The Four Worlds of Work in an AI-impacted 2030

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 8, 2017
A PwC global study paints a colourful picture of four different worlds of work, with AI and robotics as the common thread running through them.

AI artificial intelligence machine learning
Over a third (37%) of respondents to a major global research report into AI is worried about automation’s impact on their jobs, although 73% reckon technology can never replace the human mind.

That’s one of the conclusions of a report - Workforce of the Future : the competing forces shaping 2030 - based on research begun in 2007 by a team from PwC and the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation at the Said Business School in Oxford and a specially commissioned survey of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US

The study, published by PwC breaks out five ‘mega-trends’ that are impacting on the future of work:

  • Technological breakthroughs, with AI and automation broken out for specific mention.
  • Demographic shifts, with shortages in the human workforce in a number of “rapidly‐ageing economies” driving the adoption of automation and productivity enhancements.
  • Rapid urbanisation, as an increasing percentage of the world’s population moving to live in cities.
  • Shifts in global economic power between developed and developing countries.

This leads to a prediction that the world of work in the future will become Four Worlds of Work by 2030. These are:

The Yellow World - where “humans come first”

Impact on workers

Workers feel the strongest loyalty not to their employer, but to people with the same skills or cause…The Yellow World is the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of new worker Guilds, similar to the craft associations and trade fraternities of the Middle Ages.

Who leads people strategy?

Business leaders are responsible for people direction and management…HR rarely exists as a separate function as organisations rely on outsourced services, specialist suppliers and automation for people processes…Digital platforms create mobility and help match worker with employer and skills and attributes with demand.

The Red World - where “innovation rules”

Impact on workers

Near‐zero employee organisations are the norm. Organisations of a few pivotal people use technology, the supply chain and intellectual property, rather than human effort and physical assets, to generate value…Workers know that the most sought‐after skills will mean the biggest reward package. Many move frequently and stay only as long as the project or business lasts.

Who leads people strategy?

Innovation and people are inseparable…HR does not exist as a separate function and entrepreneurial leaders rely on outsourced services and automation for people processes…Digital platforms match worker with employer and skills with demand.

The Green World - where “companies care”

Impact on workers

[Employees] trust their employer to treat them fairly in terms of pay, development and conditions and in return are expected to re ect the culture of the company in their approach and behaviour…The high ethical standards to which companies are held has cascaded down to employees; conduct and ethics are taken very seriously at work and performance is assessed against a wide range of measures, including how efficiently workers manage their travel and resources.

Who leads people strategy?

The CEO drives the people strategy for the • Workers are attracted to Green World • organisation…The HR function, renamed ‘People and Society, embraces a broad mix of HR, marketing, corporate social responsibility and data analytics…A priority for HR is developing and maintaining a series of virtual social networks projects is standard practice across the organisation.

The Blue World - where “corporate is king”

Impact on workers

The pressure to perform is relentless. Those with a permanent role enjoy excellent rewards…future employability depends on keeping their leading‐edge skills relevant…The price workers must pay is their data…Organisations use the data to predict performance and importantly to anticipate people risk.

Who leads people strategy?

The Chief People Officer (CPO) is a powerful and influentialfigure, sometimes known as the ‘Head of People and Productivity’, and who sits on the board…The people risk agenda is one which is taken seriously by the board – as a result, the CPO and HR become more influential.

While the Four Worlds have differing characteristics, a common thread is the theme of robotics, automation and AI and its impact on jobs. The report notes:

It’s clear that automation will result in a massive reclassi cation and rebalancing of work. Some sectors and roles, even entire sections of the workforce will lose out but others will be created.

The impact of this will vary from country to country. For example, PwC estimates that 38% of US jobs are at risk of automation, compared to 21% of Japanese jobs. Around 30% of UK jobs are likely to be impacted.

To do list

PwC concludes with a series of calls to action for business leaders:

  • Act now - “This isn’t about some ‘far future’ of work.”
  • No regrets and bets - “Make ‘no regrets’ moves that work with most scenarios – but you’ll need to make some ‘bets’ too.”
  • Make a bigger leap - “You might need a more radical change than just a small step away from where you are today.”
  • Own the automation debate - (AI) is too important an issue to leave to IT (or HR) alone.
  • People, not jobs - “ Protect people not jobs. Nurture agility, adaptability and re-skilling.”
  • Build a clear narrative - “How your employees feel affects the business today - so start a mature converesation about the future.”

My take

A very in-depth study with some intruiging projections and premises. Worth a look at the full report, which you can find here.

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