In a recent podcast by the WorkLife HUB, an online platform focusing on work-life balance topics, Werner Eichhorst speaks about the challenges and opportunities of future work. He describes what to expect from the rising importance of robots in the workplace and explains how education systems will have to adapt to the requirements of life-long learning. Eichhorst also provides a set of recommendations for CEOs who worry about their company keeping up with competition and the future of work.
Will robots take our jobs? With all the hype generated around this question it is getting harder to separate facts from the noise. Werner Eichhorst reassures us that the future is not as gloomy as it may seem. In the podcast interview, he unpicks the different elements as to what it means to be working side by side with smart machines and robots.
Key skill of the future: Adapting to change
On the one hand, there will be a lot more interaction between humans and robots, during which the smart machines will take on more and more complex tasks. But the technological advances will also lead to an increased human-to-human interaction in most jobs. And both of these will require not only new skills but also a dedication to a continuous updating of skills. Perhaps one of the most important skills for the future will be the capacity to adapt to change, including the willingness to change occupations.
This alone raises a number of issues, such as figuring out where the responsibility lies for continuously updating the skills and competences of the workforce throughout their working lives. This calls for different responses for low-skilled and high-skilled labor, with the latter requiring much more individual initiative to ensure that skills are relevant.
Government and employers must to their part to ensure employability
Eichhorst also underlines that we must differentiate between cultures. In Europe there is major responsibility for general education by the government, so there needs to be a universal public policy to not only ensure a minimum set of skills for everyone across the workforce for employability, but also to take on some of the responsibility for updating these skills throughout the working lives of employees in collaboration with employers and individuals. Examples include leave or part-time arrangements for educational purposes.
One of the biggest challenges for employers will be to ensure job security and a high level of job quality for their workforce while at the same time organizing workers in a flexible way to get the most out of their innovation capacity. This calls for a new balance of different aspects of flexibility inside the firm, but also using flexible types of employment and project-based work to a reasonable extent.
Eichhorst also recommends the creation of an “enabling working environment” that provides space for formal and informal exchanges between employees that foster innovation. In short: employers who want to be well-prepared and gain a competitive edge in the future world of work should hire the right people, break down rigid hierarchical structures, give them autonomy, and trust in them to help co-create the work organization. Some of this, of course, will take great courage to implement.