Our future at work

Written by Barry Johnson on 23 November 2017

Digitisation, digital platforms, and other technological innovations are changing the fundamental nature of work. Understanding these shifts requires changes in the requirements of learning and development.

The factories where I was employed became technology driven in the 70s, and we had TVs over the automated production training lines demonstrating necessary procedures and our supervisors were retrained as coaches. This was the Third Industrial Revolution, new then and it has speeded up since.

I can remember my desk had paper and pens on it and then, in about 1983, I and other managers had a desktop computer and we learned a new set of skills. Next was a new phone with voicemail and, and; now we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I have this mobile phone that can do more things than a mainframe computer could do only a few years ago. I really must learn to use it! Therein lies the major issue, learning.

The development of human linked digitisation, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics brings the promise of higher productivity and economic growth, increased efficiencies, safety, and convenience including digitisation of assets, infrastructure, connected machines, data, and data platforms. 

Digitisation of operations includes processes, payments, business models, and customer and supply chain interactions. Workforce learning involves the use of digital tools, new digital jobs and roles. But these technologies also raise human questions about the broader impact on jobs, skills, technical understanding, organisation, culture, management, behaviour, interpersonal expertise and the nature of work itself.

The learning involved in these elements is crucial, and they rest with L&D - that is you.

Currently, a few sectors are highly digitised—for example, financial services, media, and the technology sectors. These are among the sectors with the highest productivity, profit and wage growth. Most others are much less digitised, including healthcare, education, and retail. These tend to be the largest element of GDP and are the lowest-productivity sectors.

The potential in health is enormous. I recently had CyberKnife treatment for a brain tumour. I could have gone for the old-fashioned cut-it-out. The CyberKnife had X-ray cameras that monitored the position of the tumour and sensors that monitored my movement and breathing.

This enabled a robot to reposition the radiotherapy beam with pinpoint accuracy from different angles during treatment minimising damage to healthy brain tissue. Twenty minutes from lying on the bench to walking out and no blood spilt. I read that Artificial Intelligence is machine learning to do the routine work of a GP. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is now.

There are significant discrepancies in the uptake of digitisation. Digitised companies, in their sectors, have faster revenue growth, higher productivity, profits can increase three times the sector rate and workers within these companies enjoy double the wage growth of their less-digitised peers.

Digitisation changes how companies organise work. This requires constant employee learning of skills, knowledge and practices and they rely on you for their learning.

The laggards could lose their markets.


About the author

Barry Johnson BA, Chartered MCIPD, MCMI is the co-founder of Learning Partners. He has extensive experience in designing assessment events for development and selection and is an experienced facilitator and assessor.​


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