Future of Work

As the UK’s workforce becomes ever more grey-of-hair, the government has outlined plans to raise the compulsory retirement age to 67 by the year 2028 – with some controversy. Yet according to The 100-Year Life, a new book by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, people will be working well beyond that age anyway – at least into their 70s and 80s – and continually changing career paths, while technology is also set to redefine the way we do things.

Shortlisted for the FT and McKinsey 2016 Business Book of the Year Award, the study examines how the notion of a three-stage approach to life – education followed by work and then retirement – is rapidly becoming outdated. And as lifespans gradually approach a third digit, people will have to  start rethinking the way they live their lives.

Gratton, who is professor of Management Practice at the London Business School and is also ranked as one of the top business thinker in the world by Thinkers50, says there will be three main trends that will affect the way we work in the future. “Firstly, technology will have a profound impact on structure of organisations and structure of the labour market,” says Gratton. “The second trend is demographic – many people will be working into their 70s and 80s, and at the moment organisations are not prepared for that. The third is resources. Increasingly organisations would have to face up to resource constraints that they are operating in with regard to carbon and water.

“Technology is already having a couple of impacts. Artificial intelligence and robotics are creating a phenomena we call the ‘hollowing out of work’, where lots of middle-schooled jobs disappear. At the same time, highly skilled jobs are being augmented through artificial intelligence.“We are seeing a really fundamental change in the labour market – with job losses but also job creation, because technology is a platform and creates an opportunity for people to build a business. It also creates platforms like Uber and Deliveroo which provide employment.”There will also be a growth in platforms which small companies can sell into a larger market, Gratton adds. “There are going to be more independent producers selling into a much bigger market than they ever could have had before the development of these platforms, like Not On The High Street.”According to Gratton, the employees most at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence are office, clerical and factory workers. A study by Deloitte and Oxford University in late 2015 found that 35 per cent of UK jobs have a high chance of being automated. The jobs at most risk were the wholesale and retail sector, within which the report found 2,168,000 jobs at risk. Transport and storage and human health and social were next, with 1,524,000 jobs and 1,351,000 jobs at risk respectively.

The other big shift Gratton talks about is that people will be working longer, into their 70s and 80s. “Clearly no one will be able to do the same job from the age of 20 to the age of 70,” she clarifies. “My co-author and I are predicting what we call a multi-stage life, where people will do different types of jobs and also have a lot more transition between them.”

Gratton believes longevity will be the biggest shock to the system going forward. She says: “Companies are not realising that people are going to be working until they are in their 70s and 80s – organisations are still very focused on getting people out in their 60s.

“It puts a big emphasis on realising we have to engage in lifetime learning. It is not going to be a one-off. We have got to engage learning across the whole lifetime. We all have to be prepared for transitions. We are going to be moving jobs.

“Individuals need to keep on re-skilling and realise they have to make transitions in their life and that means they have to save for transitions. Corporations will have to pretty rapidly change their practices and policies – governments will have to do the same and realise that education is not a one-off. People will have to be educated throughout their lives. There will be a question: Who will pay for that? We are in for some really exciting questions about that.”

On the resource side, more and more companies will be focused on providing a work environment that reduces their carbon footprint. According to Gratton this could mean working at home more and travelling less and working in more of a virtual environment. She says: “Virtual reality could well change the way that people worked. It has not yet, but I could imagine in a couple of years it will.”

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