December 10, 2014
Business people

The Way We’ll Work

I recently had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts about the future of work for a Columbus Business First article, “Columbus 2044 – Plenty of singles, small homes, and jobs none of us has imagined.” You might ask why I’m talking to a reporter about the future of work when my work focuses on the future of learning. But it’s difficult to impossible to consider future possibilities for education without also taking into account the world in which people will be working.

As our Forecast 3.0 highlights, it’s not just a question of what jobs people might or might not be doing. Certainly there are profound questions about the extent to which automation will affect the employment landscape. When a restaurant can be staffed entirely by robots and the rise of autonomous vehicles promises to change the delivery and transportation industries, new sectors of the economy could be shaken or reconfigured by new technologies. It’s not just relatively low-level jobs at stake; McKinsey Quarterly projects that artificial intelligence could significantly change the role of senior-level executives given rapid advances in machine learning.

Such changes reflect just part of the changing nature of work. Our 10-year forecast also projects a decline in full-time employment as we are used to thinking about it. With ad hoc employment on the rise through networks such as ODesk, more people could find themselves weaving together mosaic careers comprised of multiple gigs, some of them short-term, instead of working primarily or only for one organization. To work in such a world, we’ll need new skills such as global networking and personal brand management. I don’t feel prepared to navigate this kind of employment structure.

In these and other ways, our relationships with institutions are changing, both in the world of work and across the education landscape. PSFK Labs expects companies to flux constantly, shifting staffing and physical workplaces to align capacity with demand and emphasizing collaboration, knowledge flows, and constant learning. Similarly, The Aspen Institute projects that organizations with increasingly move from hierarchies to networks and that many of the skills associated with success in a more networked work environment will be reflect a disposition toward dealing effectively with change.

Given such changes in the world of work, many of us could find ourselves choosing or being forced to pursue continuous career readiness. Along with other forces of change, that employment climate could lead to new educational needs and new ways of interacting with educational institutions, especially for adult learners (see The Economist’s discussion of how higher education is changing). As my colleague Jason Swanson is exploring in a paper on the future of credentialing that’s due out in the new year, changes in the world of work could drive what it means not just to learn new skills but also to demonstrate mastery in authenticated ways.

As I told Columbus Business First, working differently will require learning differently. Our current approach to education doesn’t reflect the coming world of work. While career readiness is only one outcome of an effective education, I’m hoping that we can create a learning ecosystem capable of flexing with the fluid future of work.

For more on the future of Columbus, see the Columbus Business First companion article, “Columbus 2044: Light rail, public art, NBA, 89-year-old mayor?”

Katherine Prince

Written by: Katherine Prince

Katherine Prince is the Senior Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks. She is excited about the future of learning, transformative leadership, and building resilient solutions for a sustainable world.

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