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Working the Future

Our future of work blog 

05/05/2017, 23:21


 In March 2017, the CIPD presented its carefully researched report on the UK Gig Economy. The report provides some useful insight into what the gig economy is, how many people in the UK currently gain income from it, whether the gig economy...

In March 2017, the CIPD presented its carefully researched report on the UK Gig Economy. The report provides some useful insight into what the gig economy is, how many people in the UK currently gain income from it, whether the gig economy provides a sustainable income source, and the role it’s likely to play in the future of work. It makes for a very interesting read.

Less than a week later, PWC published its own research findings, which suggested that up to 30% of all UK jobs could be "susceptible" to automation, robotics and AI over the next 15 years. That’s a daunting statistic in anyone’s book. In brief, any job function where a worker follows a defined and repetitive process is vulnerable to the possibility of eventual automation. The Guardian, reporting on the PWC research, has stated that potentially 10 million workers in the UK are at risk of being replaced by technology. Whilst these figures on their own might appear to paint a rather dystopian future, there is also an understanding that new jobs will be created, even if we don’t yet know what they’re going to be.  

Despite the rather daunting scenario outlined above, one thing is very clear. In order to continue working and thriving in the future workplace, a significant amount of re-skilling will need to take place. The CIPD report makes mention of this, and indeed, in many of its cited case studies there seems an overarching acknowledgement that re-skilling is required. I foresee two challenges.

The first is that for many of the workers whose roles will be destabilised by automation, AI and robotics, a change of mindset will be required. Recent advances in neuroscience show that the brain is more than capable of learning new information, habits and ways of doing things, even into more advanced years - as the adage goes, it’s never too old to teach an old dog new tricks. Key to successful learning, however, is developing what is known as a "growth mindset", as pioneered by US psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck (1). A growth mindset is one whereby the learner understands that learning might take time, but that with practice and dedication, new skills can be acquired. It’s the understanding that talent and intelligence can be enhanced with a positive attitude towards learning. The Growth Mindset is currently a hot topic within leadership forums and is recognised as a core attribute required for success in the future of work.

The second challenge is around the associated costs of retraining. The CIPD Gig Economy report suggests that most current gig economy workers are undertaking additional work in order to supplement existing income, and whilst they acknowledge a requirement to up-skill or re-skill, they simply don’t have the funds available to put themselves through this process. Equally, in times of increasing economic uncertainty, corporate learning and development budgets are often the first to come under pressure. And yet worker reskilling is undoubtedly going to become increasingly crucial if commercial organisations are to continuously refine their offerings, as we suspect will be one of the defining success criteria of the Fourth Industrial revolution and the digital age.

Fortunately, seemingly every week now, new, cost-effective and even free ways of learning are appearing online - empowering the self-directed learner to better themselves. All that remains is for UK businesses of all sizes to recognise and embrace that continuous learning, right across the commercial landscape, will become increasingly critical in order to maintain competitive edge. 

A final thought from us here at Working the Future. Much of the strategic leadership thinking around success in the future of work suggests that open and collaborative working environments will be essential in order for business to thrive and prosper. If we can adjust our thinking to encourage shared and peer learning across our organisations, I think re-skilling has the potential to be far less complicated - and less intimidating - than we might imagine.

If you’d like to discuss the topic of learning and development in further detail, please do feel free to start a conversation!

  • Dweck, C. (2006).  Mindset - How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, New York: Random House

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