The Future of Work – from the Village to the Boardroom

With all this talk about artificial intelligence and automation, often referred to as disruptive technologies, I thought I would share my personal perspective on the future of work using my own story of how I transitioned from the Village to the Boardroom and from ICT to HR.

What would you say if I said that the future of work is HUMAN?

But before I delve into sharing my personal journey and transition thus far, let’s have a quick look at the current landscape.

In our evaluation of our own environment, we often start with a fight or flight question right? Should I run away or should I run towards? So let’s start there.

What feelings do you experience, when you hear the terms automation, artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies?

I’m willing to bet that, if your current environment places you in a position to take advantage of technologies that allow you to “disrupt” either the big players in your market as an entrepreneur, or to streamline business processes as a change manager, then you would generally view it as a positive – right?

However, if your environment happens to place you on the other side of the fence, where those technologies present competition as a business owner or a threat to your job security as an individual, then your view would be negative.

So it would depend on the situation wouldn’t it?

Whatever your situation, whether you’re just starting out, in the middle or nearing the end of your career, you may be asking one of the following questions. How did I end up here?  How did I miss that trend? What are the implications to my skills and my future income?

So has there been a trend in automation and artificial intelligence that we have been unaware of?

Let’s take a look at our current reality.

Some recent research by The McKinsey Global Institute, published 2017 noted that, automation isn’t a new phenomenon. That fears about its effect on employment date back centuries, even “before the Industrial Revolution in the 18th & 19th centuries”.

Their findings suggested that, very few occupations currently, could be fully automated – “less than 5%”.

However, “every occupation has partial automation potential” and they estimate that “about 50% could be automated by adapting current technologies”.

However, they note that it won’t happen overnight due to five key factors;

  1. Technical feasibility (technology has to be invented/adapted to automate specific activities)
  2. Cost (of developing and deploying the solutions)
  3. Labour market dynamics – (demand, supply and cost of human labour vs automation)
  4. Economic benefits
  5. Regulatory and Social Acceptance

They estimate that it will take decades for automation’s effect to fully play out. And I believe that Social Acceptance will play the biggest role.

So what?

According to MindFrame-midia.info, approximately 14% of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder and about 4% of people will experience a major depression in a 12-month period. Further, it suggests that 26% of unemployed men and 34% of unemployed women suffered from a mental disorder.

Why is that important? Its important because dare I say, some of it may be due to fears about automation and its impact on skills and future income.

That then brings me to this point – that our reality depends on our mindset. More importantly, that we respond to our own map of reality and that if we don’t like the way we feel about something – then we can change it.

Here’s why I have that mindset. Here’s part of my story so far.

I was born in a small village in Samoa before my family migrated to NZ when I was 10. You can read more about that period of my life in some of my previous blogs here and here.

I have some very fond memories of the jobs that I did in my younger years, when I knew everything there was to know about the world (as we do in our teens).

One of my very first jobs was at a food processing company, where I got a summer job as an assistant storemen at the ripe old age of 12/13. I got the job through my cousin’s husband who was the manager.

My favourite job was unloading the delivery trucks with a forklift. Back in those days, you didn’t need a license to drive one, and work health and safety (WHS) was non-existent. I remember thinking that I was hot stuff at reversing the forklift, until one day, I backed up so fast and turned too quickly that the gas bottle on the back came flying off. Luckily it didn’t explode, and I was much more careful from then on.

As part of the job, I also had to collect and store all of the food that they were making at the various production sections. So I got the see how food such as ham was made with the aid of technology. I was amazed at how technology was used even then to inject flavour into the meat before being smoked and wrapped.

Another job that I remember doing in those early years, was making plastic pipes. The ones used as duct for laying cables underground. My father got me a summer job where he worked, so I was able to help him when I wasn’t sweeping the floors and storing the reels of pipes that had already been made.

He showed me how the machines worked, how to adjust settings for the right mix of colours to produce different colour pipes and how to change settings so that different thickness and lengths could be made.

I used to also help in the evenings with my mother’s cleaning job. We would clean office building floors, emptying bins, cleaning toilets, vacuuming carpets and dusting tables etcetera. I used to help myself to pens from people’s desks so that I could have a pen for school. I knew stealing wasn’t right but I justified it in my head because we were poor.

My mother still cleans office buildings to this day, even though my siblings and I have asked her to stop. “It’s an honest living and I will keep doing it till I can’t work anymore” she tells us.

I loved those jobs because I got to learn new skills and I got to spend time with my parents individually as well as other family members who had worked in the factories.

One of my favourite summer jobs though, was selling children’s books later in my high school years. What I learnt most in that job was how my “frame of reference” influenced my mindset in how I saw people and the world. It also influenced my attitude to work.

To cut a long story short, I had assumed, that the people that would be more likely to buy books, were well to do upper-class families, because they could afford it. So I focused on selling in those areas. I marked out the areas that matched that profile. I knocked on so many doors and walked long distances over a couple of weeks, but had very few sales. I was getting paid commission only, so I wasn’t making a lot of money.

One day, I got to the end of one of these streets, and I hadn’t made a single sale. Across the road was a new street and the beginning of an area that looked like social housing. At the beginning of the street was a gang hangout – the Mongrel Mob  (they are one of the most well known gangs in NZ).

Anyway, I thought to myself, you haven’t sold anything yet so why not? I knocked on the door and this tattoo faced older man answered. With that typical Maori staunch look, he said to me – “hey bro, what you after”?

Crapping myself, I mustered up the courage and said, I’m selling children’s books. To my surprise, he invited me in and offered me a hot drink. Then he asked me to tell him about the books and the stories inside them.

He surprised me even more when he said, “I don’t really want my grandkids ending up like me, not being able to read or having to be in a gang to feel safe and survive, so I’ll buy a set so that they can learn and become someone different.

He also asked me to come back next time I was in the neighbourhood. That day, I learnt a very important lesson about judging someone by their appearance and/or circumstance. I sold many more books that summer in those lower socio economic areas and have remembered that lesson.

I’ve gone on to do many other jobs including working at McDonalds whilst I was studying for my Diploma in Information Technology. At Maccas, I learnt about process improvement, forecasting and production, cash flow and customer service. Basically, I learnt about business and continuous improvement.

Once I’d graduated, I moved to Australia and started in the ICT sector where I worked for a number of years as a technical specialist. I went back to NZ to finish the final year of my degree when I was overlooked for a promotion into management. I moved into web development before going to the UK, moved onto doing pre-sales consulting and eventually into management.

When I started in management, I expanded my skill set further to include logistics and warehousing, general operations and change management plus completed my Masters in Business Administration.

My two previous roles before starting my own business and becoming a partner at Being More Human, included planning and implementing some major organisational restructures. Some of the biggest challenges that I faced during those organisational change projects, were caused by people intentionally slowing and resisting the changes being implemented.

As I reflect and look back, I realise that the commercial/business goals and objectives presented weren’t the issue – instead, I failed as a leader to translate those high-level strategic goals into meaningful personal impact stories for individual people.

I was unclear in communicating the positive individual implications of the automation as well as the negative impact if they did not change.

So what does that have to do with the future of work?

When I made the shift from Technology to Operations and then to HR, the mental well-being committee in my own head questioned my sanity (they are very opinionated). They weren’t alone either, because when I meet up with friends over a meal and I tell them I am now a partner in an HR/Leadership Development company specialising in Human Centred Strategy, Change Management and Coaching, they give me a very intrigued look.

I’m not really sure how to interpret it – its either, wow have you lost your mind or what the heck are you doing in HR? They usually follow this up with the question – aren’t you a technology/operations and strategy guy?

I’ve always thought of myself as a Futurist. A person who studies the future and makes predictions based on current trends. This way I could come up with strategies that would help people and organisations adapt to  those impending changes.

I learnt during those restructures, that if I did not understand how to translate those big picture ideas into what that means for each individual within the organisation, it didn’t really matter how efficient I could make business systems and processes work.

So are you prepared for the future of work?

Because the future of work is here now!

And if I may, I’d like to suggest that what we need most, is a change in perspective in order to positively change our actions to adapt.

Instinctively and/or subconsciously, I believe that we are all aware of the changes that are happening around us. Whether we choose to take actions that place us in a position to take advantage of the impending technological changes – is really down to us – to you.

The future of Work from a leaders perspective, is to coach and mentor those that we lead by encouraging them and helping them to take action – thus building resilience to change.

The future of work from a follower’s perspective, is to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions that will enable us to adapt to changes that are inevitable. We can’t always blame our leaders for changes – they are people too trying to do their best aren’t they?

The future of work as parents and teachers, is to challenge our kids to think critically and to encourage cognitive thinking in order for them, to be able to adapt to what the future holds and the problems they will solve – whatever that may be.

Our ability to transition from the old to the new, will determine how this inevitable change will be for your own mental wellbeing.

I’ve made the transition from the village to the board room and from ICT to HR. If I can do those things, you too can do whatever you set your mind to.

The future of work is HUMAN!

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