Today, advanced technologies – notably robotics, machine learning and AI – are rewriting the rules of work and skills. It is estimated that 75m jobs may be displaced worldwide by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 133m new jobs may emerge. So, it’s more likely that robots and humans will work side by side.
Centaurs are the future
Since these technologies are unlikely to lead to a world where work will be done exclusively by robots, they open up new fields of productivity by increasing the capabilities of workers. They can offer pathways to blend physical and digital experiences in meaningful ways.
Augmented reality for example is changing the way some businesses operate, maintain their machinery and train their employees. In the United States alone, it is estimated that by 2025 approximately 14m workers will be using headsets in their workplace – an annual growth of 57% compared to 2017.
Wearable robotics increase the physical capacity of workers using their body strength on construction sites or in warehouses. ABI Research predicts the robotic exoskeleton market alone will reach $1.8bn in 2025 up from $68m in 2014. This means that workers can focus on human strengths: such as empathy, relationship skills, understanding complexity / ambiguity, negotiation, creativity, problem solving.
Much further into the future, some have suggested we could see human workers being physically augmented with AI systems. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg and Tesla’s Elon Musk, for example, has invested in companies that are researching ways to implant computer chips in the human brain.
The accelerating pace of technological change impacts the skills required to do work. More and more knowledge is being created at a faster rate whilst other knowledge is becoming obsolete. This makes it vital to update our skills to keep up. To remain employed and employable, workers need to learn and train all the time. A recent McKinsey paper ranked ‘continuous learning’ and ‘instilling a culture of lifelong’ learning as the most important changes across all sectors for developing the workforce of tomorrow. Gone are the days when we were trained in schools or universities and then did more or less the same work throughout our lives. Training systems are emerging to support lifelong learning. In France, Maria Schools, offers schools dedicated to new kind of jobs. In the US, Degreed (US, $153M raised) is a platform for companies to learn targeted skills with quick courses throughout their career.
In addition, the ability to adapt and identify opportunities will become vital. Companies will need to instil a willingness to experiment, take risks and adapt to a beginner’s mindset. These are traits associated with entrepreneurial thinking, so the best workplaces will be like business schools / startups – providing mentoring, coaching and guidance but also encouraging staff to take risks and disrupt existing approaches.
OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES
Exploring this brave new world
Applications of new technologies such as augmented reality or wearable robotics are in their infancy. Everything remains to be built, opening the door to huge new markets. For training alone, $700bn should be invested in virtual and augmented reality applications by 2025. Businesses will have to rethink all their work and identify the most promising areas where digital technology can enhance the performance of workers as they turn to more creative and value-added work. For example, how can technology be harnessed to «make the invisible visible» by giving workers richer, real-time views of their work? How can robotics be used to enable workers to access environments that are too dangerous for humans?
This will require partnering with the right platforms and then developing new content and services that will deal with major pain-points or very specific business issues. It also requires thinking about all the services, support and accessories that will be required to make complex systems function in the real world of work as opposed to the technology friendly world of labs and demonstrations.
All together now
In addition, these developments will continue to cause a great deal of concern among workers. There is a fear of being replaced, of seeing one’s job transformed, of having to learn new gestures, or of seeing one’s skills and know-how devalued. Not all employees will be able to completely redefine their work. Strong change management will be required to ensure that morale is not strongly impacted and that workers understand how they will be supported during this period of rapid change.
We do need some education
Companies and workers must rethink the way they manage careers and training. This need has been well understood by the startup scene: In 2015 and 2016, investors put more than $1bn into new “ed-tech” companies and ventures. The corporate training sector alone has grown to over $400bn. However, companies have not yet adapted to this reality: a Deloitte study in 2017 showed that employees gave their training departments a ‘net promoter score’ (NPS) of -8, complaining about outdated learning management systems. An opportunity, therefore, exists to accompany this change.
Furthermore, at least some of the burden of learning is likely to shift from companies to workers. In a world where skills have a shorter shelf-life, companies are less and less likely to ‘push’ training. Workers will therefore have to become much more active and involved in continuously learning and putting into practice new skills. This will require new ways to help employees measure the quality and usefulness of their skills and identify new opportunities for learning.
SO WHAT FOR LYRECO?
1. How can we anticipate and take advantage of the emerging markets of augmented workers?
2. What new tools / services / products might be required to help workers ‘augment’ e.g. accessories for exoskeletons or to support robots?
3. What if the learning market became a new source of revenue for Lyreco? What products / services might this market require?
4. What could Lyreco do to help individuals who need to learn continually?
5. What products / services could we sell to create a learning environment or to support the learning process (inspiration from school days)?
6. What are the AR / workplace tech startups and ed-tech startups that Lyreco needs to work with to take advantage of this opportunity?