A peek at the future of work

23 October 2017
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Catherine Stephens looks at how the "fourth industrial revolution" could bring great opportunity for the next generation of Kiwis

The hot topic for employers, employees, graduates, parents and students is what the future holds for them in the world of work. There is no doubt that technology and artificial intelligence will change markedly the way we all work, live and learn.

We are living in exponential times that have been described as the fourth industrial revolution, where never before has there been such rapid change. Some people are feeling threatened by artificial intelligence and worry jobs will be taken over by robots. Cynics suggest that we could just give everyone the ‘living wage’ and let the robots do all the work – but is this just an excuse for the unimaginative and those who do not recognise the opportunity to continually reinvent themselves?

There are no boundaries in this liberating new frontier which allows everyone to determine their own pathway. With people no longer wedded to linear pathways and singular careers, they now can become entrepreneurs of their own futures. What does this look like in practice? For one, our young people might have up to 15 jobs in five different industries throughout their working life.

On the other hand, this continual disruption of work, life and learning may be challenging and confusing for those bound by linear ideas, tradition and rules. It can be particularly confusing for parents who find accepting the ambiguity of the workplace difficult. Parents want clarity and security for their children, and some don’t understand that today’s working world is extremely different to what they, and their own parents, experienced. It’s important to realise that this changing worldview can confuse children and impede their decisions for future study and employment. After all, what somebody studies no longer definitively determines what jobs they will do – it’s about the capabilities a person develops and what value they can add to a workplace.

So what does this all mean for the individual? How can students future-proof themselves and remain current, employed and employable?

Firstly, start with a positive mind-set: take control and create the future you want for you. If you don’t, you may end up in a future that someone else has created for you. This sounds very aspirational, but what can you do to make it a reality?

There is no single recipe to success, so it is important to learn continually and stay current. Engaging in work experience, volunteering, doing an internship and following thought leaders are just some examples of this. Recently, the University of Auckland’s Career Development and Employability Services (CDES) held a Future of Work Conference, which connected students with industry professionals speaking on issues ranging from what skills students will need going into the workplace to how technology, automation and artificial intelligence are shaping the landscape.

Speakers discussed what sets us apart in a world where many job functions can be automated. Artificial intelligence means individuals are no longer the keepers of knowledge, with bots sourcing information far quicker than we can. What makes us invaluable is our emotional intelligence, which enables us to interpret information and give meaning to it. Humans still need to work on the more complex tasks, with automation handling more repetitive processes and systems. The implications of this are that there is less of a need for specialisation and more of a need for people to collaborate and work in teams, combining a range of capabilities. There is a greater emphasis on emotional intelligence, soft skills, adaptability and the ability to work outside your comfort zone.

Finally, it’s crucial to develop a curious and agile mind-set.  Recently, a US-based higher education service provider, Academic Impressions, wrote the following criteria on what makes a uniquely human and agile mind-set:

  • Empathy to find new needs
  • Divergent thinking to find and frame problems not yet known
  • An entrepreneurial outlook to turn discovered needs into sustainable value
  • Social and emotional intelligence to adapt to and thrive in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

It's important that the students of today – and their parents – understand it will take the above to thrive in the future world of work.


Catherine Stephens manages the University of Auckland's Career Development and Employability Services. Her areas of expertise are employability, career development, teaching and learning.

Used with permission from NewsroomA peek at the future of work published on Monday 23 October 2017.