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Machines Helping Humans: Opportunities for Digital Disruption in The Working World

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There is broad consensus on the impact of digital disruption on the labour market. The model on which we have designed our lives and our professional careers over the last decades no longer seems sustainable. In developed countries, a common paradigm for this model was defined through the following parameters:

  1. Training stage: approximately 20 years for qualified positions (15 for less qualified activities).
  2. Work stage: 40 hours per week of work, for 40 years.
  3. Professional environment: relatively stable, in terms of the industry sector, the functional area, and even the organization worked for.

This framework was predictable and enabled personal decisions (to have a family, etc.) and economic decisions (to sign up to a mortgage, for example) on a solid basis.

For those who miss this model, digital disruption is not good news. We are already used to doom-mongering, both from the quantitative point of view (shrinking labour market, job elimination, etc.) and the qualitative one (poorer quality employment, precariousness of the labour market, etc.).

The growing automation of processes and the imminent rise of AI in many areas of work must be approached cautiously and intelligently. If we know how to take advantage of the opportunities presented by these events, we will avoid the risks voiced by doomsayers and migrate towards new labour models that are more satisfactory for humans and more socially beneficial.

Let me point out some of the benefits of intelligent digital transformation of the labour market.

  1. Rupture of the rigid distinction between the training and professional stages. Probably many of our children’s experiences in their first years of life directly apply to work, and training throughout careers will become a mandatory requirement for most of us. It is much more stimulating to keep learning processes open than to end our training at a young age.
  2. Greater equality of opportunities. In contrast to those predicting new social gaps between the people who develop highly technological profiles and the others, it is worth remembering that technology leads us to more homogeneous scenarios. The first industrial revolution concentrated the means of production into a few hands. The digital revolution puts into everyone’s hands the tools to access mass information. Today, the CEO of a large company carries a mobile device with very similar or identical functionality to the youngest employee’s mobile device. Even in developing regions, it is easier to offer wireless data coverage than distribution networks for drinking water or sanitation.
  3. In particular, digitalization can contribute to greater gender equality. It has been said that highly technological profiles are still predominantly male. Aside from the fact that this gap is narrowing, it should be noted that the digital economy does not rely solely on technology profiles. In fact, the greater the use of AI extends, the more capacity machines will have to update their algorithms autonomously (machine learning). The jobs with the greatest demand will not be the ones that make us similar to machines, but rather differentiate us from them. Compassion and empathy will no longer just be moral values, but top professional skills. Highly labour-intensive sectors, such as leisure, tourism, education, health care, dependent care will require people to connect with people. For everything else, the machines are already here.
  4. Higher quality of life. Sometimes, workload is correlated with employment in a very simple manner. Highly automated production environments will probably require less work, but not necessarily less employment. If more mechanical processes are efficiently performed by machines, there is plenty of scope for human beings to do tasks in which they contribute a competitive edge as humans, without prolonging their working days for tasks that will be done by the non-human “workers” in the company.

Paradoxically, machines are likely to help us to be more human.

José Aguilar

José Aguilar López es Doctor en Filosofía (PhD) y Programa de desarrollo directivo (PDD) por el IESE. Socio Director de MindValue. Imparte seminarios y cursos numerosas Universidades y Escuelas de Negocios de Europa y América. En 2006 obtuvo, junto a Javier Fernández Aguado, el premio del Management Internacional Forum al mejor libro de Management del año, por la obra conjunta “La soledad del directivo” (Lid, Madrid, 2006).

Ha participado, en calidad de autor, coordinador o coautor en los trece libros. Es colaborador habitual en diarios, revistas de información económica, radio y TV.

José Aguilar is a Managing Partner of MindValue - a company specialized in professional services for C-level management - and the VP of the International Association of Management Studies (Asociación Internacional de Estudios sobre Management - ASIEMA). He is also a management coach and a senior member of the club, Top Ten Management Spain. He is recognized as one of the key Spanish experts in change management consultancy and training.

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