From the earliest period of man to the stone age and beyond, humanity, even in its crudest form, has always had the capacity to innovate and improve its environment.
Across the globe, emerging technologies continue to affect day-to-day activities, from the way people communicate to the way organisations carry out their activities.
With this trend, it’s safe to project that digital technology will further transform the working environment in the next ten years.
Before I discuss how new technology is reshaping the future of work and its implications for the current workforce, let’s travel down memory lane.
The year is 1760 and Britain hovered on the brink of a major revolution. This period (circa 1760-1830), later described as the first industrial revolution, saw the transitioning of the British society from an agrarian and craft-focused economy to one of industry and mechanised production.
Although the movement began in England, it soon spread to other parts of Europe bringing in its wake technological, socio-economic, and cultural shifts in the ways of doing things.
By the late 19th to early 20th centuries, there were rapid advances in the steel, electric and automobile industries.
In addition, innovative developments in communication, transportation and banking signalled that the world had entered into another phase- the second industrial revolution also referred to as the American Industrial Revolution.
With the advent of the third industrial revolution, the next phase of change became a matter of when.
4IR and the present realities
That the tech industry has become a fast-growing sector is incontrovertible. Swinging in the full force of the fourth industrial revolution, technology has altered the nature of work, working dynamics, and the concept of the workplace.
Is it surprising that great emphasis is placed on acquiring digital skills if employees want to stay relevant? I think not!
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of work meant different things to different people. While some obsessively spread gloomy forecasts about robots stealing human jobs, a few others had no clue of the concept.
Fast forward to the present time, we are in the middle of a technological revolution of greater magnitude, scale, scope, and complexities than its predecessors.
Also, as you may have noticed, the pace of change appears to be faster than previous revolutions. In order to maintain relevance and remain competitive in any industry, you need to understand the impact of emerging technologies on the future of work.
However, going beyond mere knowledge, you must integrate these innovations strategically in your work to increase efficiencies, and improve your bottom line.
With trending technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality, Digital Space, Robotics, Virtual Reality, workplaces are undergoing transformation beyond what we can imagine.
From our collective experiences, the pandemic severely affected sectors with the highest overall physical proximity scores: medical care, personal care, on-site customer service; leisure and travel businesses were not spared either.
No doubt, the pervasive influence of more intelligent machines will disrupt labour markets. Let’s consider this disruption from two perspectives- the good and the bad.
First, the adoption of digital technologies is creating new job opportunities, especially in sectors driven, complemented and augmented by digital tools; jobs that include software, design and marketing, among others.
Employment is rising in these sectors as well as a demand for digital skills. Based on employment requirements and stiff competition- human vs human not to mention humans vs robots- workers need to be upskilled and become familiar with new inventions, enabling them to add more value to their organization.
Second, the incorporation of the new technologies will threaten jobs that involve doing monotonous tasks that could be automated, saving more time and maximizing resources.
Although no one is 100% certain of the future, however, it’s reasonable to have a mental picture of how the future of work would be, thereby demonstrating readiness for what lies ahead. Note some ways new technologies are reshaping the future of work.
Rise of automation and AI
Presently, progressive organizations are espousing automation over manual operations having recognised it as a key to boosting efficiency, minimizing human error, and reducing running costs.
While few workers are needed for routine tasks, the use of automated systems gives more employees time to focus on strategic decision-making and creative problem-solving.
AI is equally invaluable in helping companies process a large amount of business data and extract insights to facilitate accurate and prompt decision-making.
Although the concept of remote working has been existing for quite a while back, it’s presence is exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19. With new communication platforms here and there, companies can communicate with stakeholders and other interested parties overseas.
More importantly, remote working allows companies to hire candidates from any country in the world. Some have been able to employ qualified professionals and/or freelancers that demand lower compensation and benefits, helping organizations to achieve their objectives in a cost-effective manner.
Reduced physical infrastructure
Data is a vital resource for organizations. Gone are those days when companies needed large rooms to set up their database centre.
Today, cloud computing has lessened, to some degree, the dependence of companies on physical infrastructure. It enables them to store their data without much clutter and keep their information safe at the same time.
Growing digital talent platforms
The use of digital talent platforms mitigates the effects of a mismatch between skills, availability, and location.
In other words, companies are shifting from hiring workers to fill certain roles to onboarding talent based on the skills required to complete a specific project.
These digital platforms provide companies with on-demand access to highly skilled talents. On the other hand, they serve as a marketplace for qualified professionals and freelancers who want their services employed.
While Africa is on a steady climb towards adopting technology, more is needed before we can fully absorb these new technologies and translate them into productivity gains.
Do we have the capacity? At this point, I believe we do!
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch