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Are you ready for a changing world of work?

The rise of AI and robots underline the need for employers to impart the correct skills

Employers have to look at the impact of digitalisation as AI and robots take over the workplace.

The world of work is changing at an unprecedented rate. International research indicates that 85 per cent of the jobs which will exist in 2030 have yet to be created. Another piece of research contained in the World Economic Forum Future of Work 2018 report suggests 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines by 2022, while 133 million new roles may emerge as a result of a new division of labour between humans and machines.

These are among the key challenges facing Irish enterprises and workers in the coming years, according to Skillnet Ireland chair Brendan McGinty. Skillnet Ireland is the national agency charged with the promotion and facilitation of workforce learning. Its mission is to facilitate increased participation in enterprise training and workforce learning and the organisation currently supports more than 15,000 companies and provides a wide range of learning experiences to 50,000-plus trainees.

“This is an area which I have become increasingly passionate about in recent years,” says McGinty. “In my time previously working in Ibec and as a consultant and in my role as chair of Skillnet Ireland I have been dealing with organisations grappling with how to anticipate where the next change is coming from and how to be in a position to respond. Skillnet Ireland is starting a conversation about what that means for Ireland.”

Employers have to look at the impact of digitalisation, he adds. “We are seeing new contractual forms, digital disruption, and a significant shift in the structure of employment internationally. Uber, for example, has the largest fleet of cars in the world and doesn’t own any of them. Just recently we had a driverless bus operating in Dublin. These things are just a foretaste of what’s coming at us at an incredibly fast pace.”


Concept of telesurgery

The nature of the jobs people do will also change as a result of the advent of new technologies such as AI and robotics. “Some of these trends are fascinating,” McGinty notes. “In the medical profession you will see the introduction of the concept of telesurgery. This will involve the delivery of medical support including even surgery in hard-to-reach communities. It has implications for medical training where an understanding of robotics and so on will be required.”

In the medical profession you will see the introduction of  telesurgery. This will involve the delivery of medical support including even surgery in hard-to-reach communities

More immediate is the growing presence of electric vehicles on our roads. “This has implications for motor industry employees like traditional car mechanics”, he points out. “They will face challenges in this rapidly changing era. Traditional sectors like meat processing are also being impacted. Relatively physical tasks will have increasing intellectual elements as a result of things like traceability and the requirement for ever-higher quality standards. Sectors like pharmachem are moving to digital production environments.”

The common thread linking all of these is the need for new skills to deal with the changes and the requirement for employers to engage in workforce planning in order to keep pace.

“We need to ask what we can do to help people stay connected to the world of work,” says McGinty. “How can we support those in work and not in work to improve their skills to make a better contribution as well as fulfil their own career ambitions and potential? Business, educational institutions and government need to bridge the gap between education, employment and the changing world of work. We need to see a stronger emphasis on improving the employability of graduates in terms of personal leadership, their subject knowledge and business acumen, priming them to be labour market ready, particularly for higher-skilled work, and employers working closely with schools and colleges to help prepare students for the changing world of work.”

Learning environment

Careers are no longer being defined narrowly by jobs and skills, he continues. “Firms are having to take new approaches to developing employees, focusing on the learning environment and experience-based opportunities while enabling individuals to manage their own careers. Equally, we need to help make workforce development become a first choice for employers so that they can access the skills and staff they need and support those individuals wishing to retrain, develop their skills or make career transitions. As an organisation, Skillnet Ireland has the benefit of being incredibly close to the enterprise community and we are working through the enterprise networks to help SMEs to do this.”

For the future, he says, the challenge will be to engage with those sectors where these issues are going to be most evident. “We need to upskill people in employment and grow the value of jobs,” he continues. “We are moving from a position where the most important thing was to get people into jobs to one where that is the minimum and what we have to do is upskill to retain and increase the value of jobs so that their contribution to the enterprise increases and the career ambitions and expectations of individuals are being met.”