The Future of Work – A Social Challenge

By Katie Hyson, Director, Thought Leadership, Business Fights Poverty

The conversation surrounding the future of work has been dominated to date by tech teams and HR folk. Is it time for other parts of business to sit up and get involved?

Worst case scenario: there simply won’t be enough jobs in the system in the future. Business cannot escape from this responsibility – we must join together to collectively take action, before this becomes a devastating social crisis.” Charles Tsai, Senior Manager, Fossil Foundation.

If the transition to the future of work isn’t handled properly, trust and permission for businesses to operate could be called into question, regardless of sector or location.

This article explores why tech, talent and social teams are coming together to explore ways businesses can take action and collaborate in order to ensure that a smooth transition to the future of work takes place. If you have a responsibility for business reputation, community relationships and stakeholder trust this article is for you.

It’s the scale and speed of the transition that we should be worried about.

Five million people in the US have lost their manufacturing jobs since 1999. These jobs aren’t coming back, thanks to revolutions in robotics, AI and technology. Labelled as the ‘missing middle’ – and – noteworthy because of much publicised blue-collar worker disillusionment – huge swaths of people displaced by these job losses are slipping down into less well-paid, informal roles.

Meanwhile, people with higher education and social mobility are currently enjoying greater training opportunities, better job prospects, and rising incomes. The result: widening earnings disparity and exacerbated inequality.

But the numbers are somewhat misleading. True, McKinsey estimate that as many as 800 million people globally could lose their manual labour jobs by 2030 due to automation. However, McKinsey and the World Economic Forum also predict that more than this number of jobs could be created in the same time period. Their claim: that a host of new jobs will be created, hinging on, consumer engagement, and problem-solving, all enhanced by digital technology (McKinsey, 2018; WEF, 2018).

In short, there is an opportunity here, despite job losses on the horizon. Given the scale and speed of change, can the transition to this future of work happen without crashing whole societies? And what are the biggest changes businesses can prepare for during this transition?

Skills of the future are those of the past

Equipping people for the jobs of the future is essential if the transition is to be smooth. Predicting what the jobs will involve is a complex task though and readying learning institutions for these changes takes time.

Pearson, Oxford University and Nesta have conducted some of the most comprehensive explorations into the skills of the future (Pearson, 2018). Harnessing the power of experts from across fields, national work datasets and complex algorithms they have found that a combination of interpersonal skills and problem solving will be most in demand – cumulatively skills which are ‘uniquely human.’ Skills such as: fluency of ideas, learning strategies, psychology and social perceptiveness.

The Fossil Foundation’s Senior Manager Charles Tsai concurs, “In an age of intelligent machines, humans will need to play to their strengths by focusing more on interpersonal, creative and communication skills, skills that cannot easily be replaced by AI or a robot.” Many of the innovators that Fossil Foundation supports are betting on these skills to unleash the greatest potential in our youth today, especially in underserved communities.

Walmart: In 2015, the world’s largest private employer announced an investment of $2.7 billion in its 2.2 million employees (CNBC, 2016). In 2016, the company rolled out ‘Pathways’ and ‘Walmart Academies’. Pathways is a training program for entry level associates, which gives associates skills they need to learn the business and will help create clear career paths from entry level positions to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay.  More than 400,000 associates completed Pathways training in FY18.

Walmart Academy is an immersive training program that teaches advanced retail skills to both hourly and salaried associates, training nearly 500,000 associates last year alone. Today, it is widely acknowledged that this investment is paying off. With better-paid, better-trained workers creating a better in-store experience for Walmart shoppers, sales are on the rise and turnover has decreased.

Skills need delivering in a different way: Flexibility for longer and more complex lives.

Tackling the transition to the future of work includes developing new models for learning across multiple dimensions. Engaging with new technologies, embracing lifelong learning and assisting people in the move across multiple careers are all factors which could help or hinder the transition to the future of work. Given the pressure on jobs and that many are now expecting to work into their 70s and 80s – young people and old are likely to be most heavily impacted. Many people are already taking action: today, around 78 million people are learning via mass open online courses (MOOCs) and that number is growing by 20 million every year (Wired, 2018). Companies are responding to these demands, for example:

Pearson, the world’s biggest education company has been conducting research, creating learning content and platforms all supporting lifelong learning  (Pearson, 2017) and if their share price and analyst reaction is anything to go by, this is an area for considerable future growth (Pearson, 2019).

Whilst UBS, the financial services provider, recognises that longer lives and more age-ranges within the workplace require new strategies to intergenerational collaboration. Their research (UBS, 2016) demonstrates how one generation’s work strategies may be in conflict to another, whilst explaining that job flexibility and individualised approaches will be key to productive workforces – from freelance models, career breaks, enhanced opportunities for employees to lead, innovate and pursue their own optimum modes of work life balance.

The transition to the future of work is going to affect the communities you serve.

Organisations are recognising that the transition to the future of work could heavily exacerbate inequality, income disparities and social exclusion – all of which are bad for business (WEF, 2017). Given the size, scale and speed of the transition to the future of work, businesses’ whole ecosystems will be affected; from their suppliers to entire customer segments. Some businesses have already begun to think about how they strengthen the stability and inclusivity across their value chains.

Mastercard’s Center of Inclusive Growth and the new Mastercard Impact Fund are working to understand the problems that could arise from the future of work, inequitable economic development and financial exclusion. Mastercard recently partnered with Commonwealth to understand how the changing nature of work impacts lower-wage workers in the US and the unique challenges they face (Mastercard, 2018). Payal Dalal, Vice President at Mastercard’s Center of Inclusive Growth explains, “We know how disruptive the future of work is going to be, especially for low wage workers. The pace of change is only going to accelerate, so we need to think about innovations like portable benefits and mechanisms to smooth income volatility now to ensure inclusive growth in the future.”

Walmart, in addition to its large skills investment for associates, recognises that the challenge requires a solution that goes beyond HR. Christian Gomez, Director, Global Government Affairs explains that with many of Walmart’s stores, particularly in Latin America, often being located in communities with high levels of informality, its role is essential: “Our [company’s] mission is ‘to save people money so they can live better.’ This means that we must have an inclusive approach across our value chain, from small and medium sized suppliers to the communities where we are based.”

Unilever’s Harsha Jalihal, Vice President for their Future of Work programme and working with the World Economic Forum on the topic explains that employer responsibilities towards their workforce is becoming borderless. “We want to go beyond ensuring everyone in our value chain, from suppliers to agency workers are being paid above the living wage, but even mapping out who they are is difficult.”

What actions should your organisation consider?

Helping employees, existing and new, transition to new roles is one thing; supporting customers and communities is another. Companies that really wish to master the future of work need to do both.

Specifically, businesses need to:

  • Build the skills for the future: How and who will help your existing and future employees obtain the skills that your business needs for the future and also to find these new jobs? Given changes in working life length and generational expectations will your business be able to retain talent?
  • Think beyond your employees: Who is dependent in your value chain on your business? What are your responsibilities towards them? How will the communities you serve and your customers be affected by the speed and scale of the transition to the future of work? Do you need to take action to mitigate the effects to your P&L?

The bottom line is the need to collaborate with HR, digital and consumer teams in order to understand the impact that the future of work will have not only on your employees, but also your consumer base and the communities in which you operate.

Join the Discussion

Join the Business Fights Poverty online discussion on The Future of Work to hear from others and share best practice, on Thursday 31 January 2019, 3pm-4pm- GMT (10.00am-11am EST). Click here to join the discussion.

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