‘We need to prepare our people for a new world of work’
Technological disruption brings new opportunities, says Brendan McGinty of Skillnet Ireland
It is predicted that more than half of today’s recruits to the US Air Force will never physically fly an aircraft but will operate drones instead. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
Technological disruption may displace some traditional skills and jobs, but it will also create many new opportunities for employment growth. However, new skills will be required to avail of those opportunities. This is the view of Brendan McGinty, chairperson of Skillnet Ireland, the national agency for workforce learning.
“The technological disruption that we see today is unprecedented in human history,” he says. “It is transforming the workplace and is fundamentally changing how we work. A lot of things have brought this into sharp focus. Instinctively, people are seeing changes in their daily lives due to technological disruption. AI is now part of the lexicon. We are seeing a transformation of workplaces and how tasks are being carried out.”
He points to the rise of disruption in transport and accommodation as examples.
“These are things people can identify with,” he says. “We have seen the taxi system disrupted internationally by companies like Uber, which has the largest fleet of vehicles in the world but doesn’t own a single one of them. Similarly, Airbnb has the largest volume of rooms in the world without owning any of them. Earlier this year we saw a driverless bus being trialled on the streets of Dublin and parcel delivery firms around the world are looking at drones for delivery.”
But it’s not all bad news. “The digital transformation will also unlock enormous pent-up potential within our businesses, bringing growth and creating new jobs, many of which don’t exist in 2019,” McGinty contends. “We are also seeing the very nature of employment itself being redefined, with the rise of the gig economy, portfolio careers, virtual and remote working and, of course, extended working lives. Yet, despite all of this disruption, the wide evidence base is telling us that the net outlook for jobs is positive, provided we are serious about taking the necessary steps to prepare.”
The opportunities are vast. “The disruption has the potential to displace tasks and affect people’s jobs, but it also has the potential to open up new ways of doing things,” he points out. “We are seeing fantastic developments in areas such as medicine, for example. Surgeons will increasingly be trained in robotics while telesurgery will become the norm for remote locations. We will see an increasing convergence of technology and human skills.”
We need to see people being reskilled for today’s jobs, and given the confidence to tackle new skills
That has some interesting implications. “They are predicting in America that more than half of today’s recruits to the US Air Force will never physically fly an aircraft. They will control drones instead. We will also see the emergence of new roles like simplicity expert, who will simplify and streamline the jobs people do. The nature of work is changing now; we don’t have to wait for the future – it’s here. We need to see people being reskilled for today’s jobs, and workers have to be given the confidence to tackle new skills. This will arguably be a bigger challenge for older workers. Younger workers tend to be more up for those challenges. The type of interventions required may differ for the generations.”
Careers are no longer defined by job titles or skills. People are attracted by learning and development opportunities
This has implications for national policy. “We are pretty much at full employment now, thankfully, notwithstanding Brexit. But if we want to continue to grow the economy, become more productive and create new opportunities, the greatest resource lies in the talent we already have across all sectors. This is the national challenge we face. We need to go to the next level of improving skills and preparing our people for the new world of work and the wave of technological disruption that is coming.”
It is a challenge for employers as well. “Careers are no longer defined by job titles or skills,” McGinty adds. “People are attracted by learning and development opportunities. They want to join organisations where they see a purpose in their work and where they have choices in relation to their career development. Skillnet Ireland works with employers to meet those challenges.”
And it is not just the traditional workplace skills which will be needed. “We have tended to be very good as a country at producing knowledge workers, highly skilled workers for various sectors like biopharma or ICT. We now have much more need for T-shaped workers who have the hard competencies of skillsets as well as those high-touch skills in areas such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, people skills and so on. We have to ensure people emerge from the education system equipped with those skills which will maximise their employability.”
McGinty concludes: “As we look to the future, we must build upon the strengths of our people. For businesses to adapt to this new world, to be productive and innovative, and ultimately to thrive and to prosper, they must place the development, the upskilling, the training of their people to the very fore. That’s where organisations like Skillnet Ireland come in. We help organisations across all sectors to work through these issues and put programmes in place to deal with them.”