With the rapid advancement of technology & automation, and the expansion of the workforce to include both on- and off-balance-sheet talent, what does the future of work look like?
Here's one theory:
If your job can be written down in easy-to-follow steps, you know exactly what to do each day and you are paid for doing just that, surely it can be done by a computer or robot? Or at least someone cheaper than you?
To consider the future of work, you first need to understand the history of it...
The industrial revolution is the major influence on how and what you do for work today. In the early 20th century, the likes of Henry Ford realised early on that by creating a systematised assembly line to produce a product containing interchangeable parts, it was possible to rapidly improve productivity and reduce the costs of production. Moreover, labourers were given specialised training on a particular stage of the assembly line.
The use of interchangeable parts allowed for continuous workflow and output for labourers whilst worker specialisation resulted in less waste and higher quality of end product. Thus, the benefits of mass production were realised.
Another advantage of worker specialisation, although less commonly spoken about, is the workers themselves became interchangeable parts.
Fast forward to today, you have some form of Curriculum Vitae (CV) or Resume that clearly states your skills, experience, education, passion and interests. You use this to advertise yourself and apply for specific jobs, in companies advertising opportunities for specific roles which are required for their own version of the assembly line.
When you apply for a role, you compete against hundreds or thousands of people with very similar qualifications and experience as you.
What is your competitive advantage?
If your job can be written down in easy-to-follow steps, you know exactly what to do each day and you are paid for doing it, surely it can be done by a computer or robot? Or at least someone cheaper than you?
Is it more credentials? From a more renowned school? Or maybe it's prior work experience from a globally renowned company, or even extracurricular volunteering and social work.
Or, in many cases, all of the above.
The skills, education, and experience needed for you to progress in your career today are not the same as it was 10, 20 or even 5 years ago. Technology is automating many jobs that used to be done by people. Covid-19 accelerated the move to distributed work proving the fact that you do not need to be in the office from 8am to 5pm five days a week to do your job. And since we are working with distributed teams, if you can't do the work as efficiently and cheaply as someone else then do I really need you?
The perceived value of higher degrees is diminishing due to the abundance of free and paid informal information available to each of you on the internet. Why would you spend $50k to acquire skills as part of a master's degree when the very same skills can be acquired either for free or for a 10th of the price elsewhere?
The main reason, I believe, is to be affiliated with an institution. We love affiliation, it's one of the false proxies we use to gauge the perceived value of someone. But, do we really need more people with more degrees?
Now that the rant is over, let's get to the good stuff.
Your competitive advantage in the future of work
Thanks to the industrial revolution, our companies are filled with compliant people who do what they're told, show up on time and try to be more efficient than they were yesterday. Nothing more, nothing less.
High-value skills for the future are hard to quantify, difficult to measure and can't be acquired through standardised testing. Skills that come from intentional action. The ability to coordinate complex activities involving multiple stakeholders, to create the conditions for individuals to thrive and contribute to a shared objective. To produce interactions that people and organisations care deeply about.
The competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are whilst negotiating multiple priorities as they make useful decisions without angst.
Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. - Seth Godin in Linchpin
So, how do you go about acquiring said skills? I feel a personal project is on the horizon...