The World of Work in the 4th Industrial Revolution: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Machines have never been as ubiquitous and efficient as they are now. The technological engine behind innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, 3D printing, blockchain, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) promises a dramatic increase in work efficiency. Last year saw AI outsmart humans six times in competitions, leaving bystanders in the world of work both baffled and fearful of the implications this might have in their space.
Many companies are left wondering whether humans are losing relevance in the workplace. Do they need to re-strategise to survive the new competitive landscape or should they just wait and watch?
Robots and Big Data: Agents of Change
The battle of man versus machine has intensified with the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution. Legacy systems might have become outdated, but purchasing and setting up modern equipment requires high capital expenditure, and some companies just can’t foot the bill. Robots and interconnected systems are nevertheless, slowly but surely entering the world of work.
For the oil and gas sector, robots have revolutionised operational models. Shell, a global leader in the industry, deploys drones to determine the health of flare stacks. This way engineers aren’t put in danger having to climb them. Shell also leverages remote monitoring and Big Data analytics to drive production efficiency and significantly reduce downtime.
Such advancements have also transformed the scope of work for employees. Employer expectations now revolve around cognitive capabilities spanning all stages of oil and gas field evaluation, development, and production. The natural inclination has been to hire statisticians, data scientists, and machine-learning specialists for controlling machines. In fact, within the next decade, PhD level data scientists will stand a better chance than geologists to work in the O&G sector.
With the automation of routine technical decisions, the role of employees will be focused on analysing more complex matters. These include tasks that rely on human motor skills, creative problem solving, and extensive social interaction. When it comes to being sensitive to social, cultural, and ethical norms, machines are ill-equipped. This explains why Facebook and Google’s efforts to leverage AI as a means of restricting the distribution of some types of content have been tedious at best. It also brings us to another very important development—the emergence of new jobs.
Navigating Futuristic HR Realities: A Growth Trajectory in the Making
While the robot-driven economy is likely to usurp some jobs, we’ll also see existing jobs reconfigured and a host of entirely new occupations created. Research suggests that 3.5 million low-risk jobs have been born out of automation since 2001, in contrast to a meager 800,000 high-risk jobs lost. Amazon’s robot installation exercise is a classic example of the pay-offs from automation. Employees who previously stacked bins were trained to become robot operators, some shifted to receiving stations and those displaced were given brand new roles.
Robots are even starting to take on HR roles, and are transforming the way companies hire, engage, and manage their workforce. For hiring and engagement activities, AI-driven chatbots are performing functions ranging from storing employee information and extracting background data from various sources to engaging in long-winded conversation with potential recruits. What’s more, these automated hiring managers are available round the clock, which is good news for the overworked HR practitioner.
However, the advantages of AI in HR don’t end there. Nearly every other HR function is likely to be transformed. Training, for instance, will become more customised, catering to the diverse learning styles of employees from a range of departments and educational backgrounds. When faced with a multi-generational workforce, this might just be the key to creating a learning organisation.
Machine learning has also made it possible to analyse employee sentiments by monitoring their communications. For larger organisations with highly scattered HR functions, this could spell opportunity. Analysing natural language and the underlying emotions from email interactions can enable HR managers to measure employee satisfaction levels and even resolve workplace issues. One example of this is Google’s people analytics, which works by combining qualitative and quantitative data to check the pulse of its employees.
Contemporary HR analytics can help organisations determine the ideal candidate for a certain position, and potentially move past bias and discrimination. Using algorithms and psychographics, HR managers can study behavioural traits and core values of applicants to gain a better understanding of their strengths. This way, HR can analyse the potential recruits beyond their resumes and bypass any unconscious initial bias in the hiring process. Psychographics also proves to be valuable when it comes to determining the odds of a team’s success in a particular task. Each team member’s personality, interests, and work styles are analysed to find the best balance of characteristics to tackle a task.
The New Work Order: Evolution of Labour Roles
While technology is taking the load off HR teams’ shoulders, managers are now expected to deliver on higher-value services and human interfacing roles. The freed up time allows them to organise engagement activities and focus on upskilling employees. Regular training sessions are helping them stay relevant in a digitally transformed workplace, and partnering with universities is another area where HR can be instrumental in building the next-generation of workforce.
Industry leaders now agree that going forward, the new age workforce will have to focus on problem-solving critical tasks, collaborate with different stakeholders and adapt to a new technology-driven environment where people and machines work together. This new world – no longer dependent on large-scale manual labour – will worship creativity and innovation to keep reinventing, in a way that only humans can.