In the future of work it’s jobs, not people, that will become redundant

workers Cambodia

World Bank/Chhor Sokunthea A garment industry worker sews garter to a skirt in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author:  Leena Nair, Chief Human Resources Officer, Unilever

I am likely stating the obvious but it needs to be stated as often as possible – the world is changing and it is changing fast. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is blurring the lines between the real and the technological world and challenging what it means to be human.

Yet people are clearly at the heart of all organizational transformations generated by this phenomenon. We see this, both in the transformation we are driving within Unilever but also when we look outside, across and beyond our industry.

All of this is affects how people will experience work, whether it’s new operating models that challenge hierarchy, new career models that allow for different experiences, a borderless workplace that allows for flexible resourcing, hyper-personalization in the workplace or the need to close a growing skills gap through a culture of lifelong learning.

There are, however, three things that I believe will remain an indisputable and a constant reality through all these changes and they are both grim and reassuring, depending on how you look at them.

  1. An individual’s ability to earn a livelihood is changing and, in most cases, reducing. The impact of automation is redrawing the shape of all organizations. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report suggests the human share of labour hours will drop from 71% to 58% by 2025. Machines and algorithms will increase their contribution to specific job tasks by an average of 57%.

Nearly 50% of companies expect that automation will lead to a reduction of the full-time workforce by 2022. The consumer goods industry is feeling the impact of this faster and more heavily than most other industries and Unilever is no exception.

  1. The demand for human skills is not in decline. There is a net positive outlook for jobs despite significant job disruption, and human skills, as well as jobs with distinctly human traits, are still in demand. According to the Future of Jobs report, 75 million current jobs will be displaced by the shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms, but 133 million new jobs will be created as well.

I have always believed that technology can be used to help define and complement the human in all of us. As such, the need to keep developing our human capital has not diminished – it can be achieved through the power of purpose, the power of lifelong learning and the ability to harness everyone’s human potential.

  1. Finally, the employee-employer relationship is transforming for two reasons:
  • We are clearly shifting to an increasingly borderless workforce in the form of the networks of people who make a living that is dependent on a specific company but work without any formal employment agreement with said company. Every company’s value chain consists not just of its own employees but millions of others including gig workers, contingent workers, partner employees and more. There is a greater need today than ever before to redefine an organization’s systems to embrace this outer core.
  • We are also dealing with increased human longevity which is creating new challenges of living and working that will require greater flexibility than ever before. Employees need the ability to go in and out of the traditional employee lifecycle, moving from the usual part-time and full-time arrangements to more fluid ones that allow them the flexibility of committing more sporadically while also making time for family, reskilling, the pursuit of a purpose or personal passion, and so on.

When organizational strategies are juxtaposed against the above realities, it becomes clear that companies have a responsibility to address the human impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We can deliver on this responsibility by:

Committing to generating and sustaining employability across our value chain and not just the inner core, while continuing to drive our organizational transformation through the power of purpose and lifelong learning coupled with radical new ways of reskilling and redeploying talent.

  • Driving transparency, accountability and action in the open talent economy in the form of new labour models that take advantage of this phenomenon in a responsible and sustainable way. There is evidence that suggests a distinct lack of social safety nets in this new labour model from wages to working conditions to diversity issues, and action is needed in this space.Committing to generating and sustaining employability across our value chain and not just the inner core, while continuing to drive our organizational transformation through the power of purpose and lifelong learning coupled with radical new ways of reskilling and redeploying talent.

We need to reimagine the future of work and employment by redefining the employee cycle as well as how workers help deliver our business and create a mechanism that integrates the two.

This is the new social contract of work. Jobs become redundant from time to time but people do not need to. It is possible to create employment for life if we are willing to learn, unlearn and relearn our entire lives.

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