The Future of Work is Human – Soft Skills, Soft skills

One of the main concerns people have regarding digital transformation and the adoption of industry 4.0 technologies is what is going to happen to jobs. How will the future of work look? Will robots, automation, or AI replace humans? How will the future workplace be? What new skills will be required? What needs to differ between what we have done in the past, and what must do in the future? One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Albert Einstein and his definition of insanity; "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The difference between the ways people led and performed in the past is not going to cut it anymore; the present focus to prepare for the future is to leverage and develop soft skills. One of the metrics for it? EQ or emotional intelligence.

My definition of digital transformation is the ability of organizations, its leaders, and employees, to adapt to rapid changes enabled by evolving digital technologies. It is a continual adaptation to a constantly changing environment to create value and increase competitiveness.

When new technologies get deployed to enhance work, the workers get more time for value-added activities. Lean manufacturing's definition of a value-added activity is any action taken that increases the benefit of a good or service to a customer - what a customer is willing to pay for.

The future of work by adopting new technologies will result in improved efficiency by raising productivity through fewer errors, higher output, and improved quality, safety, and speed. Moreover, there will be a higher-skilled workforce when knowledge transfer also gets done via the use of technology to enable more innovation.

Culture is one of the critical determinants for transformation to happen. When the question gets asked – how can we change the culture? That is not the right question. The right question is – how can we change the work? Because culture is the result of the work and how it gets done.

When the process of change or transformation includes people, they feel good about themselves because the process involves their ideas and their motivations. Their participation in decision making gives them ownership.

When leaders engage the workforce, the environment allows for development, exploration, experimentation where people can face challenges by feeling supported. On the opposite spectrum, when leaders micromanage, abandon, or ignore the workforce, the environment is filled with lots of control, blame, and lack of motivation. There is not much incentive for innovation or problem solving because people need to wait for others to tell them what to do and make the decisions for them.

Lack of Engagement is not just an emotional issue; it is a waste in the fundamental resource that powers most organizations today, their intellectual or human capital. In Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers, her research assessed hundreds of executives and found they were utilizing only 66% of their people’s capability. Think about this, for every dollar paid for their resources and only extracting 66 cents in capability – 34% wasted.

Leaders must avoid the trap of over-investing in technology and under-investing in the human capital to make the technology useful. Given the sophistication of hardware and software, it is easy to think about industry 4.0 as a purely technological challenge. Human capital is critical to the transformation of production systems, as production facilities evolve, employees evolve too.

Automation could hinder progress if not adequately chosen and executed. Tesla’s Elon Musk said all the issues they faced with the Model 3, unable to deliver production numbers caused by OVER automation. He once said, “The Model 3 assembly line is widely regarded as one of the most robotics-driven on the planet – unprecedented” and last year he tweeted, "Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated."

My experience has allowed me to confirm the digital transformation’s secret sauce. Leaders need to go through their conversion to exhibit, provide, and facilitate what I call the 3 C’s for their vision and strategy for the organization to become a reality :



Continuous Learning

I want to share an example of how the future of work is already here. GE technicians are using augmented reality (AR) for wiring a wind turbine control box. At the bottom of the blog, you will find a video link. A comparison of one technician using the current process and another one using the same tasks, while guided by the line of sight instructions, overlaid on the job by an AR headset. These wearable augmented reality devices are robust. They deliver the right information at the right moment and in the ideal format. The headset is directly in the worker's line of sight while leaving the worker's hands-free so they can work without interruption. GE was able to generate a 34% improvement in time and errors. The other significant benefit is when the technician encounters issues, s(he) can launch videos or get in contact with experts to get real-time assistance.

I pulled together a summary of highlights from three of the most relevant research reports I have read regarding the hot topic of The Future of Jobs.

World Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs Report (2018)

  • “By 2022, 59% of employers expect that they will have significantly modified how they produce and distribute by changing the composition of their value chain.

  • A reskilling imperative: By 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling.

  • Skills continuing to grow in prominence by 2022 include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning, and learning strategies. Increasing demand for various forms of technology competency. ‘Human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation, attention to detail, resilience, flexibility, and complex problem-solving. Emotional intelligence, leadership, and social influence, as well as service orientation, also see an outsized increase in demand relative to their current prominence.

  • The need for a comprehensive ‘augmentation strategy,' an approach where businesses look to utilize the automation of some job tasks to complement and enhance their human workforces' comparative strengths and ultimately to enable and empower employees to extend to their full potential.

  • Crafting a sound in-company lifelong learning system, investing in human capital and collaborating with other stakeholders on workforce strategy should thus be key business imperatives, critical to companies' medium to long-term growth, as well as an essential contribution to society and social stability.”

McKinsey Global Institute: The Future of Work in America (2019) and Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained, Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation (2017)

  • “By 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities, and other skills relatively hard to automate.

  • 60% of occupations have at least 30% of basic work activities that could be automated. It will also create new occupations that do not exist today, much as technologies of the past have done. Even with automation, the demand for work and workers could increase as economies grow, partly fueled by productivity growth enabled by technological progress. More occupations will change than will be lost as machines affect portions of occupations and people increasingly work alongside them.

  • Employers seeking to make the most of automation for innovation and productivity will need to manage complex transitions. It is possible to turn this period of technological change into an occasion to create more rewarding jobs and build better learning systems and career pathways. All employers will need to make adept decisions about strategy, investment, technology, workflow redesign, talent needs and training, and the potential impact on the communities in which they operate, all of which may require large-scale workforce transformations. Large-scale workforce transformation requires vision and adept leadership from the entire management team—and it has implications for the company’s overall strategy, operations, talent needs, capital investment, geographic footprint, diversity goals, and external reputation.”

Manpower Group: Humans Wanted: Robots Need You (2019)

  • “87% of employers plan to increase or maintain headcount as a result of automation.

  • 84% of employers will be upskilling their workforce by 2020. More companies are looking to develop their workforce rather than recruit from outside.

  • By 2022, over half of all employees will require significant reskilling to survive the changes in the workplace. Indeed, some 35% of this retraining is likely to be significant and require over six months of training, with a further 19% requiring a year or more. Every employee must integrate learning as part of their normal life, and every employer has to provide the support needed to enable that.

  • IT skills remain high on the list skills employers are looking to develop as well as human skills, such as communication, negotiation, and leadership. Even in technical disciplines such as IT, the demand for soft skills is significant, with most employers rating this as a vital capability for their IT teams to possess.

  • There is a distinct lack of understanding among employers today about the skills they have within their workforce. Just 48% of employees said that they had undergone any kind of skills assessment, which makes it difficult to accurately plan to fill whatever gaps might exist.”

The data from these three sources shows that the future of work is human; the differentiator for business and society will be soft skills, soft skills, and more soft skills. Digital transformation is not about technology; it is about giving human relevance to it. The winners will be those leaders and organizations that understand that to navigate the complicated waters of disruption; they cannot go at it alone. They need to see themselves coexisting and collaborating in a coalition of human ecosystems conformed by their employees, competitors, suppliers, technology providers, academia, and government.

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Here is the video of GE’s implementation of augmented reality https://youtu.be/n5LhQqggGTE

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