Tempo Blog
July 29, 2019

Weekly News Roundup

Three-fifths cite attracting and retaining talent as top objective for 2019, employeebenefits.co.uk

Almost three-fifths (56%) of employers cite attracting and retaining talent as the top objective for their benefits strategy in 2019, compared to 82% in 2018, according to research by Thomsons Online Benefits.

Its Innovation generation: The big HR tech disconnect 2019/20 report, which surveyed 380 global HR and reward professionals with responsibilities in the UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, the Caribbean and Oceania, also found that a further 56% had enhancing employee engagement as their key priority for 2019.

This compares to 52% who listed promoting employee health and wellbeing as a top objective, and 40% who ranked driving business performance as the most important goal. Almost three in 10 (28%) cited an aim to reinforce corporate culture.

Three-fifths (56%) of employers spend more than 15% of employees’ base salary on benefits; however, 50% either do not know, or do not measure, the return-on-investment (ROI).

In terms of employee health and wellbeing, 33% of respondents collect staff data from wearable devices, such as Fitbits and heart rate monitors; this is predicted to increase to 81% within the next three years. By 2020, 83% of employers plan to also collect data that is generated by building sensors, based on employees’ footfall or desk time, for example, in order to create a more engaging and healthy working environment.

Among the 60 UK-based respondents, 44% have used people data insights to improve employee engagement, and 31% have used this information to bolster staff productivity. A further 62% have bettered their reward programme after looking at employee interactions with their benefits platform. Almost two-thirds (65%) of global organisations use employee data to monitor staff performance, while 61% use this information to track engagement. A further 65% collect this data using employee engagement survey results, while 56% look at employee benefits statistics, such as take-up rates and scheme engagement scores.

Matthew Jackson, vice president, client solutions at Thomsons Online Benefits, said: “There’s a common misconception that digitalisation and increasing automation will lead to job losses. Our research indicates that when it comes to HR, this simply isn’t the case, at least not in the near to mid-term. Instead, we will see an evolution of skills as businesses increasingly look to HR teams to supply data-based insights that can play a real role in measuring and informing people strategy.

“At present, having people analytics skills within the HR function is optional, but soon they will be imperative. The significant budgets that HR teams are handling are simply too large not to track, and the potential for better, data-led decision-making is too big to ignore.”

Retraining and upskilling: solutions for the future of (human) work?, equaltimes.org

In three years’ time, 42 per cent of task hours will be performed by machines or algorithms and humans will take care of the remaining 58 per cent. New jobs will emerge in fields such as data, employing 133 million people around the world, whilst others, such as postal jobs, will disappear, leaving 75 million people out of work. These are some of the effects of globalisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution set out in the 2018 Future of Jobs Report of the World Economic Forum. It also estimates that workers will need an average of 101 days of retraining and upskilling between now and 2022.

It was with this outlook in mind that, in May of last year, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility at the time, Marianne Thyssen, presented a ‘strengthened’ European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), to ensure that people “have the right skills” and access to “modern social protection adapted to new forms of work”. Set up 12 years ago, the EGF offers co-funding for up to 60 per cent of the cost of initiatives such as training and retraining to reintegrate workers affected by factory closures or the decline in economic sectors affected by globalisation, such as the 4500 Ericsson employees in Sweden who lost their jobs as a result of the “increasingly tough competition from Asian producers”.

“Protecting people, not jobs”

The EFG “is an attempt to compensate people that have lost out to automation but it is a mere fraction of EU social spending” – set at 37 per cent in the 2017-2022 budget – Andrés Ortega Klein, researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute think tank and author of La Imparable Marcha de los Robots The Unstoppable March of the Robots, tells Equal Times. And whilst worldwide corporate spending on digital transformation (DX) is reaching dizzying heights, as shown in reports such as that of the International Data Corporation, “governments are lagging behind”, says the researcher, adding that public transition policies “should be protecting people rather than jobs, as we do not know if these will be salvaged”. “Those who lose their jobs to automation are not ready for the new jobs. Not enough is being invested in upskilling,” Ortega warns.

Indeed, underfinancing – around €170 million a year (US$193 million) until 2020 for the whole of the European Union – is a serious handicap. “The EGF is a trial; there has not been sufficient funding; the thinking was that the market would absorb these people, and it has, but with poorer pay and conditions, leading to the shrinking and decline of the middle classes, and that represents a major threat to democratic stability.” The absence of a community-wide strategy is another setback. “The EU should follow the example of Japan, which is retraining its workers, even those in good jobs, skilled work,” says Ortega Klein. The land of the rising sun already has a national artificial intelligence strategy. China is also ready with its artificial intelligence development plan and has commissioned search engine and tech company Baidu to set up a “deep learning laboratory” in partnership with the country’s leading universities.

Meanwhile, the ILO, in the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work adopted in June, called for the right to “effective lifelong learning” at the same time as urging governments, employers and workers, as well as educational institutions, to pool their efforts.

For ILO economist and expert in technological change and its impact on employment, Irmgard Nübler, focusing on the development of skills such as critical thinking or creativity are key to developing a “long-term approach” to the future of work involving governments, employers and civil society. “Skills basically fulfil two roles: they shape the thinking, mindset and attitude of a society and provide the technical skills enabling companies to develop new technologies,” she tells Equal Times.

“The future of work will be determined by technology and institutions”

Technological retraining alone, however, will not provide us with quality jobs. “Over the last 30 to 40 years, we have shifted towards an economic paradigm whereby growth and economic development have become more important than anything else. That has led to a situation where many institutions have been adapted to support growth, efficiency and globalisation. When we look at decent work, for example, in many countries, the institutions that used to ensure decent work have been cut back or changed based on the argument that they could destroy jobs,” recalls Nübler.

“Technology is one thing that determines the type of jobs available, but we also need institutions to regulate the working hours, to ensure decent conditions and social protection, etc. Both technology and institutions will determine the future of work,” she says, alluding to the gig economy or platform economy.

Ortega Klein shares this realistic view of technology: “The global foundation for a new social contract will be how technology is able to help economically depressed areas that offer insufficient employment; how it can be used to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, although the key will continue to lie in how the work is distributed,” he points out. “We are already seeing it, throughout the OECD, where the number of hours worked is progressively declining, but the danger lies in building a more unequal society, with some people working long hours for little pay whilst others work much less yet have much higher incomes. Exploring the idea of a Universal Basic Income is an option,” he insists.

To the question of whether training is the solution, Nübler’s response is clear. “Social justice needs to be the compass for our choices as a society, we always have to ask ourselves the questions ‘Is it fair?’, ‘Who is benefiting and who is losing?’ and ‘Is there a balance?’. If, as a society, we think it is not fair, our governments should invest more in everything we need to give young people access to jobs,” she adds. The economist also stresses the importance of “listening to what young people want” and to create jobs that match, as well as providing them with incentives to work in sectors where more staff is needed, such as the care and ageing sectors.

As the economist underlines, however, the real challenge is understanding that “we cannot remain in this growth paradigm”. “We need to fundamentally change our perspective and to find ways to balance these different targets in a way that protects the environment, and that will mean less consumption and less production for many developed countries,” she concludes.

Amazon plans to upskill 100,000 employees. Here's what that means for the future of work, fastcompany.com

Amazon’s announcement that it will invest US$700 million to retrain 100,000 employees—a third of its U.S. workforce—in new technologies is the latest reminder that the much-heralded future of work is well underway.

Policy makers, analysts, and scholars trying to discern the retailer’s motives and objectives chalked it up to a public relations move or the natural result of a tight labor market. Others deemed it standard retraining and investment.

Lost in the reaction, however, is what it means for the rest of us workers. As an expert in technology disruption, I believe the main message in Amazon’s announcement is clear and indisputable: The jobs of tomorrow will require at least some competency in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math.

But do we want to leave it to companies like Amazon to take the lead in making sure we’re ready?

Amazon’s rationale

Amazon offered, in painstaking detail, its rationale for the retraining initiative. Drawing on its own employment data, as well as publicly available labor data, Amazon revealed the fastest-growing technical and nontechnical jobs at the company over the past five years.

The technical jobs were what you might expect, such as data scientist and network development engineer. What intrigued me most, however, were the job descriptions of the supposedly nontechnical positions it highlighted, such as program manager, business analyst, and marketing professional. These jobs now require a breathtaking degree of fluency in STEM skills.

Ten years ago, for example, a young individual might have secured a job at an Amazon shipping facility based on physical skills alone or in human resources with a simple undergraduate degree. Today, those same jobs require understanding how to work with a robot to move around packages efficiently or use artificial intelligence to sift through résumés.

No industry is immune

The blurring of technical and nontechnical jobs signals a dramatic shift for the entire workforce and will change the basic structure and nature of work.

In the past, the narrative was that STEM jobs offered a more lucrative career path. Now, every job is a STEM job, from bricklaying and nursing to radiology and house painting. You will be hard-pressed to find a job in the coming decades that won’t work with a robot or AI or even have one as a manager.

One of the fastest-growing areas, in fact, is human robot interaction and the development of collaborative robots known as co-bots. The point being, humans lucky enough to avoid getting displaced by an AI-powered robot will still need to demonstrate the ability to work alongside or under it.

As with past industrial revolutions, the future of work—also known as “industry 4.0“—is being driven by technology disruption in the form of automation, big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, drones, and 5G. Business leaders anticipate that a skills mismatch will rapidly emerge in the next few years, particularly relative to automation and artificial intelligence.

While the application of these technologies will be more pronounced in certain sectors, one thing is certain: No industry will be immune. Technical fluency is now a baseline qualification, and those without it risk being left behind.

The role of higher ed Who should be responsible for ensuring the workforce is prepared for these challenges?

Amazon’s answer, essentially, is “we’ll take care of it.” One of the more telling aspects of Amazon’s announcement was that it plans to use its own programs to retrain employees, such as Amazon Technical Academy and Machine Learning University.

There was no mention of universities and colleges. Other companies, such as Google, similarly say they are relying on partners outside of traditional academia to support their training needs.

While corporate universities are hardly a new development, I believe the coming labor market challenge requires higher education to get into the game.

The problem is, at present, higher education is designed for the last industrial revolution, not the current one. Universities and colleges deliver degrees at a glacial pace. The average completion time for a bachelor’s degree is five years. That’s too slow.

Imagine a young computer science major entering a college this fall and graduating in 2024—at which point researchers expect AI to be capable of coding in complex computer languages like Python. By the time she graduates, not only will she be competing against humans for jobs, but she’ll also be going up against a more efficient and cheaper AI bot.

Higher education needs to become more adaptive and innovative. If it doesn’t, industry will continue to take the lead on its own.

With well-founded concerns that organizations like Amazon represent a growing monopolistic threat, I don’t think we want these organizations to dominate education as well, or to focus retraining efforts in ways that are likely to only suit a company’s short-term business needs.

Industry should play a part, but higher education needs to be the foundation.

Retraining the future

The question then becomes, do we want corporate training programs to be the basis of participation in the future of work and the only way for workers to get up to speed?

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