An opinion piece by Donal Laverty, Consulting Partner. This article first appeared in the Irish News on 12 March 2019.  

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to delegates at CO3’s Leadership Conference about ‘The future of work’ – one of continuous disruption; of shifting demographics; innovation and technological enablement. It is a world where every organisation will have to rise to the challenge of enabling an empowered, democratic and agile workforce – and that’s certainly no different here in Northern Ireland.

As we sit on the cusp of the fifth industrial revolution, the pace of change is 300 times faster and 3000 times the impact of the first industrial revolution. Automation and artificial intelligence are replacing human tasks and jobs, changing the skills that organisations are looking for in their people. These seismic changes raise huge organisational, talent and recruitment issues at a time when organisations face unprecedented risks and disruption.

Business-as-usual is no longer an option as disruption across geography and industry is forcing organisations to re-examine themselves. It is this inability to adapt quickly that is exposing many organisations who are consistently not spotting new trends, who are turning a blind eye to what is happening in their sector and who just aren’t embracing agile working like they need to be. Business leaders in the pack are disrupting traditional rules of business; they’re pioneering change.

The shape that the workforce of the future takes will be the result of these complex and competing forces. Whilst some of these forces are certain, the speed at which they will unfold can be hard to predict. The development of automation enabled by technologies including robotics and artificial intelligence brings the promise of higher productivity; and with productivity comes economic growth, increased efficiencies, advanced safety, and convenience. But these technologies also raise difficult questions about the broader impact of automation on jobs, skills, wages, and the nature of work itself.

What is clear, is that automation will result in a massive reclassification and rebalancing of work. As technologies converge, some sectors and roles, even entire sections of the workforce will lose out, but others will be created. We do not subscribe to the frenzy that millions will lose their jobs to automation, but what we do subscribe to is that the biggest challenge for business will be finding the skills they need to remain relevant and sustainable.

Whilst we know that technological advances require new and emergent skills in robotics, automation and technical skills, key ‘soft-skills’ organisations will require include problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation. These are the skills that will leverage the competitive advantage but one skill is the key to the future, one skill which stands out from the rest which will be the ultimate necessity for future success – adaptability. Adaptability is the key to the future.

In this changing world employers and individuals will have to adapt to survive. The key messages for employers is to provide leadership and direction in developing the skills needed for the future of work. Develop your organisational resilience to withstand the pace of change and drive innovation and collaboration as your new business model.

To find out more contact Donal on T 028 9032 3466 or email