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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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The Future of Jobs - Artificial Intelligence is Still Artificial

The ever-expanding role of technology

To review popular news stories over the past 11 months, 2014 would seem to signal a banner year for the technology sector. Leading smart device manufacturers rolled out wearable accessories: smart watches, glasses and even clothing. This November has already seen major announcements from computing juggernauts, with Google and Apple unveiling new products and substantial enhancements to their operating ecosystems. The tech industry has also begun pouring massive amounts of money into persuading consumers to abandon their physical wallets in favor of digital versions -- the most recent iteration being Apple Pay. It appears that everything that can be automated is being automated. Microchip implants can trigger the release of hormones in the body. Exoskeletons help the disabled walk. Robotic limbs can connect to the nervous system. On September 5, a revolutionary artificial organ, the Carmat heart, was implanted into a French patient.

Soon, Google’s driverless car could render Uber’s still novel business model obsolete. And you could be paying for the service using Google Wallet, with capital you obtained from trading Bitcoins.

Yet with every technological advance, there have followed the technophobes, the Luddites and the prophets to warn of the day when robots shall overthrow their human masters. Six minutes ago (as of the writing of this sentence), USA Today published an article pondering when machines will do our jobs. We’re here to assure you that human workers aren’t going anywhere.

As we discuss in our eBook “The Future of Talent in the Contingent Workforce,” tomorrow’s technological innovations will speak to collaboration, not isolation. It’s true, transactions will increasingly be performed in the cloud, through open architecture and with emphasis placed on mobility, social networks and big data. Yet these developments will continue to redefine and create jobs, along with the talent needed for the future.

Artificial intelligence is still artificial

In the 1980s, a rules-based computer responded to a series of commands by asking its programmer, “Am I alive?” It caused quite a ruckus. Until then, the idea of sentient computers had been reserved for fans of speculative fiction who imagined, perhaps even fretted about, a world in which machines with artificial intelligence could self-actualize and take over. Researchers eventually concluded that the computer’s shocking inquiry was nothing more than the result of a monotonic conclusion. Today, however, the notion of sentient computers, viable artificial intelligence, and even a sort of singularity are no longer the trappings of fiction.

Everything our global societies rely on will be inextricably tied to technology. And there’s a fair amount of gloom and doom associated with the concept of this kind of automation. Yet, we are no longer talking about robots replacing workers on assembly lines. Most experts agree that computers have a long way to go before mastering the “common sense” test in artificial intelligence. And while tomorrow’s talent will not be focused on recognizing patterns and taking actions -- things the machines can automate and enable -- they will be responsible for designing the curricula that direct computers toward the patterns to discern.

They will be the programmers, the teachers and the counselors who determine what actions the computers should perform and the ends they should serve. Technology will demand talent who can direct the common sense attributes of the programming through scientific and creative thought.

Interactions will replace transactions

In a future world that will trace its origins to the social generation of the Millennials, the enduring value of productivity will be measured by jobs that require complex interactions as opposed to the production-based and transactional work performed by talent in the 20th and 21st centuries. Employees will interact with other employees, customers and vendors. The decisions they make will be multi-dimensional and founded on knowledge, judgment, experience and instinct. Problem solving will replace material production or simple transactions such as direct purchases. However, that’s not to say the need for or number of talent will be reduced by the presence of more automation. As reported by McKinsey, a leading consultancy:

“Technology can replace a checkout clerk at a supermarket but not a marketing manager. Machines can log deposits and dispense cash, but they can't choose an advertising campaign. Process cookbooks can show how to operate a modern warehouse but not what happens when managers band together to solve a crisis.

“Machines can help managers make more decisions more effectively and quickly. The use of technology to complement and enhance what talented decision makers do rather than to replace them calls for a very different kind of thinking about the organizational structures that best facilitate their work, the mix of skills companies need, hiring and developing talent, and the way technology supports high-value labor. Technology and organizational strategies are inextricably conjoined in this new world of performance improvement.”

The growth of interactions signals a large shift in the nature of economic activity, and one that will likely continue into the future. By the dawn of the 21st century, only 15 percent of U.S. employees undertook transformational work such as mining coal, running heavy machinery, or operating production lines. Consider the recent example of automated check-out counters at stores such as Home Depot and Fresh & Easy. The systems are estimated to have reduced wait times at registers by 40 percent for customers.

And yet this automation did not eliminate the need for talent. Those workers who formerly operated the registers, a manual process, were redeployed in store aisles as sales staff or customer care representatives, a considerably higher-yield use of time.

In 2009, according to data published by BLS and McKinsey, production-based jobs had declined by 2.7 percent. Transaction-based jobs fell by 0.7 percent. Work predicated on interactions, however, rose by 4.8 percent.

If the current trend continues, the overwhelming majority of talent over the next 35 years will be involved in interactions-based work -- up to 75 percent, according to a survey we issued to hiring managers and HR leaders across the United States, in companies with over 300 employees and an active contingent labor program.

Careers of the future

It’s impossible to predict exactly which professions and industries will thrive, or still exist, decades from now. Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics throws in the towel, choosing instead to discuss age, gender and race in terms of the future labor force. In 2001, Time Magazine offered its predictions of tomorrow’s occupations. They included:

• Issue engineering

• Gene programmers

• Data miners

• Hot-Line handymen

• Virtual reality actors

• Turing testers

• Knowledge engineers

Noted futurists Glen Hiemstra and Michio Kaku contributed others:

• Entertainment writers, performers, actors

• Software developers and engineers

• Personal and professional services: lawyers, maids, personal trainers, teachers

• Information services

• Medical

• Bioengineers

• Gene programmers

The most interesting aspect of these lists, when compiled and compared, is the consistency. For years, the BLS has touted health and technology as the two biggest growth industries. Our futurists seem to believe these industries will continue to grow and flourish. Even with technology enabling humans and automating processes, future talent will still be needed to program the computers, provide medical services (even if those would seem to imply genetics and cloning), maintain and build the new infrastructures, educate both computers and users, provide entertainment and deliver professional or personal support services.

The prominence of online staffing platforms also supports the ongoing relevance of personal services, particularly as companies and consumers decouple. Consider lawyers, however. As technology evolves, so too will regulatory standards, issues of compliance and new sets of ethics. Attorneys will remain vital in helping to navigate complex legislative developments. Entertainers will also endure. CGI technology may streamline the costs, production time and editing processes of filmmaking, however talent will still be crucial to providing the human qualities of motion capture and voice that bring characters to life.

Short-term disruptions, long-term gains

Jobs that require creative intelligence, negotiation, persuasion, perception, creativity or care aren’t likely to be automated. That means engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, Web developers, artists, lawyers, business executives, nurses and doctors aren’t going anywhere.

“It’s not about learning specific skills, it’s about having the cognitive abilities to adapt to technologies,” said Carl Benedikt Frey, co-author of a 2013 University of Oxford study about the scope of automation.

Any type of process job can be subject to improvements in technology, yet that doesn’t imply replacement. Jobs that require face-to-face communications and interactions will need human talent. And with interaction-based work growing in nature, new classifications of human workers will be created and demanded to meet future business needs. The short-term disruptions, historically, have given way to longer-term gains. Consider the introduction of desktop computers and word processing, which eradicated scores of typists. Yet the businesses that arose to support these PCs led to the development of entire industries, responsible for the creation of millions of jobs worldwide.

Staffing professionals will play an increasingly vital role

In every evolution of the economy and the workforce, staffing professionals have played a pivotal role in curating the relationship between employers and talent, ensuring compliance and connecting businesses to exceptional candidates. The expertise of staffing curators will become even more important as technology and automation reshape the composition of the future workforce.

• When hiring managers or MSPs need talent they can’t find elsewhere, they turn to staffing professionals. This is most often the case when rare or unusual positions arise. As new skills and new job titles emerge, staffing curators will form the frontline for pioneering recruitment efforts.

• Staffing curators are early adopters of innovations in sourcing technologies, online talent marketplaces and recruiting platforms. Their involvement in these communities, coupled with their willingness to explore new technologies, helps them identify burgeoning categories of talent and skill sets. They also begin engaging with this talent earlier than hiring managers and corporate recruiters, allowing them to cultivate relationships and build networks.

• Staffing curators are always sourcing passive candidates to stock their pools with fresh talent. As advances in technology change talent needs, progressive staffing professionals may already have next-generation professionals on their benches.

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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