Imagine for a moment: is it possible that a robot might take over your work at some point in the future? If you follow the dizzying pace of developments in automation and digitization, then you’ll know that it’s not such a strange question to ask. But what does that mean for you and your workplace?
A robot that can advise clients or obtain a loan for them, or one that can complete the administrative tasks of 10 co-workers in the blink of an eye. The future of work is a popular topic of discussion among scientists, sociologists and businesses around the world. In the near future, autonomous computers will take over many of the tasks currently performed by humans. This will have an impact on many of the jobs we do today: some will become superfluous, while others will see changes in their palette of tasks. But entirely new positions will be created as well, because we will need to find new ways for humans and machines to work together. The developments around the Future of Work, as the issue is referred to internationally, are still generally very difficult to predict, but one thing is certain: there are some interesting ways to prepare for the changes and to remain professionally relevant.
The Future of Work is a matter of re-training
‘We’ve all heard plenty horror stories about the concept of ‘the Future of Work’ over the past few years. Stories about how robots will take over your job”, says Jan Nieuweboer, Future of Work expert at Rabobank. “So people’s anxiety about the subject is understandable. New forms of automation will have a huge impact, and once a company decides to make that transition, things will change very quickly. But studies have shown that it will eventually create more jobs than it eliminates.” That was one of the conclusions of the World Economic Forum report ‘The Future of Jobs’ from 2018. But the report also offered the caveat that the impact of technological developments will differ from job to job. Much will depend on how easily the work can be automated. “Co-workers with a classic administrative role will be affected sooner, and those jobs are very common in the financial sector. That means the Future of Work is really a matter of re-training.’
Good news: jobs will become more appealing
These technological developments will also have many positive aspects. Employees will have more room to focus on tasks that demand typically human skills, such as problem-solving, creativity, networking, critical thinking, good leadership, and emotional intelligence. “That will eventually make jobs a lot more appealing”, says Nieuweboer. “The computer will take over many of the mechanical activities, which is good because humans have other talents. We expect that in the future, only the purely human work will remain. That trend is already visible at Rabobank. Future job descriptions will ask for people who are creative and good at solving problems. Employees won’t be stuck in jobs with circumscribed job descriptions, but will work together with others and constantly develop their talents and skills.’
A future at Rabobank?
To do: improve your soft skills
Those human skills – also referred to as ‘soft skills’ or ‘21st-century skills’ – will play a big role in employees’ chances in the job market. “So it would be a smart move for you to develop some of those skills”, Nieuweboer asserts. Nieuweboer gives presentations to groups from Rabobank and outside parties on the challenges and opportunities presented by the Future of Work. He also looks for collaborations with other parties in order to learn from one another. To that end, Rabobank participates in the Future of Work Hub at Utrecht University, where businesses and academics exchange knowledge and expertise. “You simply can’t wait until the last minute to start re-training. Learning new skills will enhance your position in the job market. That’s why everyone who works at Rabobank has their own personal budget to attend their choice of training courses. We strive to give people opportunities to develop, both personally and professionally.’
What can you do today?
- Preparing for the Future of Work requires a mindset with a focus on life-long learning. What does that mean, exactly? Pearson explains.
- The World Economic Forum lists which skills are most in demand for jobs in 2019.
- Economist Daniel Susskind explains in his TED-talk why various myths about the Future of Work actually create economic growth.
Image: Working at a bank circa 1970 (Rabobank archives)