The Future of Work

Posted by on 18 May 2017

What happens if predictions that technology and automation will make jobs obsolete on a large scale in a few years turn out to be true? Dr Melissa Bordogna joins Robin on the podcast to discuss what role learning has in the jobs landscape of the future. Be sure to catch our follow-up podcast with Melissa on Digital Workplaces and Collaboration.

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Transcript

Robin:
It's Robin Petterd, the host of the Learning While Working podcast here. In this podcast I'm talking with Melissa Bordogna about the future of work and some of the challenges and changes that are happening, things like increased automation and artificial intelligence, changing generations and multi-generational workforces and globalisation. These are topics that I've also talked about in the series of blog posts about digital thinking 101 for L&D people. We talk a little bit about how L&D needs to respond to these changes as well. It's a really fascinating topic, it's big, it probably actually needed more time than this one particular podcast to explore it and in actual fact, I have recorded another podcast with Melissa that just focuses on digital workplaces and collaboration as well.

Melissa, welcome to the Learning While Working podcast. It's great to have you with me today.

Melissa:
Thanks Robin, I appreciate the invite.

Robin:
You've been doing some really interesting work around the future of work and the effect of the future changes that are happening in our wor places on learning. What do you think are some of the really big driving forces around how work's changing at the moment?

Melissa:
Well, a lot of the driving forces and the mega trends that we're seeing, many of which evolve or involve technology, and that's the most obvious. So, machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation, the internet of things, and the list can go on and on, so that's one of the major drivers and the most obvious. They're predicting that as many as 40% of Australian jobs that currently exist, won't in the next 10 to 15 years, due to that force alone but in addition to technology, which we can explore a lot more here, but in addition to that, there's a few other trends and that also includes the millennials coming into the workforce and them being digital natives and also the ageing population and the fact that we're living longer, that we're working longer, so you have this multi-generational workforce like we've never really seen before.

Another factor that's a driver of this also is we've always talked about globalisation but it's this breaking down of boundaries where work can be done anywhere, any time, any place, and the greater mobility that comes along with that and so many businesses nowadays, entrepreneurs and small businesses are born global, right? So these are some of the driving forces and, like I said, technology tends to be one of the most obvious one to point at but there are these other factors in the background as well.

Robin:
Yeah, and I suppose in some ways the globalisation one is one that sort of partly driven by technology as well. There's a lot in what you just said, as well, and the whole shifting generations is something that people sometimes talk about, sometimes are concerned with a whole thinking about the ageing population and the loss of knowledge and skills. It's really interesting how ... What, I remember 10 years ago I heard this stat around the amount of people who were retiring and leaving the workforce and there was a 10 to 1 ratio. We haven't seen that actually happen. What's actually happened instead is, as you were saying, people are actually working longer. A couple of people recently who I've sat there and literally said, "Are you about to retire?" And they've said, "Retire? I'm 70."

Melissa:
Yeah, what? 70 is the new 40 so why would they?

Robin:
Yeah, I'm sort of sitting there going, "Oh, I thought you were somewhere in between 55 and 60 and didn't even realise you were actually past traditional retirement age" and it's really shifting how things move around in terms of jobs as well. I think it's a really interesting trend.

Melissa:
Well, absolutely, and just on the example that you gave, I have a friend who is in his early 70s and he was quite a successful business man, owned his own company, PhD in chemistry, he was a very cluey guy and when he decided to retire, or, you know, to shift, he got out of his own business but then decided, "Hang on, I have a lot of value still to add and to give back to the community and the world" and he's been helping small business people and mentoring and coaching and things like that, so not only are we seeing people staying in certain industries or companies, we also see them saying, "Hey, hang on, I still have a lot of value to give" and there I think we need a better way of bridging the young and the older individuals who have this wealth of experience and this wisdom to really harness that knowledge and experience to move forward.

Robin:
What do you think some of the things that learning can actually do about helping that bridge happen?

Melissa:
Well, you know, what's interesting, at the heart of the future of work is the future of learning and we're already seeing shifts and changes. Now, some things aren't new, right? When we talk about gamification, we talk about techniques like the flip classroom, it's just how we're applying some age old concepts. What's interesting is the interfacing of not learning principles and learning with technology and what that's allowing us to do and I'll give you an example. It's kind of a round about way of answering your question. A lot of larger organisations are implementing software called Enterprise, Social Enterprise Systems, which are kind of the newfangled intranets to be as simplistic as possible, but in this kind of an ecosystem, so to speak, but in this, the ability to harness the silent knowledge in the organisation, or the knowledge that kind of goes out the door when somebody retires. Through the ability to archive it and index it, it then becomes searchable, right? So it's now harnessed. As we shift and learners become much more self directed, and they're seeking out certain information, that ability to harness the knowledge and the knowledge management within an organisation kind of pulls these things together. Does that make sense?

Robin:
Yeah, it does and it's a really interesting thing in terms of the relationship between learning and knowledge management as well. I quite often talk about the idea that learning gets confused with content and knowledge, and if there's actually really good systems in place for sharing knowledge to start with, that means that learning can actually start to focus more on experiential activities and building expertise rather than just communicating knowledge as well. The Enterprise social networks are partly ... How do I put it? It's almost like a utopian vision of people sharing as they're working and it sometimes happens in a way where it happens in small pools rather than extensively but that's just the nature, I think, of social networking and sharing as well.

Melissa:
I think it is but at the same time, it's interesting that you should bring that up because there was some studies done about organisations that have been using these systems and they are kind of falling short of this utopian vision and that was kind of where a lot of my work was focused on a few years ago because the new thing in learning was social learning or social collaborative learning, and I really started focusing in on that and having a good look of what that really meant and from an education point of view, collaborative learning is a very, very specific kind of technique in learning that is instituted in a classroom and so many learning professionals were trying to figure out how they could get people to do social collaborative learning in these spaces and it was falling on its face and the conclusion I came to after doing a tonne of research and reading everything I could and talking to a number of individuals is that, as learning professionals, we were focusing on the wrong thing and let me give you a little explanation.

I use the term social collaboration and learning as opposed to social collaborative learning or collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is something that a teacher can design within a classroom and learning happens through that designed collaboration. Now, organisations, while learning is critical to their survival, that is not their focus and so learning professionals continue to try and create this artificial environment when what really needs to happen, in my opinion, is that we need to create the conditions and the circumstances through which collaboration can emerge and learning will happen as a by-product of that. So we need to support collaboration and enable people to understand how to collaborate, both at an inter-personal level but also with the technology and how to use that, and then by creating those conditions, we let people do the collaboration and they'll learn as a by-product.

Robin:
Yeah. And that's a really nice distinction between the structured social learning experience that happens in a sort of facilitated social way, face-to-face or online, and that sets a up culture of collaboration and, in actual fact, removing the world social from that, it's actually a really powerful thing as well because essentially it's about building a different type of culture and thinking. It's also one of the things that I think, as millennials are coming into the workforce, they are naturally collaborative as well.

Melissa:
I think I tend to agree with that because they've grown up with that a lot more than, I think, than the rest of us have and, quite frankly, the world is so complex and so big, it always has been but in order to move forward and to harness our collective wisdom, it really is about that interpersonal piece of, "How do we work together?" And in order to understand how we collaborate and work together, we need to first understand ourselves, then understand other people, then understand the dynamics between us then to move forward and really harness that collective wisdom.

So with the future of work just kind of bringing it back around again, while we have all these major drivers and technology's a major one of that, at the very, very fundamental level, we're going to come back to what it means to be human and what it means to interact with each other on a very human level, in order to move forward, because all these things are tools and tools are only as good as the people that are using them at the end of the day.

Robin:
Yeah, it's sort of an extension of being human. Actually, that's some really nice insights, Melissa. I also want to track back to the first thing you talked about, and I think that's one of the ... The notion that the work's changing because of automation and you talked about artificial intelligence and I actually think this is one of the spots that L&D is really quite blind too. How are you seeing this affecting learning? I mean, there is a change in the way of work, to start with, different types of jobs disappearing.

Melissa:
So, where is ... To kind of paraphrase what you were asking me is where is L&Ds place and how does this future of work impact learning and such and I think there's a ... It's not a simple answer to start with. What a number of think tanks and research reports have been coming out with are what they predict or anticipate certain skillsets are that people are going to need in the workplace, or just people are going to need full stop and in the past we used to call a lot of these types of higher order thinking skills and, well, critical thinking skills, right? Where everyone would talk about, "Well, we need to have workers that can critically think and can assess" and all these kinds of things that are skills that we can take with us for a lifetime, and what's emerging in the research and some of these think tanks are suggesting and predicting, based on their research, is that there's a whole new set of what I call sustainable skillsets or sustainable knowledge that we will take with us.

So, yes, critical thinking skills is by all means, one of those that will come with us forever, but there's other ones that they're identifying, like novel and adaptive thinking, computational thinking, now that one's really interesting in itself because, from what I can gather, computational thinking is not something that you can just switch on and off, it's something that we probably need to start looking at at a K through 12 level in moving forward, so that's going to be an interesting one if adults and adult workers are not already in the STEM fields.

The other is this trans-disciplinarity, is what they're calling it, and it's the ability not just to be able to work with people from other disciplines, like the finance department and the marketing departments sitting on a project together, but it's actually understanding other disciplines and being able to, not necessarily be an expert in it, but understand it enough that you can start seeing the connexions through what you're doing with what they're doing, so an example might be a biologist who understands physics, or a physicist who understands biology and them coming together and looking at the same phenomena, which, often times, people in the world, we're all looking at very similar problems or phenomena, but we're coming about it from different perspectives and disciplines but we never talk to each other. We never understand it, and so we're all only seeing a facet of the bigger picture and so that collaboration component is part of it but it's also being able to think from different disciplines point of views, even if you're not an expert.

So, in terms of learning, we need to start providing the opportunities to skill people in some of these future, I'm calling them future-bilities, that are really sustainable skillsets, cross cultural competency. There's so much in the world talking about diversity this and, you know, back in the late '90s and early 2000s, it was diversity training and we've seen it time and time again, that diversity training in its form at the time is kind of no better than lip service but there is a way to get cross cultural competency and it's a matter of a practise, right? Just like writing and getting good at writing is a craft, it's a practise or, if you're a mediator, you can't get good at it unless you practise it and cross cultural competency is one of those things too.

Does that kind of go to what you're suggesting? I could keep going on and on, there's about 11 of these, by the way, so ...

Robin:
So almost, at the moment, L&D is quite often in a spot where it's dealing with things like compliance skills, operational skills but not actually in a spot where it's thinking about the skills ... Sometimes thinking about the operational skills that's needed for the future but not the actual abilities of people, I'm going to say three to five years ahead, because it's been really interesting, actually, at Sprout Labs, we've got one of the developers who's really interested in machine learning and that's literally transforming, sometimes, the speed in which he can do cognitional thinking. He'll model and think through data in a really fast, really different way and the productivity of him is quite different to some of the other developers, so it's actually, I think, happening a lot quicker than what a lot of people think, as well.

Melissa:
Well, that's it. And I keep saying, look, we've always had things like technological displacement, you know, and we've moved from agriculture to the industrial revolution and even when that became much more automated with the assembly line, we've always had technological displacement but what we're going to be seeing is the rate and the pace of that displacement just accelerating beyond what we've ever experienced in the past.

There's an organisation that I was talking to in New Zealand and they operate one of the ports and my understanding is that the automation is going to be coming in in the next three years. That's going to have a significant impact on their workforce and they're not going to need as many people, and we talk about self driving cars and in what that implication is on the obvious, right? The obvious is things like the truck driving industry, the logistics management industry there, and taxi drivers, but some of the things that we don't think about that I've read from one futurist, he was kind of predicting out, he said, "Look, if we go, eventually, to all driving ... Humans don't drive, the theory is that we'll have less accidents and most of the people that end up in hospitals, a lot of them, a large percentage, is due to car accidents, so the flow on effect to hospitals is that demand is not going to be quite as high and that has an impact on healthcare and perhaps even insurances, for that matter" so it's really far reaching and I don't believe many industries or disciplines will be untouched, quite frankly.

And with L&D, I agree with you, Robin, so, so much of the learning and development industry is focused on, I don't want to say reactionary, but in the moment, what's needed at the time, or what's needed for the next six months down the track or whatever it happens to be and there's a lot of focus on getting those immediate kind of learning and skills and happening and there's less on the development. We call it learning and development but if we're really cluey and we would be focusing on the development of skills that need which is five, six, seven years down the track, so ...

Robin:
Yeah. It's really interesting and it's a really big topic as well. If anyone wants to drill into it further, what do you reckon a few good, great places to start?

Melissa:
Well, there are a number of reports that Deloitte has done, that KPMG has done, McKenzies, dealing with the future of work, also dealing with leadership and the leadership gaps that we're looking and seeing here in Australia predicted. I tend to have links to those on my website, there's a number of them out there, and there's even one that, a report that Deloitte did, was commissioned by Google Australia, about the collaborative economy and that's a fascinating one too, to see how this notion of collaboration really is an untapped potential in terms of value for organisations in Australia, so I can provide you with some links that perhaps you can share with the audience.

Robin:
Yeah. I'll add those to the blog post that goes along with the podcast. Thank you, Melissa, so much for joining me today. This has been a really interesting conversation about a huge topic.

Melissa:
Well, thank you Robin. I really appreciate the invitation. It's something I'm quite passionate about and I believe that we should be having more conversations about so thank you for the invitation.

Robin:Thank you.


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