July 2, 2019
By 2030, new technology and automation will replace some 20% of existing jobs and impact work activities of another 60%. Many new types of jobs and job contracts will be created as a consequence of automation and changing societal values, such as an increased desire for autonomy and improved work-life balance.
The challenge facing society will not necessarily be unemployment, but availability of workers with the necessary skills needed for a new economy that will be shaped by these technologies. We forecast a slimmer employed workforce, but a rising demand for independent workers with new and relevant skills.
As we have written in our book ‘Flex or Fail’, some 23% of workers in developed economies are ‘independent’ rather than working through an employment contract, but by 2030 this will have risen to more than 50%. How will these new independent workers survive and thrive in an emerging and uncertain future work environment?
Let’s go back to the mid 20th century when the school curriculum started to become more specialised around a handful of specific subjects which, by the time young people went to university, were honed down to a three year study of a single subject. Further education and academia since then has been an increasing story of specialism and sub specialism.
How well does this play out in the future of work and pay? Sure, technical specialism is in demand, tax specialists, neurosurgeons, mining engineers and maths teachers will all still be required, but the emergence of the ‘specialist-generalist’ is on the rise. These are the people with a core skill [or skills] who can diversify and readily embrace change. In a world of rapid tech advance, there is increasing demand for workers with creative and process skills who work together with ‘silo specialists’. But where do ‘specialist-generalists’ come from?
One route is from ‘multi-disciplinary learning’ which can be described as: ‘where two or more specialist disciplines collaborate for a specific purpose’. It is a radical approach that challenges not ‘what to think’ but ‘how to think’. Of course, multi-disciplinary teams have existed for a long time in areas such as large, complex engineering projects and in healthcare where multidisciplinary teams review and plan treatments for patients with cancer. But in technology development and wider business settings, convergence of skills such as developers and creatives is catching fire and traditional barriers are falling fast.
Multidisciplinary learning is emerging across a range of settings, from schools and universities to business training and project management programmes. For example, the Open University [an online educational platform in the UK] provides an online curriculum around Multidisciplinary learning. All of these sources have common themes including:
- Asking questions through which answers are developed through a multidisciplinary process
- Learning and developing links between different subjects and disciplines
- Including individuals from diverse backgrounds such as arts, creatives, quants, tech and science
Out of this process comes a broader and deeper level of critical thinking, self-management and adaptability. This in turn provides teams and organisations with the ability to synthesise a wide variety of ideas to drive creativity, innovative thinking and problem solving. This is particularly relevant to new applications for information technology and artificial intelligence.
What’s in it for workers and organisations to invest their time and resources in promoting multidisciplinary learning? In our book, we focus on the term ‘Flex’ which we describe as ‘how organisations and individuals can better understand, plan and execute actions that will enable them to transform and thrive in the emerging world of technology change and automation’.
We believe multidisciplinary learning is a key success factor to achieve ‘Flex’ and one in which forward looking organisations will adopt and refine the approach in order to achieve competitive advantage. The driver for this will be the ability to remain agile and enhance the ability to switch rapidly to different contexts and environments as evolving technologies challenge the status quo.
Governments and policymakers have a critical role in this to stimulate lifelong learning as part of their obligation to maintain economic growth and competitiveness. Workers will need access to financial resources to enable them to benefit from different forms of education and development that will be relevant to their job roles.
Schemes such as education vouchers and ring-fenced educational grants that people can draw down on, will stimulate the supply of high-quality educational resources. These will be delivered through an increasing variety of sources and formats. Multidisciplinary learning will become part of this mix, allowing people to select and add value to their learning portfolio credentials.
For workers, and especially the emerging independent workforce, multidisciplinary learning will allow them to differentiate from competitors, broaden their knowledge base, enhance creative thinking and make new connections. In an uncertain world, that is an insurance policy likely to be worth the cost.
Based on the key themes described in the book, we have developed the ‘Flex Index’™. This tool enables organisations to benchmark where they currently are across seven ‘key domains’ that include strategy, technology readiness, organisational culture and communication. Backed up by some fifty measurable factors, this measurement will allow business leaders to evaluate their organisations in terms of readiness for change, and make informed decisions for key areas of development. The outcome will provide important insights for strategic planning around the concept of ‘responsible change’. The conclusions and can form a basis for organisational leaders to form a narrative and communications strategy that supports engagement with both internal and external stakeholders.
RTA Consulting would be happy to provide consultancy support for your organisation on these topics, speak at your events or engage with you to expand the conversation. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to be amongst a core group of innovative companies who work with this method first.
by Dr Tony Felton, Robby Mol, Professor Arturo Bris
July 2, 2019