The Future of Work: How Intelligent Machines Are Re-setting the Agenda in Talent Development

Evolving automation is the push we need to get serious around talent management strategies for upskilling and re-skilling employees.

Automation has been transforming work since the late 1700s when new-fangled machines suddenly made tasks like spinning wool and transporting goods exponentially faster, less costly, and more consistent. Over the years, the world embraced automation as machines continued to evolve and pick off low-hanging repetitive work. Most of us were better off because of automation, and new jobs and opportunities filled the space.
 
But things are changing. What we lauded as progress is now beginning to feel like a threat. Having dispensed with drudgery, intelligent machines—the dreaded robots—are now coming after OUR jobs. But are they? What can we expect from automation—in the near and longer term—and how should we adjust our workforce planning and talent management practices in light of those changes?
 
That was one area of focus at the "Intelligent Machines and the Future of Recruitment" conference sponsored by Textkernal that I attended recently in Amsterdam. An amazing line-up of speakers was assembled and their presentations underscored the divergence of opinions on automation. Federico Pistono, the author of Robots Will Steal Your Job but That’s OK represented one end of the spectrum. He posits a future in which “technological unemployment” will be pervasive and only individuals with highly-sophisticated technical and creative skills will be employable. This will require, he says, a comprehensive rethinking of our economic, business, and social structures. It’s hard to explain how such a dystopian view could be presented so entertainingly, but it was. 
 
Bill Boorman was equally charming and thought-provoking but with a more measured message. Considered one of the world’s most influential thinkers on talent, technology and HR topics, he spoke about automation as a tool with tremendous possibilities to help individuals transform their personal lives, their roles in the working world, and their interactions with society at large. 
 
The common ground for both presenters was that intelligent machines, although still in their infancy, are profoundly changing the world of work and placing new demands on employees (and organizational leaders) in terms of ongoing education, flexibility, and skills development.
 
McKinsey estimates that while less than 5% of occupations will be completely replaced by technology, as much as 45% of the activities people now perform could be taken over by machines. This has tremendous implications for talent acquisition and development. HR leaders, in particular, should waste no time in ensuring their organizations:
 
 
Leaving the conference, I was exhilarated about the potential of automation to lead to more engaging and fulfilling work for individuals while unleashing higher levels of organizational productivity and creativity. But lacking a crystal ball to tell me when this shift will occur and how exactly people’s work will be disrupted, I am also anxious for organizations to move quickly to put meaningful developmental programs in place to achieve that win-win. The time to start is now. The robots are at the office door. 
 
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