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Expert panel at British School to look at jobs of the future

15:02 11/02/2019

According to a study carried out by a co-operative of Belgian organisations in 2017, one in five people working in Belgium felt helpless in the face of an ever-changing digital society. Even if they spent the day working in front of a computer, workers confessed that they were certain their digital skills were not keeping up with demand.

This anxiety is being addressed this week at the British School of Brussels (BSB) in Tervuren during an expert panel titled Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in an Age of Automation. In collaboration with the British and American Chambers of Commerce, the school is inviting students, staff and member of the public to the discussion on workforce changes of the future.

The subject is a vast one, covering the skills workers will need to acquire, the industries most likely to be affected and the role of education. “We see this as a unique opportunity for business leaders and HR professionals to see the future of work through the eyes of the young people who could be their workforce soon,” says Glenn Vaughan, Chief Executive of the British Chamber of Commerce. 

But those already in the workforce also have much to gain from the discussion, he says, “gaining an insight into how these trends are already changing the world of work and the into the skills and capabilities they could work on.”

Just another revolution 

Vaughan will chair the panel, which includes Jaana Kajanmaa, the senior director of customer experience at tech solutions multinational Cisco; John W Mitchell of IPC, the electronic assembly trade association; Angela Lei Dong, senior vice-president of human resources at Brussels-based chemical giant Solvay and Melanie Warnes, head of BSB.

The panel will be joined by the event’s keynote speaker, Jacques Bughin, a lecturer in business strategy at ULB and a senior partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. The private thinktank published a series of reports in 2017 on technology and the impact on the future of work. 

While some of us tend to think of the digital revolution as unique, Bughin reminds us that, before it began, humankind faced two industrial revolutions that were thought of the same way. “In most revolutions, technology tends to get ahead of skills, and then skills build up and create new jobs,” he explains. “In the 1920s, for instance, there was a real need to have people migrate from mostly hands-on agricultural work to machine tasks in industries.”

Different jobs, but not fewer 

Education in both the US and Europe followed the trend, with authorities making secondary school mandatory. Education has always been key to the process, he notes, “as schools are eager to understand whether they have a future-proof CV, and students want to understand how jobs and the future of work are going to look”.

While technology seems to be moving at a dramatic pace, the McKinsey Institute concludes that “even by 2030, 45% of time at work will be spent in some kind of physical activity, using basic ‘secondary school type’ cognitive skills.” 

Still, nearly all jobs of the future will be affected by new technologies, just as they have been in the past. “Roughly 93% of us will be potentially affected by the existing range of artificial intelligence and smart robotics if they scale according to plan,” he says.

The biggest changes will be seen in industrial jobs that require a high repetition of tasks and limited cognitive skills, he says. Those will end up being fully automated.

But that doesn’t mean fewer jobs. “Labour productivity will increase significantly, and labour will have to do more added-value tasks. But in general, those tasks are healthier and more tuned to our cognitive capabilities.”

Bughin also points out that the current skill-set buzz word – coding – terrifies a lot of people in the workforce. “But it isn’t what it used to be. Today, a lot of coding is with high-level language, and no longer a kind of machine language in 1-0. Coding is becoming much easier.”

Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained, 12 February 17.45-20.30, email to attend

Written by Lisa Bradshaw