Automation, learning and doing good

Appearing in In The Black magazine, June 2021

Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation

By Kevin Roose

Hachette, 256 pages, $30

As a technology columnist for the New York Times, Roose has watched many waves of disruption come and go. For a long time he was zealous about AI, algorithms and automation but in the past few years he has become concerned over the loss of jobs and the broader social impact. The introduction for AI sometimes means people being fired but is more often felt through fewer hires and stagnant wages. The most vulnerable jobs are those with high levels of predictability. If a job has an operations manual of under three pages, he says, it will probably be ripe for automation. But he also points out that AI systems are capable of staggering errors, so a good system of human oversight is a wise idea.

The jobs that will remain are those which require adaptability, judgement, and creativity. Not all of them are high-level positions: nursing is an example of a field that is actually growing. It is best to have multiple, integrated skills and a capacity for rapport. In fact, human connection will become a critical asset. He also offers advice to business leaders: think carefully about this before you rush into something that cannot be easily reversed.

Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet

By Michelle Weise

Wiley, 272 pages, $42

With working lives that can last for fifty years or more a critical question is whether the traditional four-year university degree completed when someone is about 22 is still appropriate. Weise, an academic who doubles as an adviser to companies on their skills requirements, answers that it is clearly not. But it persists because many people have a stake in it. She proposes a technology-driven “learning ecosystem” which will allow for rolling waves of reskilling, with educators and employers working together to identify and meet emerging needs. This requires an understanding of the future job market, including possible career pathways; education tailored to both the learner and potential employers; an integration of training, skills development and existing responsibilities; and a clear, transparent hiring process. The principles would be underpinned by a robust data infrastructure, so that information can be shared between all the stakeholders, including government policymakers.

Weise believes that the outlines of a new system can be discerned in the rising levels of dissatisfaction with the current degree-based structure. Eventually, a new system will be determined by market forces. For their part, if traditional universities cannot map a path for change they will eventually find themselves without a role.

Leading Tomorrow: How Effective Leaders Change Paradigms, Build Responsible Brands, and Transform Employees

By Raj Aseervatham

Routledge, 260 pages, $43 (e-book)

Aseervatham is a project engineer by profession but in his global consulting work he has seen growing demands for businesses to move beyond making profits towards making a positive difference in the world. He identifies the key element of the transition as a generation of leaders who are willing to remake the corporate culture, building connections with stakeholders as well as undertaking collaborative projects with like-minded companies. He does not under-estimate the difficulty of this transformation, and notes that it will probably entail a personal journey for the leaders as well.

Meeting legal obligations and giving money to worthy causes is no longer enough. Investors, regulators and community activists now make up a new environment for corporate activity. Tapping into emerging networks of information and developing appropriate metrics are key tasks for leaders.

The world’s problems are too urgent for change to be incremental, says Aseervatham. Instead, radical action is needed. He believes that playing a positive social role will be supported by shareholders, who want to be proud of their company. Likewise, a company’s brand will benefit if the company acts with integrity and responsibility. A business that does good is, in the end, a business that does well.

Downloadable Resources

Looking ahead

A new report from KPMG Australia, 30 Voices on 2030 – The New Reality for Financial Services, brings together industry experts to explore issues such as changing societal expectations, new business models and regulatory frameworks. Their predictions relate to the need to clarify purpose, build novel sources of revenue, and integrate developments in digital currencies and blockchain. Another critical area going forward is managing the data environment, including resource allocation and security. Several of the experts note that the past year has shown the need for resilience, with the most successful companies likely to be those that can quickly adapt to crises and disruption.

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Charting a path

Consulting giant McKinsey has done much to map the path to global recovery but its expertise extends into a wide range of fields, from finance and leadership to science and demographics. A tool that it offers is a daily chart, delivered by email, on a pertinent issue. The McKinsey charts database is easily searchable and there are often links to other material. Some of the most interesting charts deal with climate change and emissions pricing, as well as the impact of ameliorative steps already taken. These charts are useful for providing at-a-glance information or to enhance a presentation or report.

Go to:
Charting the path to the next normal | McKinsey & Company

Crisis consequences

The World Economic Forum, a conference of government leaders, senior business figures, and thought leaders, produces an annual analysis of global-level risks, and its most recent publication focuses on the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. The report forecasts increasing social fragmentation in the next few years, and a greater level of geopolitical instability in the medium term. This will make it even more difficult to deal with long-term concerns such as environmental degradation and climate change. The Global Risks Report 2021 also examines the impact of digitisation, which offers productivity improvements but also raises the prospect of large-scale job displacement and chronic unemployment.

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Cyber link

The Australian Cyber Security Centre offers a wealth of information, and one of the best ways to access it is the ACSC Partnership Program. There are three streams: network partners, for people and organisations with responsibility for and expertise in technology networks; business partners, for companies that want to be kept aware of cyber security information; and home partners, for individuals that have an interest in technology issues. The Program includes a subscription to the ACSC Alert Service, which flags new threats and problems; a monthly newsletter containing advisories and collaboration opportunities; and invitations to events co-ordinated by the ACSC.

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Talent search

Recruitment firm Michael Page sees demand for talented professionals growing strongly over the next year, based on survey data from over 5500 businesses in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. The data, provided in the Talent Trends 2021 report, indicates that many corporates are conducting recruitment drives and are also offering incentives to keep the people they have. The growth of contracting and work-from-home arrangements is likely to continue, even in those Asian countries where it has not been common to date. A particular area to watch, according to the report, is Chinese companies that are investing in markets outside of China.

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