Disruption in the workplace

Undoubtedly, the most desired feature of the future workforce is flexibility. Ease of learning and strong work ethic will make employees desirable


By Alexiei Dingli and Rose Marie Azzopardi

Every day, we wake up and hope for stability. But in the past years, we’ve realised the truth behind Heraclitus’s quote that “the only constant in life is change”. Our everyday boring lives changed overnight and to such an extent that we consider a simple hug a subversive act today.

But a more significant disruption looms on the horizon, a tsunami that will change our world forever. Advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are slowly permeating the most mundane functions of our daily life even though we might not realise it! Every time we search for information online, it’s the AI sifting through millions of documents. When we buy stuff through online stores, it’s the AI ensuring the safety of our financial transactions. Even just strolling casually through social media, algorithms choose all the content for us. But this is a silent revolution—no big fusses. No labels. But things are changing rapidly underneath the hood.

It is only a matter of time before such technologies directly affect us. The Future of Jobs Report, issued by the World Economic Forum, clearly states that machines will displace around 85 million jobs in the coming years and create 97 million new roles. And this change might be sooner than we think. The same report states that by 2025, the number of machines working in the industry will outnumber the number of humans for the first time in history. We’re already seeing plants known as “lights out the manufacturing”, operating in pitch darkness since machines do not need light to work and human intervention is next to nothing.

Some might think that this tsunami will only affect the low paid jobs, but this is not the case. Positions related to accounting, bookkeeping, financial analysis and many others are topping the list of those jobs with decreasing demand. As a rule of thumb, numerical jobs will be the first affected by these technologies. The reason is simply that the base language of any computer is mathematics; thus, they involve tasks that a machine can process with relative ease.

Following those will be knowledge-based jobs. They are slightly more complex; however, a computer can refer to a vast body of texts to help it, making the processes quicker and more efficient. As proof of this, a few years back, a legal AI was created called LawGeex, tasked with analysing various contractual documents and spot errors. Twenty top US corporate lawyers also took on the same task. The human lawyers spent 90 minutes per document and achieved an accuracy of 85%. LawGeex completed the entire job in 26 seconds, achieving an accuracy of 94%. Of course, this does not mean that we will have a robot defending us in court any time soon. But it’s a clear sign that AI is seeping through more workplaces than we can imagine, and it will change them once and for all.

The most influential institutions in the world are also echoing this forthcoming disruption. Gartner, one of the most influential consulting companies globally, featured AI prominently in their upcoming predictions. Oxford University, the Economist, the BBC, PwC, Google and many others raised their concerns about these changes. The President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, declared that this should become the digital decade of Europe. The EU will concentrate on three main priorities; data, emerging technologies (particularly AI) and digital infrastructure. Large countries such as the US, China and India are setting up the required infrastructure to tackle the advent of widespread AI.

Now the problem lies in the fact that even though, on paper, the number of jobs created by AI will be far greater than those displaced, in reality, there is still a considerable skills mismatch. Many people who will lose their jobs because of these advancements do not have the necessary skills to take on the new tasks. At the moment, Europe is already facing a shortage of half a million people in various ICT roles, and this number will most likely keep on increasing.

Thus, all the countries need to rethink their educational offering to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow. They need to invest in massive upskilling and re-skilling initiatives for their workforce to provide a smooth transition from their current employment to future roles. Those that manage to do so will gain a massive advantage over other countries since a skilled workforce will automatically attract emerging industries.

The emergence of the gig economy will ensure that these workers will have access to the best opportunities worldwide, thus increasing their salaries without leaving their homes. Those who prefer to leave their country can work remotely through digital nomad initiatives.

Undoubtedly, the most desired feature of the future workforce is flexibility. Ease of learning and strong work ethic will make employees desirable. Hybrid workplaces with adaptable conditions will make positions sought after. Combining the two will lead to a malleable economy ready to withstand future challenges while riding on the upcoming innovations. Are we prepared for these disruptions?

To tackle this challenge, the HSBC Malta Foundation is sponsoring The Human Capital Research Project. This is supported by the Ministry of Education, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, the Malta Business Bureau, the University of Malta and the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology. The project aims to analyse the current and future economic environments, assessing their impact on Malta’s labour market while also highlighting the skills needed. Further details can be found: https://www.facebook.com/HumanCapitalResearchProject

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