Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity
In Europe, 110 million jobs are at risk due to automation or Covid-19 crises, and 24 million jobs are affected by both of these phenomena, said David Timis, who focuses on the impact that technology has on the future of work and he is also the outgoing Curator of the Brussels Global Shapers Hub, a World Economic Forum initiative. He cautioned that companies who earlier had ethical concerns about replacing people with robots now can use health as a reason to do it.
In an interview for Youth Time Magazine during the International Youth Summer School in Reykjavik, held under the banner of “Future skills for workplace sustainability: Preparing for transition”, Timis said that the job market in the future will be characterized by the acronym VUKA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
Nobody knows what jobs will disappear or what new jobs will be created, said Timis.
“It’s a bit easier to predict which skills will be more relevant, but in general, the only thing that is certain is volatility, which will continue to remain present for the next two years, before things get to some sort of new normal. I don’t think we can go back to exactly how it was before the crises, because it was not sustainable in the long run”, thinks Timis.
The Role of Automation
Among the most endangered jobs in the future, he sees mostly repetitive work or physical work in factories.
He added that many sectors are affected by either automation or Covid-19, mostly the manufacturing sector, the administrative sector, and now also, because of the coronavirus crises, hospitality and retail.
According to Timis, the most dangerous thing is that 24 million jobs are at risk of displacement from both automation and Covid-19.
“Before Covid-19 happened, there were jobs at risk of displacement such as manufacturing jobs in which companies wanted to replace workers with robots. Now they have a bigger incentive to do this because, since there are social distancing rules, it’s actually a health hazard for people to be sent back to the factory floor. The companies who previously maybe had ethical concerns about replacing people with robots now have a reason to do it, which is health – one which nobody can contradict. You cannot say go to the factory if you can get coronavirus. So there is a bigger chance that these people are now going to be displaced”, emphasized Timis.
The coronavirus crises, he added, has accelerated digital transformation, which was already going on.
“Before Covid-19, individuals, businesses, and government were maybe still reluctant to adopt digital tools, Artificial Intelligence tools, robotic process automation, and other technological advances. Now, due to the crises and the measures put in place such as social distance and lockdown, digital technologies have helped both individuals, businesses, and governments to continue their activity. If we didn’t have technologies like Zoom or Facebook in the lockdown – it would have been much more difficult to interact with loved ones or colleagues”, noted Timis.
He said that some of the businesses that managed in time to adapt their operations to digital were able to continue their activity even in the lockdown due to the development of these technologies.
“However there are unfortunately many cases in which businesses have been bankrupted by this crisis, businesses that were dependent on physical contact and have most of their operations offline and not online”, stressed Timis.
Transitioning to a New Workplace
Asked what people can do to adapt to the future of work so they don’t become irrelevant in the job market, Timis said that people working in factories and other physical jobs will need support from their employers to make a transition to a new role; and, in some cases, they will need support from governments.
“If they become unemployed or are made redundant, governments are supposed to step in and give these people either some sort of universal basic income or protect them in some way from both mental and health risks”, said Timis.
Especially, he stressed, people who have lost their jobs because of automation should be helped by the companies that decided to implement, for example, a robot, a robotic tool, or software to replace humans.
“They are the first that are responsible to find a way for these employees to be re-skilled or moved to another department. If they have to fire them, at least they should help them secure a new job or a new opportunity. And governments should step in to bridge the gaps, because companies are in business to make profits”, said Timis, adding that governments should provide people who are unemployed for three to six months with some kind of minimal income.
Young people will have better chances to be re-skilled and find new workplaces, added Timis. In order to do that, they need to have people skills, digital skills, and most important growth-mindset skills, said Timis.
“First of all, people skills, which means knowing how to interact with your peers, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity… These are all human skills which will be very hard for robots to replicate. These are skills that anyone should develop in the coming years, regardless of occupation or industry. Then, we have digital skills, which can be either basic like Microsoft Office or Google tools or more advanced, like coding and data analysis. And finally, what I would say most importantly in times of Corona crises, is the growth mindset, which basically includes skills like flexibility, adaptability, grit, and resilience. Those are skills that help people survive such shocks as health crises or other future challenges”, said Timis.
Possible Tandem of Robots and Humans
As far as robots are concerned, Timis predicts that robots will play a more important role in many organizations, especially in those where humans are now already doing a lot of physical and repetitive work.
“More and more, robots will replace humans in jobs that, I think, no human would like to do”, said Timis.
He thinks that if humanity manages these innovations appropriately, in the future there will be a good collaboration between robots and humans.
“Robots should free us of tasks which are not so pleasant for humans, and humans will have more time to do more meaningful and creative work, which robots cannot do at the moment. That’s the positive scenario”, said Timis.
The negative scenario, he added, is that people fail to manage innovation appropriately. In that case, robots will take a lot of roles that leave displaced people without opportunities.
“I think that’s the biggest risk. How fast can you find other opportunities for people who were displaced from their jobs even though they had no issues – health or mental ones”, said Timis.
He added that the capacities of robots are developing all the time, and people can’t predict how fast Artificial Intelligence will evolve. In accordance with that, Timis noticed that even now robots can do some creative work, such as being journalists.
“Microsoft replaced many of its journalists or internal journalists that were collecting information from across the internet with robotic tools. So, robots are doing increasingly creative work, but basically this is going to depend on how fast technology evolves”, said Timis.
He underscored that these robots are not doing the creative work of writing, but mostly just collecting and presenting. But, he added, in the recent past robots beat the champion of Sudoku or chess.
“I don’t know where we will be in five years and to what degree creative roles will be taken by robots. In a positive scenario it will be a collaboration between the robots and humans to do these roles together. Robots might be able to, for instance, for a journalist, collect the information the journalist needs, and then the journalist can be the one who is putting information together in a more engaging way for the audience. Maybe with some help from the robot to do some checking of the typos or corrections. This is a future I’d like to see, close cooperation between the two and not complete replacement basically”, said Timis.
He also has one word of advice – everybody should be passionate about the work of the future, especially the youth generation because the future work will be characterized by the acronym VUKA.
“My advice is continuous learning. Young people should understand there is no longer an end of education when you finish your masters degree or PHD. Education should be for life and especially, you should always read and understand the society around you and how technology impacts things, because technology, next to climate change, is the biggest disrupter nowadays”, concluded Timis.
Get in touch with David Timis.
Photos: Shutterstock/ Edited by Nevena Saulic
Check out the webinar from with David Timis on “The Future Of Work After the Pandemic”: