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The next economic epoch is already on our doorstep. Is your organization ready to cross the threshold?

By Liz Bernier

You wake gently, the silent alarm in your smart device rousing you with minimal disruption to your sleep cycle. Any other morning, you would feel peaceful, well rested and relaxed.

Not this morning.

Today is the final day of your aptitude assessments, and you can’t help but feel more than a little anxious.

Nerves aren’t strictly necessary – these assessments aren’t binding. They can’t dictate what to do with your career path; they simply provide information. The assessments point you toward your Skill Set Archetype, or the capabilities you have that are portable and transferable between many occupational streams – regardless of labour disruption and change.

Finding your Skill Set Archetype is one of the most important ways to determine your direction – the body of work your skills and competencies would be most suited toward. Since 2020, Canada’s provincial and federal governments have made these assessments available to anyone entering the labour force, or re-skilling at any point in their careers. Now, in 2030, there is a clear and cohesive picture of how these competencies, or Archetypes, align with labour market needs.

You finish your breakfast while swiping through the assessment info materials on your screen, one last time. As you do, you notice a link at the very bottom of the screen.

It says, “Alternative Stream: Single Employer Static Roles (SESR).”

“Historically, most workers prepare to enter the workforce by honing the skills required to succeed at a single job. Auditors learned how to audit; auto mechanics learned how to fix cars. Yet this skills-based approach is rapidly becoming obsolete.” – The Intelligence Revolution

They used to call these “jobs.” You know the concept still exists in smaller, struggling, fragmented sectors of the global economy. But many of these jobs are at best fragmented and at worst obsolete, rendered unnecessary as a result of automation, technological disruption and paradigm shifts to the economy of work. You work with a single employer, in a single role, performing a set of predefined tasks that change very little from day to day – and certainly do not allow for the level of creativity, innovation and adaptability that you hope for in your work.

You hover over the link for only a moment – then flip to the next webpage.

It’s time to find your place in the new world of work.

Trying to predict the future is always an interesting exercise, and one with varying degrees of success. Of course, none of us can say for sure how the world of work will change and evolve over the next couple of decades – and for most of us, exact predictions aren’t the intent. Instead, we seek to identify the emerging trends and patterns that, together, comprise the seismic shift the working world is facing – the “Intelligence Revolution.”

The Intelligence Revolution is a small phrase with a big impact, and it’s one you’ll likely be seeing quite a bit over the next few months. It lends itself, both in title and theme, to a few high-visibility HR landmarks – the 2018 Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) Annual Conference & Trade Show, for one, and HRPA and Deloitte’s much-cited white paper that coined the term.

The Intelligence Revolution is the epoch next in line to the Industrial Revolution, according to the 2017 white paper. While the lengthy, drawn-out process of the Industrial Revolution had numerous phases and a great deal of technological advancement, the paradigm shift that is the Intelligence Revolution is marked by one critical factor: the very definition of what we call a “job” is fundamentally changing.

This brave new world of work is hallmarked by automation, rapid technological advancement, machine learning, innovation, robotics and even the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). These trends are much talked about, but they’re also quite tangible: by 2018, up to 42 per cent of Canada’s workforce will be affected by automation. A full 30 per cent of new robots being built will be capable of working with humans. And 41 per cent of companies have already adopted AI technology into their workforce in some shape or form, according to the white paper.

And the key factors at play – machine learning, computer power and machines exceeding humans – are already creating significant impacts in terms of how work is performed.

“The Industrial Revolution aggregated work into jobs and people went to where the work was. The Intelligence Revolution will disaggregate jobs and the work will go to where people are,” the paper reads.

So, location-based “jobs” are far from an employment imperative these days, and that’s a trend that will likely increase in prominence. But what else is changing about what we call a “job?”

The gig economy

It’s not just where you’re sitting when you carry out your day-to-day work that is changing dramatically – it’s the very structure of your job itself. Instead of full-time, permanent employment with a single employer, there are many more diverse employment relationships coming to prominence. Working for multiple employers, working on a freelance or project basis and working as a contractor or third party provider are trends we’re seeing more and more, and with that, we in HR are tasked to figure out how best to manage these less conventional workforces.

“Job hopping,” or having multiple different employers make appearances on one’s resume, is par for the course now, and the “gig economy” is the new standard.

“The gig economy changes the nature of work, because participants act as both employees and self-employers, scheduling their work based on their own availability, not a corporate time clock,” according to the paper. “It changes the nature of a career, because people can easily work for several companies at a time, not just one.”

It also changes the very structure of an organization, the paper says.

“It changes the nature of the organization, pushing companies to adopt new structures to account for contingent workers and other non-traditional employees. Some gig economy pioneers like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb have succeeded by doing away with large, hierarchical organizational structures altogether.”

As the contingent workforce grows rapidly, employers need to be prepared. About 66 per cent of leaders believe their use of off-balance-sheet talent will grow significantly over the next three to five years, according to 2017 Deloitte research. And that same research found that 94 per cent of the net job growth in the U.S. between 2005 and 2015 came from alternative employment arrangements.

Career archetypes

In a workforce without specific, singular job titles – and one where repetitive or rote tasks are automated – the focus naturally shifts more toward competency-based knowledge work.

One element identified by The Intelligence Revolution is that in the midst of this shift, employment will move beyond the concept of “skills.”

“Historically, most workers prepare to enter the workforce by honing the skills required to succeed at a single job. Auditors learned how to audit; auto mechanics learned how to fix cars. Yet this skills-based approach is rapidly becoming obsolete, as skills quickly become out of date. The shelf-life of a learned skill is now about five years,” the white paper says.

And in this climate of constant disruption, that shelf-life might be even less – proving skills a less and less reliable way to ensure employment stability.

“Instead of focusing training and education on technical skills, Canadians are better served to think in terms of sustainable capabilities that are portable and transferable between many occupations – where AI and robots cannot compete in the foreseeable future – and that will pass the test of disruption. These include talents such as collaboration, adaptability and conceptual thinking that will always be a competitive advantage for humans over machines.”

For this reason, the paper identified eight new workforce Archetypes that are – relatively speaking – future-proof:

  • Curator: Designs and delivers customized experiences
  • Protector: Interacts with humans when human agency is critical
  • Performer: Masters of the art of entertainment
  • Builder: Brings something physical or virtual into existence
  • Scorekeeper: Safeguards rules and standards for humans and robots
  • Integrator: Makes connections between humans and systems
  • Innovator: Connects ideas by thinking creatively
  • Influencer: Challenges the status quo to achieve results

The new rules

All of these changes will come with the corresponding need for us to adjust – to be agile, forward-thinking and proactive. HR professionals, employers, job-seekers, government and educational institutions alike will need to make significant alterations to business as usual.

The way taxes are collected, companies are regulated and the social safety net is structured are among the pressing issues for the government to consider, while reevaluating curricula and assessing the needs of the employment market will fall to educational institutions.

Businesses, on the other hand, will need an unwavering commitment to continuous learning and development in order to future-proof their workforces. Among other recommendations, the white paper suggests:

Replacing static learning and development programs with dynamic, continuous learning opportunities.

Making learning available on-demand, 24/7 to all employees on any digital platform: computer, tablet or smartphone.

Tapping into the wealth of off-site, virtual learning networks such as massive online open courses (MOOCs).

Organizations should also strive to empower individuals to take control of their own careers, by taking steps such as:

  • Helping employees work effectively in an environment of networked teams and continuous, rapid change.
  • Delivering a holistic, end-to-end employee experience to a workforce that will increasingly include full-time, contract, contingent and crowd-sourced workers.
  • Developing new platforms and structures to help workers find work and manage their careers in a more uncertain world.
  • Shifting talent strategy to identify critical roles, understand the disruptions that will likely affect those roles, experiment with the technologies positioned to disrupt them, and build new capabilities to be ready for the future starting now.

This new world of work is certainly a significant departure from what we’ve known to this point – and the sheer scale of change can, at times, seem overwhelming. But if we approach the challenge proactively – one step at a time – we can lead the change ourselves. 

Liz Bernier is a communications specialist at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

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