The future of our jobs

How automation will affect jobs and what leaders can do to prepare their organisations for the future

Karlien Vanderheyden

By Karlien Vanderheyden

Professor of Organisational Behaviour

08 June 2022

Source: Management Team (09/05/2022)

Automation will make most jobs look different in the future. Some jobs will disappear, while new jobs will also be created. One job that could disappear in the future is that of administrative assistant, for example. They will be replaced by a robot assistant that will sort through our incoming emails, schedule meetings, keep track of dates, etc. Examples of possible new jobs include an ‘algorithm bias auditor’, a ‘human-machine teaming manager’ or a ‘food engineer’ who works with 3D food printing. Research shows that automation will not only affect manual workers or the low-skilled; each of us may experience the influence of automation.

Four ways in which automation could influence a job

Professors Scott Latham and Beth Humberd of the Manning School of Business in the US have developed a model that helps to assess how sensitive certain jobs are to automation. They use two dimensions for this: one dimension indicates the extent to which the core skills of the job are changing, and the other dimension shows the extent to which the method of ‘delivering value’ is changing. As a result, they distinguish between four ways in which automation can have an impact on our jobs.

  1. Durable jobs. When it comes to these jobs, not much is currently changing in terms of skills and the way you add value. Examples include a plumber or a truck driver. This does not mean that things won’t change in the future, for example if self-driving trucks become the new normal.
  2. Deconstructed jobs. The same skills remain important here, but the method of value creation is changing. One example would be a teacher or professor. A core skill is the expertise that this person has in a particular domain. Although this will remain important, the way in which the end result is shared with the user is changing significantly. Today, in addition to conventional teaching, there are many other methods of learning such as online courses, micro-learning etc.
  3. Disrupted jobs. With these jobs, the output hasn’t really changed but people will need new skills to perform them. Today, for example, the maintenance or inspection of certain installations sometimes takes place using drones. The result of the work remains the same but you will need to learn how to control and operate a drone, which is a new skill.
  4. Displaced jobs. Both the output delivered and the skills are different here. An example would be someone who uses virtual reality in a training programme to teach people how to replace certain components safely in a factory environment. The skills required to give this training are different from those of a traditional training course. The output, i.e. the learning experience, is also very different.

What can you do as a leader?

Upskilling (learning new skills) and reskilling (learning new skills for a different job) in order to prepare the organisation for the future is not something that happens overnight. It requires long-term planning and anticipating the obstacles that people in the organisation may encounter. This is not easy as most of the time and effort is often spent on ‘issue management’, which is reactive and focused on the short term. A few ideas for a successful retraining programme include:

  • Analysing the skills gap and determining which skills your employees need to develop in order to achieve the future goals.
  • Trying to link the strengths of your employees to the critical skills that you will need in the future. The better the match, the more easily the employees will develop the necessary skills.
  • Creating personalised learning paths that are tailored to the specific needs of each of your employees.
  • Combining different reskilling and upskilling methods such as online learning, blended learning, peer learning, micro-learning, job shadowing, etc.
  • As a leader, you can also help to reflect on how the new output should look in some cases and how employees can adapt to this.

If it is not possible to develop certain skills internally, other options are available:

  • Buying skills by hiring in permanent talent, outsourcing or ‘acqui-hiring’ (acquiring another company mainly for its talent).
  • Borrowing capacities by hiring in temporary talent, using temporary assignments or forming external partnerships. Borrowing is the most time- and cost-efficient way of acquiring skills as a short-term solution, but it is not a guaranteed solution in the long term.
  • Other practices such as automating tasks, transferring employees and redesigning the work.

Get in touch!

Karlien Vanderheyden

Karlien Vanderheyden

Associate Professor