The Future of Work — What Does It Look Like in 2021 and Beyond?

As digital technology and artificial intelligence continue to advance rapidly, the future of work is inevitably on the path of being disrupted in ways never seen before. 

Some may think this sounds like the apocalypse for entrepreneurs and workers alike — but the good news is there’s still a lot you can do today to prepare for these changes. While it may be difficult for organizations to prepare for a future that’s quite difficult to define, one thing is sure — failing to adapt to the new realities is not a solution.

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The AI revolution is currently shaping the future of work

We are currently at the point where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have become incredibly sophisticated. So what does this mean for the future of work? We already have a small glimpse into what’s going to happen as a result of the gig economy. 

The same shift that disrupted the economy via the growth of on-demand services such as Airbnb and Uber is currently impacting the global workforce. 

Gig workers are people who work as independent contractors: that is, consultants, freelancers, or temporary workers. In the past ten years, their numbers have increased dramatically. This growth increased during the 2007 global recession, and many reports indicate that contract workers now account for one-third of the labor force.

Peter Miscovich, managing director of the Strategy and Innovation Department of JLL Consulting in New York, said that by 2020, gig workers will account for half of the workforce, and by 2030 the percentage will reach 80%.

An important driver of the gig economy is the rise of complex AI systems capable of performing tasks that were previously the exclusive domain of humans. These technologies have already transformed workplaces across many industries, including education, retail, manufacturing, finance, and healthcare.

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How can today’s employers assist in the development of tomorrow’s workforce?

One-third of workers are concerned about their future, and most of this anxiety is due to technological advancements and automation. While this is not surprising, it’s a concerning figure because worry undermines self-confidence and limits workers’ willingness and capacity to adapt.

Short-term contracts and self-employment will grow more common as more work moves online, resulting in more financial instability, less job security, and even more stress. A lack of a social atmosphere and an out-of-office workplace means less job control and participation in decision-making. Anxiety is a common cause of a variety of physical and psychological health problems.

On the plus side, according to research, 74% of workers are willing to learn new skills or fully retrain to stay employed in the future. 

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When thinking about the future of work, keep the following in mind:

  • Engage your employees, your business, and your community in a meaningful conversation about the future of work. As much as your circumstances allow, be as inclusive as possible. Longer-term planning for the next five, 10, 15, or even 20 years is a good idea and will move you away from the “next quarter mindset.”
  • Assist current employees in evaluating their abilities and determining how they can adapt to a more automated society. Employers should live by the philosophy, “Protect people, not jobs.”
  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and application programmers will not make up the majority of the future employment. Human skills such as teamwork, adaptability, and conceptual thinking will become increasingly vital as your company encourages and supports their development.
  • Increase and widen the development of critical technical skills particular to your organization through on-the-job training. 
  • Try to establish high-performance work practices that enable people to maximize the benefits of sophisticated technologies, such as job rotation, problem-solving teams, and information sharing.
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The role of education in shaping the future of work

Universities play an essential role in reshaping the way we work. For example, The Task Force on the Future of Employment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is beginning a new series of subject-specific research briefs to help define national debates and policies on work, prosperity, and technology.

Swinburne University’s Industry 4.0 strategy includes the Higher Apprentice Program, training students alongside industry in future technology and work practices. The current advertising for the postgraduate program at RMIT Online is centered on the future of employment.

More and more universities address skill shortages, evolving labour markets, and a changing workforce through various short courses up to recognised degrees. SPACE (Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education) is an excellent example, leading the university’s continuing and professional education portfolio by collaborating with all schools to address industry problems and societal trends.

Higher education, more than any other force, has the ability to catalyse social mobility by bridging social, economic, racial, and geographic divisions. As job markets change, it’s evident that a system of higher education that is as dynamic and adaptive as the technologies that our society today revolves around will be required in the future.

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Bottom line

The future of work appears to be enigmatic, shrouded in uncertainty, a whirlwind of dynamic change, and a cloud of digital leaps. There is no disputing the reality that work as we know it has changed and is still changing and being redefined. 

Organizations must decide whether they are content to play catch-up or if they are ready to lead change. 

Though the future of work can seem hazy at times, it’s comforting to remember that many of the current characteristics of work that we are so accustomed to were originally only predictions…or science fiction! If the world of labor could adapt, change, and move forward back then, it can do so again now.

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Search Remotely is the world’s leading platform for remote work enabling employers all around the world to tap into our talent pipeline of 250,000+ remote workers and scale their remote teams efficiently.

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