The world of work is changing. Calling someone a Luddite today gives the impression that they are a thoughtless opponent of progress, resistant to technological change and guilty of diehard stubbornness. But as Carl Benedict Frey argues in his recent book The Technology Trap: Capital, Labour, and Power in the Age of Automation, the important truth is that the Luddites were right – in part.
In his book he explores the impact of technological revolutions. It is not up for debate or question that the generations that came after the Luddites have benefited from the extraordinary fruits of the industrial revolution.
The world was transformed by the mechanisation of agriculture and manufacturing, fuelling an astonishing surge in living standards. Sadly, though, most of those who lived through the massive economic upheaval were not amongst its main beneficiaries.
Spinning forward to now, the central concern of Frey’s research is that unless we are careful, our latest technology revolution may well turn out to be a tumultuous rerun of the Industrial Revolution. An opinion poll by the Pew Research Centre survey in 2017 found that 85 percent of US respondents favoured policies to restrict the rise of the robots. The Luddite impulse may well return as employees are hesitating to use robotic technology, even when it can assist them, for fear of losing their jobs.
Frey’s analysis is worth taking seriously because the Oxford economic historian and economist has researched the subject deeply and has co-authored one of the most widely cited studies on automation. His 2013 paper, written with the technologist Michael Osborne estimated that 47 percent of US jobs were at risk of automation because of the impact of artificial intelligence. Frey is certainly open to the idea that AI could result in a massive productivity surge just as we saw in Industrial Revolution. The danger is that without being well managed and controlled, the benefits may be unevenly distributed and bring further short term organisational and employment upheaval.
The countervailing view
The process of introducing software robots to save workers time is something we have done to ourselves as well as clients.
For me and my team here, the challenges and opportunities we are working on with the likes of Thoughtnomy and our partners all fall under our Human Resource Solutions (HRS) world. I’m a big believer that technology no longer just enables change; it drives it. Technology has evolved from being a support function to being core to business and operations. Yet, as technology becomes more important, there is a danger that we may forget the real key assets of our organisations – the Homosapiens. The living, breathing, emotional bodies that are the lifeblood of any organisation.
Here at CGI Human Resource Solutions (HRS) we care about the employee’s journeys and experiences, along with the technology, solutions and services that make it possible for them to seamlessly navigate the various policies and processes they encounter. This starts at recruitment and travels through induction onboarding, working arrangements, the potentially thorny subject of rewards and bonuses, performance management, the growth area of wellbeing as well as the exit stage of work.
The 100 year life with 50 year-plus careers
The world of work and careers for us and our clients has changed. We no longer learn for 20 years, go off and work for an organisation for 40 years and then spend the next ten years spending our company retirement pension. It isn’t the case anymore that the majority of recruitment occurs for young people and that we only have to worry about exits and pensions for people later on in life. As we begin to see and experience the workforce implications of what Lynda Gratton a British organisational theorist, consultant, and Professor of Management Practice at London Business School describes as the 100 year life, career norms are becoming highly individualised and contains many potentially different tangential and parallel chapters.
Young people may well delay settling into jobs and have an “explorer” phase from 18 to 30, then change track several times in what could be 50 year-plus careers. They will need further education or retraining at different stages.
The Japanese government has endorsed this vision as an all-embracing policy priority as prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet office assembled ministers, academics, as well as business and union leaders into a Council for Designing the 100-Year-Life Society. Its recommendations included big increases in care workers’ pay, and sharply expanding “recurrent” education to facilitate higher employment among the elderly.
This has had the knock-on effect of business taking up the challenge. Nursery school operators have expanded into care homes. Entrepreneurs are opening gyms for senior citizens. Robotics makers are creating devices to help the elderly work longer.
This isn’t the solely a Japanese idea. Businesses elsewhere have long started to recognise the value of the “silver” dollar, euro or pound. Baby-boomers already live very different lives from their parents at the same age. They are demanding everything from homes, cars and technology tailored to their needs, to cosmetics, dating apps and even adventure holidays. They are maintaining and entering careers and employment until much later in life.
Technology will always be part of the answer
Employees come in and go out of the organisation, at different life stages with increasingly individually customised arrangements (e.g. part-time, full-time, student, working from home) for ultimately a longer employee life span. Imagine just keeping track of the pensions and payrolls of this increasing complex aspect of work, and this, some people will tell you is the easy, commodity stuff that anyone can do when it comes to technology solutions.
We don’t think that at all, and with over 250 clients and a specialist knowledge base of the UK HR and Payroll market spanning over 40 years, we believe we are well placed to bring innovation and change to all aspects of workforce employment. This could mean using our payroll IP SaaS platform ‘ePayfact’ through to the Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence.
So coming back to my titular question, would you be willing to let a machine take your job? Yes, if it freed me up to do something better or something that the machine couldn’t do.
Here at CGI, I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with, and for an organisation that can make that possible. Over the next twelve months we are going to dive into more detail on the technologies, innovations and stories on how we are making this possible. My fellow contributors and I will look to callout and share the value adding insights and takeaways that we think will aid you on all things technology and the future of work.
If you would like to know more and connect please reach out.