What is the future of work?

By Dean Kelly, Head of Business Transformation, UK & Europe, RP International


Job roles are changing beyond recognition – and fast


Every sector throughout the world is set to be disrupted by digital innovation in the next five years: many jobs that now seem like part of the fabric of our society will, in the not so distant future, be made obsolete by technological advances.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. While some jobs will be made redundant, others will emerge, and demand for software solutions will play a huge role in shaping the world of work and the skills every business needs.


Driverless cars

 As Head of Business Transformation for the UK & Europe, I see software impacting virtually every industry I work in, with huge repercussions for related industries.

Let’s look at just one example: the automotive industry.

On the cusp of total disruption – almost beyond recognition – the number of people this industry employs is staggering. As well as engineers and mechanics, how we currently use vehicles relies on a giant ecosystem of construction workers, sign-makers, driving instructors, underwriters and sales managers – to name but a few. All roles that rely on one factor: humans driving cars.

Until fairly recently, there was no reason to question this status quo (environmental concerns notwithstanding). So long as people keep buying and driving cars, we need the myriad of ancillary roles that came with it. But here’s the catch: people are going to stop buying and driving cars – and much sooner than you think. In the UK, the government has pledged to have driverless cars on the roads by 2021, while semi-autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already delivering pizzas and other products to shoppers in the US – which currently leads the market for AVs.

According to estimates by industry analysts IHS Markit, global sales of AVs could reach almost a million by 2025, and more than 33 million by 2040. Commenting on those figures, director of automotive technology research at IHS Markit, Egil Juliussen, said: “Volumes will surpass 51,000 units in 2021 when personally owned autonomous cars reach individual buyers for the first time, and IHS Markit forecasts estimate nearly 1 million units will be sold in 2025 across shared fleets and individually owned cars.”


The domino effect

 As we embrace driverless cars, it won’t only change the cars we use, but the way that we use them, and this shift will have massive repercussions for the many sectors that support and connect to the automotive industry.

Take insurance, for example. It’s likely that, as AV use rises, individual car ownership will fall: people won’t buy vehicles in the way they do now, instead accessing vehicles as and when they need them.

Without anyone physically driving the car, motor insurance will need to switch from covering the driver to the supplier, with the latter needing both its fleets and autonomous driving systems insured. (The current Tesla versus Huang lawsuit, whereby the family of Walter Huang alleges Tesla’s AV’s autopilot system caused a lethal crash, could have interesting ramifications for future legislation regarding this.)

Of course we don’t yet know how many new businesses – or types of businesses – autonomous vehicles will give rise to. Those privileged enough to own an autonomous vehicle may choose to rent out their car while they sleep or work, and no doubt an app (more software) will facilitate this transaction, with yet more implications for insurers.  As for signage, maintenance and construction: well, as long as there are roads we will need to maintain them, but the focus will eventually shift from an infrastructure built for humans, to one that works with machines.

And with these new apps and platform businesses will come new jobs. According to the online employment marketplace, ZipRecruiter, listings for autonomous driving jobs grew by 27% between 2017 and 2018, with Q2 2018 seeing a 250% boom due to a massive hiring spree at the start of the year. As well as engineers specialising in software, robotics and autonomous navigation, ZipRecruiter reports a rise in listings for strategic account managers, as automakers and software companies race to sell their products first.


Digital architecture

Of course, it’s not just the automotive industry that’s changing.

Progressive companies are moving towards agile methodologies for project management, while new software is transforming other sectors as I write this. As a result, more and more businesses are realising the importance of digital architecture: the work that goes into creating digital platforms, applications and roadmaps.

To date, digital architecture has largely been used as a catch-all term to bridge the gap between IT and use experience (UX) – with digital architects working in UX-based roles concerned with service design and user interface (UI).

But as we move towards industry 4.0 and an increasingly connected world, we’ll see digital architecture bear relevance on pretty much everything. In fact, over the next few years, businesses across all sectors will need to evaluate their digital architecture by examining not just how their products and services interact with customers, but also their routes to market, employment processes and work practices – all areas that  will become more connected and digitised in the future.

In order to future-proof their products, services and business functions, companies will need to continually anticipate these changes by hiring the right mix of skills across their organisations – which will become increasingly cross-functional too. Like I said before, those coding classes can’t come fast enough.