Companies must be future-ready to thrive in machine era

IT GOES without saying that we stand to gain extensively from the advancement of machines. The usage of artificial intelligence (AI) across various sectors and industries is gradually gaining momentum, and is poised to become commonplace in a matter of decades.

But while our workforce is at the cusp of a technological metamorphosis, an underlying fear of human obsolescence has the professional world in its grips.

While such concerns are not entirely invalid, we are faced with something far more pressing - ensuring that present and subsequent members of the working population are ready to face the actualities of an automated future.

A 2017 report by McKinsey Global Institute estimated that current technologies could automate more than 2,000 jobs across 800 occupations - a scary thought for many, no doubt.

But a recent article by Deloitte Insights surmised that AI was posited as a force for good, as long as it could be employed in a productive manner.

Whether good or worrying, organisations need to plan ahead and adjust to a reality where the workforce and technology operate as complementary forces to achieve higher levels of productivity and efficiency.

To facilitate a smooth transition to a tech-enabled world, organisations, leaders and policymakers must band together to undertake the following measures:

Transforming educational systems to cater to a changing workplace

Educational institutions of all levels can no longer afford to continue to feed individuals with outdated content, leaving them ill-equipped to thrive in an environment they were not trained to cope with.

Mid-career executives are most in need of this retraining, as they will bear the full brunt of an automated future and must be able to hit the ground running when the full effects of a changing workplace kick in.

Enrichment programmes and on-the-job training must teach employees how to be versatile so they can move swiftly between jobs and quickly become accustomed to shifting work requirements.

Singapore's SkillsFuture Initiative programme allows citizens aged 25 and above to access professional courses.

In Monster's recent #IMadeTheSwitch Survey, 69 per cent of Singaporeans felt that they needed retraining for the new career path they were planning to pursue.

Redefining the definition of "work"

With the advent of automation and AI, work as we know will cease to exist in its current form and take on a tech-focused identity.

This is already in motion - most organisations rely on gadgets to get things done.

Enterprises of the future will see human and machine stand shoulder-to-shoulder and achieve results which tap into the combined prowess of both entities.

Businesses must make the effort to help staff calibrate themselves to a workplace scenario where they use their talents and capabilities to collaborate with technology.

Supporting displaced workers by leveraging the flexible work economy

The booming "gig" economy, which consists of freelance workers accepting project or contract-based work for a limited period of time, is here to stay. In Singapore, this working arrangement is projected to generate a whopping S$54.8 billion by 2030.

There are a number of digital platforms that specialise solely in providing opportunities to self-employed individuals.

A possible outcome of mass adoption of technology is the transformation of the nature of jobs, which may result in the deletion of existing ones, and creation of new ones.

The loss of a job is stressful and has adverse consequences on mental health, which is why it is imperative that individuals experiencing professional displacement have the option of taking on independent work in order to keep earning, learn new skills, and find their way back to full time employment.

Maintaining a satisfactory level of economic prosperity

To guarantee a steady stream of jobs, the economy must run like a well-oiled machine.

This is not possible without a strong infrastructural base, which is supported by robust socio-economic policies.

Investment in emerging technologies and industries, adopting automation, supporting new businesses and investing in human capital all promote sustainable growth and productivity, which in turn lead to the creation of diverse jobs.

Companies, if they are not already doing so, must get on board with contemporary technological and digital trends, so as to not be overwhelmed by massive changes hereafter.

Plenty has been said about the possibility of workers losing out jobs to automation.

However, all the deep learning in the world will not make a machine better than a living, breathing, flesh- and-blood human.

One only needs to look at history to know that in the long run, the workforce is regulated to incorporate new technology and demand labour accordingly.

While certain jobs may cease to exist, automation will give rise to jobs that would not have been plausible decades ago. If industries and companies wish to continue to exist, they must do everything they can to be future-ready.

The writer is CEO of Monster.com, APAC and Gulf.