Keeping abreast of the technology shift — a guide for employers

Technological advances and the automation shift will mean huge disruption for the workforce in both developing and developed countries. Photo by: Tecnalia / CC BY-NC-ND

If you’ve been watching the HBO series “Westworld,” chances are you’re feeling uncomfortable about the automation shift and a technological revolution which will see rapid advances in a range of fields including artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, robotics and genetics, to name a few.

These leaps will have huge political and social implications for the global job market and developing countries whose economies are currently reliant on manual labor will be hit hardest. According to World Bank research the proportion of jobs threatened by automation could be as high as 85 percent in Ethiopia, 69 percent in India, and 77 percent in China.

However, automation, and other technological advances, could also offer developing countries the chance to “leapfrog” their Western counterparts in embracing the skills and capabilities that will be needed to thrive in the new job market.

This is the view of Ruth Harper, director of global strategic communications at ManpowerGroup, which provides businesses with analysis, staffing, talent management, outsourcing and skill development services to more than 400,000 clients from developed and developing countries.

Devex asked Harper about the challenges facing employers and employees in the global south and north navigating the technology shift, and asked how best employers can be prepared.

Here are the highlights of the conversation:

What are the major challenges you see facing employers in the evolving job landscape?

Disruption: Technological disruption and bifurcation of employment opportunities is causing people to feel disenfranchised and disconnected and many cannot see how their circumstances will improve. Businesses have a role and responsibility to ensure we are enhancing people’s lives and that we are an important part of the solution.

Talent shortage: ManpowerGroup’s own survey found that 40 percent of employers around the world are experiencing talent shortages, the most acute shortage since 2007. Employers cite a lack of applicants, lack of experience, lack of hard skills or technical competencies and candidates looking for more pay than is offered as their biggest struggles for filling jobs.

Shortened skill cycles: As technology continues to disrupt, skills cycles are now shorter than ever. Employers have become used to tapping on-demand talent and a just-in-time approach to hiring. Organizations will need to shift from being consumers of work to builders of talent, becoming a learning organization and up-skilling employees will be critical.

What about challenges for employees?

Digitization of work: Digitization, robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are impacting the workplace. We cannot predict the future impact on job elimination versus job creation, but there will be skills instability and we will changes in the value we place on different skills. Creativity, people management, emotional intelligence and negotiation are skills are likely to be in high demand. People may need to upskill and diversify into new areas.

Security versus flexibility: The “gig model,” where workers work for online platforms, is on the rise. But alongside this, we will be increasingly asking who is taking care of these workers, who is providing the security in terms of taxation and social security, and who will pay for it?

Marathon working: ManpowerGroup’s research shows that most millennials know they’ll work longer than the generations before them. Globally, over half expect to work past the age of 65 and working hours are getting longer too — millennials expect to work 52 hours per week in India, and 48 in China and Mexico.

How can employers address these challenges?

Helping people upskill and adapt: A more sustainable approach to developing the future workforce is required. Helping people upskill and adapt to this fast-changing world of work will be the defining labor challenge of our time.

Partnerships to develop the workforce of tomorrow: Employers need to partner with others to help young people develop the skills businesses need and get them ready for work. For example, Manpower India is working with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Skill Development Corporation in the region of Jammu and Kashmir on Project Udaan. This project offers work experience placements and training in retail, banking and IT and has reached 40,000 young people over the last five years

Nurturing learnability: Employability no longer depends on what people already know, but their desire and ability to learn, apply and adapt. Smart organizations need to focus investment in skills development on those employees with higher learnability.

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About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.