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The Future of Work: 10 Considerations for Leaders in Business and Academia.

My brilliant MIT professor brother-in-law, Jeff, loves to use Alexa as his in-home Turing Test. (We also need to credit him for the elimination of the penny, whenever that finally happens. But that’s a conversation for another day). When we’re hanging out at Jeff’s, eating pancakes –which are amazing by the way–, he tests Alexa’s skills. I am often as disappointed as I am impressed by this lovely machine. My contradictory feelings for Alexa reflect both the advances we have seen in technology as well as how far we have to [and will] go.

Alexa is part of the AI and Machine Learning topics often referenced as major components of “The Future of Work” conversation, alongside Globalization and Demographic shifts. As a leadership development and social impact focused enterprise, Emzingo is looking at The Future of Work through the lens of people development and societal implications. The good news is that it’s not all bad news. Between our natural fear of the unknown and the fear-mongering of some politicians and industry folks, the conversation doesn’t feel balanced. This post isn’t intended to single-handedly even the scales, it’s meant to spark conversation for leaders in business and academia about how we develop current and future employees who will be prepared for both the good and bad changes that are possible as technology, globalization, and demographics influence our world of work.

Five risk that leaders should prepare for:

1.- It’s not just blue-collar work that is at-risk. 

In 1929, John Maynard Keynes warned of “technological unemployment”, and the industrial revolution and continued advances in manufacturing technology have made this topic relevant for the better part of a century. What seems to be less talked about is how folks like doctors, lawyers, and other professionals will be impacted.

2.- Reskilling will be a mandate.

As requirements of work change, so do the skills needed to meet those requirements. Cultural agility is gaining popularity and leaders will have to think about how to keep their employees ready for unknown changes in markets conditions and the skills needed to be successful in that environment

3.- The future of policy is not clear.

This may simply come down to scenario planning (or if I were more of a pessimist – or maybe realist, I would probably say lobbying). Ideas ranging from a federal income to work-share programs to free higher education have been thrown out there when it comes to the human element of policy and the future of work. Time will tell, but organizations need to keep an eye on the political landscape.

4.- Reputational risks related to privacy.

If Facebook, Twitter and others who had to visit Capitol Hill recently didn’t already make this obvious, I’ll reiterate. Privacy issues, cybersecurity, and management of personal data are financial, trust, and legal issues companies need to prepare for. From the talent development perspective, this matters internally. Who and how are you monitoring employees? Do your policies align with your company values? Do they create or destroy trust with your people? Companies will have to grapple with all of these issues.

5.- We don’t know what future jobs will be.

Quite frankly, trying to predict what the jobs of the future will be is futile. Instead, let’s prepare. Education (including reskilling mentioned above) and emphasis on the entrepreneurial skill set will help.

Five opportunities that leaders should embrace:

1.- Take bias and add inclusivity from your hiring process.

You are biased. That’s just a truth, not a judgement. We are the sum of our experience, including society’s influence on us. AI can help recruiting and talent management be less biased by taking out our unavoidable human biases.

2.- The gig economy can work for you.

We don’t all have to be afraid that no Gen Z will ever want to work with our “9 to 5”. Get creative and explore how this can work for you. In this spirit, EY recently launched a platform called GigNow.

3.- Digital natives can be incredible resources.

Don’t count out your older employees. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience, even if some of them [us] need some help. Vodocom, for example, has a Digital Ninjas program where young employees can help senior employees improve their digital capabilities.

4.- Technology will still need a human touch.

To predict exactly what this looks like would be arrogant and silly. However, there are cases where people simply want to talk to other people. Whether it be your doctor, after the chatbot doesn’t answer your question correctly, or when test driving a car (even a driverless one), people and technology can co-exist to make a better user experience. And more importantly, there are uniquely human skills like creativity, critical thinking, and communication.

5.- Teams of teams.

To promote collaboration, change management, and the ability to work in a world where repetitive tasks are increasingly done through technology, Ashoka Founder, Bill Drayton, and General Stanley McChrystal both promote the idea of teams of teams as a new organizational structure to create agility, flexibility, and capture new opportunities.

We hope we’ve encouraged you to start – or continue – planning for The Future of Work.

Since co-founding Emzingo almost a decade ago, Drew has lived and worked at the intersection of leadership development and social impact, collaborating with Emzingo’s university and corporate clients to design and deliver powerful experiences, workshops, and training. When he’s not working, Drew spends time hiking and hanging out with his wife, two kids, and puppy.

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