give rise to plenty of new roles that revolve around machine learning, computational intelligence, modelling, linguistics and many more. Whatever be the case, workforce of the future will have to re-skill itself at every major technological breakthrough and jobs that focus on human elements will be in high demand.
Technology Will Indeed Act as a Job-creating Machine
While AI-human collaboration is being favored in the physical world where robots can be seen assembling cars in huge factories, narrow AI has brought much needed efficiency to the virtual world. From personalized search results, location-based app-services to the use of VPAs for customer engagement, narrow AI is being used to reshape businesses based on user behavior.
In the manufacturing sector, AI-human collaboration has created jobs that require monitoring, assisting and programming warehouse robots while in the technology sector implementation of narrow AI has led to the creation of many new job roles including data scientist, machine learning engineer, cyber security analyst, AI interaction designer, and AI programmer.
Blast from the Past
To explain the fact that AI is in turn increasing the number of jobs, let me give an example of the American banking sector in the 1980s. This is back when ATMs were first introduced in the banking sector, prompting many to predict the end of physical branches and elimination of jobs like tellers and cashiers. Cut to the 2000s, and we have more than a million ATMs in the US alone with at least 4 times the number of branches and a 10% rise in the number of teller jobs as compared to the 1980s.
New Temp Job Roles Would Require the Blend of Deep Technology & Essential Human Skills
The spate of technological revolutions would mean the transition from repetitive work to profiles that require the combination of deep technology and essential human skills. The changing nature of work also means that contingent workers would suffice a majority of these roles. Some of the skills that would be in high demand for future job roles are:
Data Manipulation and Statistical Modelling: There will be a foreseeable need for skilled professionals who have deep skills in data including mining, uncovering insights, manipulation and modelling.
Algorithmic and Programming Expertise: At the end of the day, each AI-enabled system is going to run on algorithms that work with a set of defined variables. It is definite that there would be a strong need for programmers and architects who would form the core of these systems.
Strategic Thinking and Design: There will be a requirement for strategic thinkers who would put into action the insights from a more data-driven world to gain competitive advantage and to reduce costs due to the implementation of AI.
Some of the new job roles that would be created are:
– Machine Learning Engineer
– Data Scientist
– Research Scientist
– Business Intelligence Developer
– AI Trainer
– AI Interaction Designer
– Sourcing Officer
– Cyber-security Analyst
– Augmented Reality Consultant
– Data Curator
– Intelligence Designer
– Robotics Process Analyst etc.
How Will Rise of AI and Contingent Workforce Impact HR?
For HR departments, this reality brings with it a series of ups and downs. While contingent hiring does bring the cost down and cultivates a healthier atmosphere for talent, it also requires HR to be forever on the alert. For instance, they need to know which projects need to be initiated in the coming months, which roles need to be sourced to meet future demands, which channels present the best temp talent, and most importantly which metrics to use when measuring the productivity of temp workforce.
Not only this, the rise of technologies like AI and machine learning means the creation of new job roles and the immediate need for organizations to restructure their jobs to suit the market. In the future, organizations would need to be ready to pay a premium for employees who have the necessary technical skills and also possess essential human skills. These sets of employees will form the core of the workforce that will work in sync with AI-enabled systems.
Temp Workforces Will Become the New Normal in Workplaces and Jobs Will Rise
With AI already taking over manual and repetitive tasks, it is evident that contract labor and highly skilled contingent staff will become the new normal in workplaces. The future of work would definitely revolve around these knowledge workers who will be up for non-routine project-based tasks. The number of jobs will rise and new roles would require the combination of deep technology and human skills.
Now, two years after that summit at Singularity University, we are already starting to see where the future workforce is headed.
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