A new world of work is on the horizon, driven by artificial intelligence. By 2025, the World Economic Forum predicts that 52 per cent of total task hours across existing jobs will be performed by machines. By 2030, up to 800 million jobs could be replaced by technology altogether.
That said, the outlook is far from bleak. Rather than eliminating positions, technology is expected to bring about net positive jobs over the coming decade – but a fact equally as important (and often overlooked) is that artificial intelligence presents an opportunity for a more socioeconomically inclusive career start.
Throughout much of the past century, a person’s success in life could be largely attributed to their socioeconomic circumstances at birth. Studies have shown that children born into middle-class homes have greater access to opportunities that are more highly correlated with successful occupational outcomes, such as good schools and financial support. As a result, these children are far more likely to succeed in primary school, high school and post-secondary education.
These advantages are compounded when it comes to hiring for jobs out of post-secondary school. Resumes, in this way, mirror our privilege.
The criteria for success in the future of work, however, presents an opportunity for a fairer system to assess job fit: skills.
If machine intelligence becomes a large source of expertise (i.e., cancer-screening detection, market research analytics and driving, just to name a few), people will need to adapt and change their skillsets to remain employable. A recent white paper published by IBM rated adaptability as the most important skill that executives will be hiring for in the future. Moreover, as technology continues to advance, our technical skills continue to depreciate (by approximately 50 per cent every five years).
As a result of all of these changes, we will have to upskill (which is the process of learning new skills or teaching workers new skills). We’ll have to learn and unlearn throughout the majority of our working lives. This changes the formula from front-loading education early in life to a life of continuous learning. It also places skills, like that adaptability mentioned above, more centrally as the currency of labour.
As the CEO of Upwork, one of the fastest-growing gig platforms in the world, wrote two years ago, “What matters to me is not whether someone has a computer science degree, but how well they can think and how well they can code.” The CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, echoed a similar sentiment, stating that “the reality is, the new world of work is about skills, not necessarily degrees.”
Of course, degrees will still have value. It will also take some time to readjust our job-fit assessment infrastructures. However, paths that do not include a four-year post-secondary degree will also be included in the job-fit assessment as skills become central. This can make room for more inclusive opportunities for career advancement.
Having a more inclusive job-fit assessment infrastructure, however, will not happen automatically. There are many challenges that governments and employers will have to overcome, and actions they will need to take:
- Similar to the infrastructure of the Canada Job Grant Program, which is funded federally but administered provincially, the government should support families in lower socioeconomic positions with the resources they need to build strong work-related skills. This step includes access to strong broadband and digital devices, along with accessible learning environments to exercise skills such as creative intelligence, digital literacy and problem-solving.
- Employers should expand recruiting initiatives beyond just campuses and traditional hiring pools. Companies must be intentional about recruiting in underrepresented markets.
- Companies need to reposition job-fit requirements around skills and place more value on non-traditional pathways.
- The government must put in place legislation to protect and support workers as we transition into the future of work. This type of legislation would include new benefit systems that protect workers in non-standard forms of employment, such as gig work and freelance jobs (which will soon make up a significant portion of the workforce), subsidized programs for upskilling, reskilling and lifelong learning, and policies that more fairly distribute the gains reaped by those shaping the digital future. Without the proper legislation, we run the risk of exacerbating the existing digital divide for already marginalized communities.
The adoption of advanced technologies in the workforce will revolutionize work. In fact, our very definition of what it means to work may change. How governments and employers respond to these changes will have a large impact on whether this results in positive gains for more people. We have the potential to build a future that works for more people than it currently does, and it is up to us to make it happen.
Sinead Bovell is a futurist and founder of WAYE (Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs), an organization aiming to educate young entrepreneurs on the intersection of business, technology, and the future. She is the Leadership Lab columnist for August 2020.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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