Rotman Management

Redefining Work: Three Forces That Are Reshaping Jobs

IN HIS 1930 ESSAY, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”, John Maynard Keynes foretold a future of ‘technological unemployment’ and 15-hour workweeks. We have long since given up on early 20th-century utopian visions of a leisure society in which machines do everything for us; but there is no question that what we actually do these days is changing fast — and will continue to change.

The biggest challenge in understanding the future of work comes in surfacing the implications for three broad constituencies: individuals, employers, and social and governmental institutions. Unless all three are aligned in their understanding and actions to address emerging opportunities and challenges, the road ahead will be bumpy, at best.

The good news is that if our organizational leaders understand more fully how the complex landscape of work is evolving, they can target their activities in ways that will help workforces around the world — and societies in general — anticipate and prepare for what lies ahead.

The Three Forces

Three powerful forces are shaping the nature of work and the future workforce:

1. TECHNOLOGY. Technological advances in the areas of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), sensors and data have created entirely new ways of getting work done that are, in some cases, upending the way we use and think about our tools and how people and machines can complement and substitute for one another.

2. DEMOGRAPHICS. Demographic changes are shifting the composition of the global workforce. In most places, people are living longer than ever, and overall, the population is becoming both older and younger, with individual nations becoming more diverse. Even more challenging, the younger generations will be increasingly concentrated in developing economies, while the developed economies (and China) get ever older.

Over time, as more routine tasks are automated, people should be able to achieve more of their potential.

Thanks to digital technologies and public policy shifts, individuals and institutions can exert greater ‘pull’ — the ability to access people and resources

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