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Ensuring you win the race against the machine


2015 is barely 3 months old and already there have been a plethora of reports and papers exploring what the future of work might look like.

Recentlywe had theFast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace report from CBRE and Genesis, which was less about how work will look in 15 years time as what kind of workplace Millennials would love to have right now.

We thenhad New Ways of Working from the Virgin backed B Team, which looked at some of the things driving the change in our workplace.

We’ve even had the recentlaunchof the crowdsourced Workplace Conversation, which is a project supported by a number of UK professional bodies.

Or there was the recent paper from the Hamilton Project, which looked more broadly at the topic and explored some of the social impacts of the changing face of work.

As you can imagine, no exploration of the topic would be complete without exploring the work of Erik Brynjolfsson, so it’s exciting to see he has led a fresh study into the topic together with a team comprised of MIT and Masdar Institute academics.

The changing nature of work

The paper, called Racing With and Against the Machine: Changes in Occupational Skill Composition in an Era of Rapid Technological Advance, looked at the changing skills requirements of jobs in 2006 ad 2014.

The study found that there was a distinct change in skill requirement over that timeframe.

For instance, that period has seen a big leap in the ability of machines to accurately perceive voice and visual information, therefore there has been a drop in jobs that require such skills in humans.

Similarly, it emerged that it is increasingly the case that jobs no longer require supervision, as computers take over the more routine jobs on the market.

There are other skills however that have grown tremendously in that time.  The ability to work with computers for instance is still strongly in demand, whilst interpersonal skills remain highly sought after.

What it means for the future

Whilst the paper doesn’t strictly speaking look at the future of work, it does nonetheless give us a valuable lesson into the changing nature of skills, and their value in the workplace.

The paper highlights the rapid pace of change and progress in a wide range of technologies.  Therefore they urge people to take a flexible approach to learning and skills development, even if this means changing their occupation.

“For any given skill one can think of, some computer scientist may already be trying to develop an algorithm to do it,” they say.

It’s important, therefore, to try and be as flexible as approach as possible to retain the ability to adapt to the changing nature of what machines can do.

With the pace of change showing no sign of abating, this advice is likely to be as good as any when it comes to pondering what the future of work might look like.

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