As the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) continues to disrupt all industries with artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning (ML), to name a few, the world of work is changing at lightning speed. Indeed, the concept of a “job” itself, which was created by the First Industrial Revolution, may well be destroyed by the Fourth. Photo: Laurent Gillieron/EPA

JOHANNESBURG – As the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) continues to disrupt all industries with artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning (ML), to name a few, the world of work is changing at lightning speed. Indeed, the concept of a “job” itself, which was created by the First Industrial Revolution, may well be destroyed by the Fourth. But what exactly does this mean for talent management and the future of work in your organisation?

Firstly, as innovations in cyber-physical systems enable more “gig” work and entrepreneurship, the notion remains that routine jobs will be replaced by automation, specifically in the white and pink collar (female-orientated jobs) sectors. However, systems change slowly and every preceding revolution has created more jobs than it destroyed. We’ve already seen a growth in 3D designers, ML specialists and rogue biohackers, and can expect even more jobs to be created than we have yet to realise. The opportunity to harness new technologies in innovative ways and create new job categories that require diverse skills and abilities is great for established organisations in South Africa, where many communities still remain untouched by industrialised lifestyles. Not only does it open the floodgates for job creation but also for career development.

Secondly, employee loyalty is no longer a factor for millennials and Generation Z who seek employment that fulfils their needs for money, freedom, career development, skills development and social justice. According to Forbes, both these generations are more critical and demanding of their employers and wouldn’t hesitate to leave a company to an organisation that offers less pay but has better sustainability policies and opportunities for career advancement. In addition, the gig economy, a free-market system where independent workers are contracted over a short term, and entrepreneurship is rising steadily. Enabled by digital platforms, individuals can now be part of the national and global economy without the need for proximity or being part of a company structure with its associated rules. Many millennials have already opted to choose gig work and its related benefits over fixed employment.

So how best can your organisation prepare for the future of work and the talent management concerns it may bring? These four trends are already shifting the way innovative global companies are working.

1. A new approach to company policies

Often, employees are ready and able to propose innovative solutions to problems, however, company culture and organisational systems prevent them from either voicing or applying their approaches. By re-evaluating the workplace and investigating processes and systems, organisations will be able to create fast, dynamic and creative spaces that encourage freedom, and the skills and abilities to fail forward and apply critical and design thinking. This especially includes how workers are treated – from meals for all dietary requirements at the cafeteria and bathroom facilities for all abilities and gender identities to remote work options, flexible work hours and how staff are allowed to dress and decorate themselves and their spaces – could potentially make or break their levels of engagement and innovation.

2. The public lab

With the rise of social media, company operations, values and work processes were put under the public spotlight. As Trendwatching’s “The Future of Work” report identifies, consumers are increasingly becoming more wise to key information about large conglomerates. And in the 4IR, consumers’ expectations will be to experience aspects of a business or brand that generally lies behind its four walls through participation and absolute transparency. Enter the age of the Public Lab: Innovative spaces and experiences that expose a brand’s work and staff to public view. In Tokyo, cosmetics brand Shiseido opened their Global Innovation Center where visitors can create their own cosmetics, see inside the company’s research laboratories and purchase limited edition products while, in South Africa, Sealand has opened up a concept store where shoppers can be involved in the creation of their own sustainable products.

3. A diverse, informed workforce

In a fast-changing world, where technology is not the only thing impacting our lives, talent management within an organisation is imperative. Organisations must look at upskilling their staff in terms of agility, anti-fragility, creativity and innovation. Although many employees are truly creative and innovative, others firmly believe they are not. Mentorship programmes and other workplace experience workshops will enable creativity, complex problem solving, agility, change and rapid innovation across departments, not just the creative ones. However, these skills and abilities are complex in themselves and will take time, exercise and layers of engagement before any benefits are seen, and organisations that do not invest early could potentially also exit the market early.

4. The network effect

As digital transformation encroaches on every aspect of our lives, more and more individuals are opting to enter the gig economy, performing temporary or freelance jobs that allows them flexibility and freedom. According to Statistics South Africa, temporary employment in Mzansi rose from 2.6 million in 2017 to 3.9 million in 2018.And while the negative (loneliness) and positive (increased productivity) effects of this shift are numerous, the gig economy also presents a concern around access for mentorship. Trendwatching reports that mentorship programmes in the future will harness the power of networking where mentorship services will help staff and freelancers cultivate their skills and abilities while enabling their career development. Already, we’ve seen a rise in communal office spaces for remote and freelance workers in the form of WeWork, and Venture Workspace, Cube Working Space and Spaces in South Africa. In the 4IR, these coworking spaces will move online with startups such as UK-based Leapers already offering a Slack-type community for freelancers while US-based Quilt launched an app to facilitate connections between professional women to help them host gatherings outside their homes.

The University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development (USB-ED) offers the only Future Studies course in Africa and the institute engages many of these trained futurists in short courses to enable this capacity within their organisations. For more information on this and other courses, click here.

Doris Viljoen is a Senior Futurist at the Institute for Futures Research and USB-ED.

BUSINESS REPORT