What should business be doing now to future-proof their workforce in a world of technological disruption?

Answering this question has been the main objective on the final project for my MBA at Imperial College Business School. I’ve had the pleasure of doing this in collaboration with the Virgin Unite team – in the context of the 100% Human at Work programme.

Read: Employees are human beings, not resources

The research analysed how organisations should equip their workforce with the capabilities needed in a world of exponential technological change, and conceptualised a practical framework to assist businesses in that undertaking.

The first obstacle I found when addressing the research question was that the academic literature on the future of work in the context of disruptive technologies, and its impact on businesses, is still nascent. I, therefore, relied heavily on abundant (and growing) practitioner reports. After weeks of diving into the literature and familiarising myself with the subject, I carried out a series of interviews with representatives from the 100% Human network. The interviews helped validate some of the key themes extracted from the literature, and provided real-life examples of how businesses of different sizes and industries are approaching these changes.

Interview data confirmed that despite the consensus that technology is transforming the nature of work, short-termism and the exponential rate of change are getting in the way of businesses planning for future-proofing their workforce.

“We anticipate that future will leverage human skills, empathy, social and emotional intelligence, but more than anything individuals will continually have to learn and upskill themselves to remain employable.”

- Tumelo Seaketso, Director, Deloitte

The level of disruption caused by technology will depend on the industry, the types of tasks currently performed by humans, and the value added by humans doing those jobs. Regardless, continuous learning and adaptation was singled out by interviewees as the number one capability organisations need to develop to weather technological revolution. Interviewed organisations highlighted the pivotal role played by leaders in a firm’s pursuit of adaptability. Future-looking leaders need to empathise with and galvanise the workforce to foster a culture of exploration, empowerment and knowledge sharing.

Also, adaptation depends on an organisation’s ability to explore trends and translate them into change initiatives to experiment with. This requires companies to open up their boundaries and collaborate at different levels. Interviews surfaced that while collaboration between business is strong, further efforts are needed to work with governments to understand the evolving demand and supply of skills.

Virgin Unite, 100% Human at Work

Based on the insights gathered from the literature and interviews, I derived a framework (shown above), which works as a starting guide for organisations to look at the future of their workforce through the adaptability lens. It is based on the premise that future jobs will leverage essential human skills like creativity or critical thinking that are augmented through technology. I found that this optimistic view is widely shared by the technology sector, but contended by others.

Nevertheless, this is the right time to discuss these differences, and see the impacts of this transformation, as something we can shape with our decisions, rather than something that happens upon us. We should start by picturing the desired organisations of the future and judge what choices to make today to help us get there.

I would like to thank the Virgin Unite team for the opportunity and your incredible support and all interviewees for their time and insights to make this project happen. I look forward to the New Year when we’ll build on the work I’ve already done through workshops and toolkits to share the model with the 100% Human at Work network. 

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