Disrupting Mediocrity: How the Intelligence Revolution Will Shape Work as We Know It

“For those who want to design the future differently, right now is the time,” says Stephen Harrington, Director of Human Capital for Deloitte, the company behind The Intelligence Revolution: Future-proofing Canada’s Workforce report

While The Report, which explores the future of work and how Canadians can future-proof themselves, was published only a few years ago, workers have already seen major disruptions in that time. 

The most recent and most surprising accelerant for the Intelligence Revolution has been the Pandemic itself. “It (the Pandemic) has forced us to think as innovators first …to test novel solutions,” says Harrington who describes the opportunity to disrupt the leading practice as refreshing. “Often the leading practice has been a slow march to mediocrity, anyway.” 

Defining the Intelligence Revolution 

While the first three Industrial Revolutions were marked by incremental changes in automation with steam power, electrical power and information technology respectively, the Fourth Revolution builds on the third but also takes disruptive leaps like never before. These exponential changes will be driven by machine learning, low-cost data storage, and machine capabilities that will surpass human ability in certain areas.

The first Industrial Revolution created the very concept of a job which included set hours and tasks. Now, the Intelligence Revolution is set to turn that definition on its head. With millions of workers  powering the gig economy and technology making it possible to work from virtually anywhere at any time, the concept of a 9 to 5 job is fast becoming a memory. In its place will be an increasing number of jobs with more flexibility, personalization, and a growing, integrated relationship with technology.   

“This next revolution is most squarely about automation, disruption and new ways of working coming to white collar work. Instead of it just being about manual tasks being disrupted, it will change the very way we deploy our intelligence in the workplace.”

What Does the Future of Work Hold? 

“I’ve been in the business of writing about the future for a decade and I always use scenarios. At one time, it was safe to think in scenarios that went out 5 to 10 years because that’s where the uncertainty was. Now, the uncertainty is September,” says Harrington when asked what the coming years may look like for workers. 

When attempting to predict what work may look like in the near future and how to prepare it, Harrington encourages companies and individuals to also think in scenarios. He gives a simple example of how dramatically different just the next few months could look based on one factor: whether COVID-19 retreats and we are able to continue opening up schools, or if there is another wave of the virus and schools need to remain closed. 

“Imagine the kind of resilience you will need to build into parents and students in that second scenario,” says Harrington who recommends the best course of action is to prepare contingency plans based on these two broad possibilities.  

Scenarios help companies to think outside of what is most likely and what is right in front of them to start formulating plans that could keep them afloat even if the worst happens. Scenarios also start to address the psychological tides that can turn. For example, colleges that had made plans to move their classes fully online in the fall are now up against students who want the on-campus experience and do not want to pay full tuition for online courses. 

“If the worst happens and we need to close schools again, we need a contingency for how we reimagine education so learning doesn’t come to a standstill. Take that case and you can apply it to anything.” 

For companies, this means formulating contingency plans, ramping up remote work capabilities, and helping to build employee resilience by keeping teams informed about what is happening and also what might happen. 

What Actions Can Businesses Take To Future-Proof Themselves? 

Promoting Future-Proof Skills: One of the biggest problems facing employees and employers is that skills rapidly become outdated. To help combat this, employers should leverage the learning resources that technology has provided to keep workers’ skills updated and to make their company attractive to top talent. 

Workers want on-demand training that works around their schedule. Classroom based learning, conferences and other traditional, in-person skillbuilding methods should be partially or completely replaced with virtual classrooms and digital learning resources such as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) that can fit into busy schedules. 

Taking a Proactive Role in Education: A common lament of employers is that there are not enough available workers with the skills they need. The Report suggests that employers can take a proactive approach to solving this problem by working directly with colleges to ensure curriculum matches with the needs of the job market. Expanding the role and availability of apprenticeship programs  may be another way to prepare future workers.   

Prepare and Empower Workers: A major part of successfully addressing fast and continuous change is to prepare workers and give them the resources they need. Currently, traditional systems for finding employment, training, and collaboration do not support a workforce that increasingly includes remote workers who are contingent, contract, and crowdsourced. Nor do these systems address the uncertainty that these workers face or how this uncertainty can affect job performance. 

Team building that includes tools for remote and non-traditional employees will be critical to ensuring all the moving parts can work together. Job search and career management tools also need to be developed with the idea in mind that there will be more non-traditional workers.

“The New Deal for workers who are part of the  contingent workplace…should include things like portable pensions and portable benefits,” says Harrington who also stresses the importance of changing policies that make it difficult for contract workers to lease rentals and secure mortgages. 

What Can Workers Do to Help Themselves? 

The idea of continuous skillbuilding is not new, but it has become more critical. Workers who thrive in this changing economy will see this for the opportunity it is to build towards multiple careers and develop several skillsets. Adopting an entrepreneurial mindset and accepting that traditional organizational structure and career trajectories are not what they used to be will also open up workers to further growth. 

Traditional, full-time employees would also do well thinking in scenarios and contingency plans. Recent studies show that staying with a company for the long haul no longer equals job security since companies trying to stay afloat in uncertain times are more likely to need to let employees go, especially long time employees who may be making large salaries. 

Rethinking Hard and Soft Skills

Hard skills, by definition, are ones that can be taught and are easy to quantify.  They are also typically seen as enduring skills that will remain valuable. Soft skills or “people skills” are not considered teachable in the traditional sense nor are they quantifiable. However, Harrington details how the mindset about the value of these skills could change. 

“Soft skills are hard skills because it takes a lifetime to be good at something like influence or design thinking. They are hard skills because they are enduring. For example, I can guarantee you that you will be using influence from the start to the end of your career. Whereas if I teach you Python, as much as that is currently a hugely valuable skill in the marketplace, I would worry it could be disrupted.”

In addition to rethinking what a hard skill is, there is also a need for a mindset shift about the idea of which jobs will become obsolete. Instead of attempting to predict which jobs will endure, it may be more important to contemplate the types of workers that will endure.

The Report includes 8 archetype workers who may populate workplaces of the future, including Influencers whose ability to lead can inspire others and Integrators who will find new ways of bringing together machines and humans. Each archetype embodies an aggregate of skills that can serve as a jumping off point for contemplating the roles workers will fill in the near future. 

Holding on to the Lessons of the Pandemic 

In June of this year Harrington, along with millions of others, watched with envy and hope as New Zealand became the first country to lift nearly all of its COVID-19 restrictions. 

“They’re not in phase two or phase three. They’re done… they hugged, they kissed strangers. They high fived. They went wild. Part of me thinks, ‘Oh God, that sounds amazing. And I can’t wait.’ But part of me thinks there’s a risk here for those who want  to change the future of work,” says Harrington.

Harrington details how the Pandemic created employer-driven demand for telework. It also pushed many governments into distributing universal, albeit temporary, benefits to millions of workers. In response, rapid change was put into motion, remote work stations were set up, benefit distribution channels were opened, and dozens of tasks that were once considered impossible to do virtually now had an app for that. 

With the expansion of remote work capabilities, Harrington believes the workplace could become an “attractor” meaning people will go there when they need to or want to for collaboration. Currently, workplaces in their worst form are like “holding cells” for staff.  The flexibility to decide when and if to come to a physical work location will change that dramatically. 

“We have an incredible opportunity to turn these events into something positive. My concern is that countries will reopen and people will schedule their business trips and get into their cars for their 7:30am commute. All of those things will return to normal and we will have missed the opportunity.” 

Resources

https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/human-capital/ca-en-hc-IntelligenceRev-POV-Oct25-AODA.pdf

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