Working for what?

I’ve found myself increasingly curious about how changes in technology (particularly AI) will affect the way we work.

There are forecasts that suggest around 50% of routine jobs might be replaced by technology by 2050. Like all forecasts, the likelihood it will be wrong does not distract from the direction of travel we are headed in.

So, I have found myself wondering about how we work, and put the graphic below to help me think.

In some domains, we work to live, are compliant with what the boss requires of us, providing she fulfils her part and pays us adequately. If it pays well enough, and we are motivated by money, we move to ever greater competency, even mastery of our subject. We may not hold bankers in high regard, but there’s no doubting they are clever, masterful people.

On the other hand, we all know people who are driven by something more profound than money. They work in all sorts of sectors, not least teaching, nursing, and the charity sector. Some are complaint, doing what is asked of them in support of what they believe in, whilst some are revolutionaries in the making. People who become iconoclasts, genuises even, in pursuit of what they believe for its own sake.

If the Oxford report (link above) is anything like right, it looks like the jobs most at risk are on the right hand side of the graphic – whether low level routine jobs, or currently highly paid knowledge intensive jobs that are largely routine in nature (A lot of the legal and accountancy professions)

It raises the question – if those jobs go, how do we get people who work on the right hand side over to the left hand side? To contribute to the greater good? (It’s true of course that we all spend different amounts of our own time in the different sectors depending on our circumstances. It’s more difficult to be a “lefty” when there’s a mortgage to pay and children to support – but it doesn’t last forever.)

How do we create the opportunities and support to help people spend more time, as the opportunities present, on the left hand side?

The answer has major implications for the way we educate and train those coming into the workforce. At present, we still do it like our economies will continue to operate as they do now. We can be pretty sure they won’t.

We have an ageing workforce in the UK, so opportunities to “go left” seem likely, although the way some organisations in the left hand side (e.g. third sector) may have a long way to go to be attractive to people who have both time and choice.

I was talking with a senior executive in a financial institution recently. They had a concern about the rate at which automation would erode routine jobs, giving them a large chunk of people to potentially be made redundant, at an enormous cost, financially and reputationally.

We face potentially momentous changes, the answer to which will not be to “tweak” the current operating models.

This is a big deal. I’d be really interested to know what you think, and what you’re noticing.

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