The Future of Work is Human

The Future of Work is Human

By Peter Cheese


There is nothing more important than to debate where we are going to take our skills development and understand the future of work. There is a lot of chat at the moment about the of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and this uncertain world that we live in where it is much harder to predict what is going to happen next.

If you put a £10 bet on in 2016 that Donald Trump would end up in the White House, that Britain would vote for Brexit and that Leicester City would win the Premiership, you would be living a very comfortable life now in the Caribbean.

The world is changing dramatically. The debate about globalisation is shifting from a world that was seen to be about openness and the movement of goods and services everywhere, to an agenda that is beginning to shift towards nationalism and populism. This of course is driving a lot of political uncertainty.



I have been at the Labour conference for the past two years for example and the difference is unbelievable. Two years ago it was like going into a morgue and riven by infighting, while this year is was like the second coming.

We all know that uncertainty is bad for business, but we have to get over that. We are not going to find more certainty, we have to create more agility and more adaptability.

If you look at the jobs growth in this country you will see a lot of it is coming from through small enterprises and the gig economy. A much more diverse and dispersed way of working. Young people are telling us they would much rather work in a small business where they have a voice and I have opportunity to grow.

The young generation want agency, they want the ability to influence the agenda.

We’ve all heard the theory that half of the children in school today will work in jobs that don’t currently exist, but it is also true that they will have many different jobs. We will move from a ‘job for life’ to a ‘life of jobs’. This is in particular a result of the rapid and ubiquitous impact of technology.

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and Internet of Things, are changing the way we live far quicker than anything we have ever seen before. There is not an industrial sector that isn’t considering technology to increase output. Technology is being seen as the key to overcome productivity problems and skills shortages.

It is a profoundly important time for us to understand that a lot of the jobs are going to change in the future so what is that going to mean to our skills base?

We already have a deficit of skilled workers and not just in areas like technology, I keep hearing from people in logistics that there is a shortage of drivers. Well, what’s going to fill that gap? Driverless vehicles.

In the UK we have one of the highest skilled work forces in Europe, but we also have quite a profound skills mismatch and it’s going to get worse. We have an economy that has created more low skill jobs than high skill jobs.

Whose fault if that? Well interestingly employers have not been investing enough to create jobs that best suit the skills of the work force. The challenge is complicated further when you consider issues like stress in the work place and inclusion, we are still debating things like gender diversity. There’s a lot of things we really need to get our heads around and that’s before we even look at the impact of technology.

If we just sit here and let all this stuff be done to us we will be in an even worse place.

The future of work is human, but we have to collaborate now. We need to figure out what the future is going to result in, what skills will we need, how to we encourage employers to invest in the work place properly to build the kinds of jobs that are good for people?

Co-botics, we work alongside technology and are not ruled by it, that is the way forward. There are so many ways we can use the truly human skills to do that.



What are employers looking for? Well more and more we hear they need people who can come in and communicate properly, who can engage and have empathy and collaborative skills. We know in some places of work the qualifications are being taken off CVs before they are being presented to managers. We can assume that young people have the qualifications, but do they have these other skills?

The things that we are really going to need and that make us different are our human skills. We need critical thinking, the ability to analyse facts, understand what is going on and draw some conclusions and take action. I don’t care what the job is going to be, we need to have that. We have a young generation who get their truth from Facebook. But what does Facebook do? Well if you like reading right wing dogma, here is some more of it.

In England we are heading for increasing fragmentation of qualifications at the precise point in time when we need to find the common core.

Too often we’ve failed to understand supply and demand. Instead what we’ve done is shove in from the supply side and hope that is results in the demand side. Nobody knows that the jobs of the future will be, but business should know it has the core capabilities that it requires and what the human skills.

It is shocking when you look at the data just how poor the investment has been in the country in work place skills. We are not creating the jobs that utilise the skills that are there and we’ve been under investing in the work place.

Why had that been happening? Well a supply of cheap labour, too much short termism, and still a conviction in many business leaders that ‘If I train them they are just going to leave’.

We can’t depend on business to train the workforce of the future. We have to reinvent how we do learning, particularly in the work place. We’ve not done a good job of this. We have to embed much more the science of learning in to the heart of the learning system and then we have to use technology to help create a much better learning environment.

We need broad co-operation, there needs to be a recognition that there is policy that needs to be understood and influenced, we have to think about how business and education work together.

This is a really exciting time, but we have to grab these things, we have to have affective debate, and we have to make sure we work collectively and share our best thinking.


Watch Peter's talk from Symposium 2017: Thriving in the future, or view all content here.

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