Opinion: why we must adapt or die in this tech-driven world

We must be ready for a lifetime of learning to cope with the pace of technological change in the 21st century
Opinion: why we must adapt or die in this tech-driven world
People and machines Jonathan Holmes, managing director, Middle East & North Africa for Korn Ferry, speak at the Arabian Business Forum
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Fri 30 Nov 2018 01:10 AM

As technology advances, concern has been steadily increasing that we, as a labour market, are unprepared. Some have gone as far as to say that technology will lead to mass unemployment, which, in turn, will have a significant impact on the very fibre of our societies. These concerns, at the very least, should lead us all to ask ourselves an important question: what can we do to prepare?

Certainly, the numbers are alarming. According to research from Korn Ferry, 60 percent of business leaders in the UAE predict that a talent deficit will hit the country as early as 2020. Another 50 percent of respondents said they believe that a third of the existing workforce will no longer be needed in 10 years, along with 20 percent of the total number of human roles.

The end of labour:

what then can be done? Among the most important factors, according to the experts speaking at the recent Arabian Business forum – coverage of which is featured on page 34 – is a much-needed change in mindset.

Almost none of the top Fortune 500 companies of 1960 have survived to this day. Others, such as Nokia barely survived

At present, too many businesses seem to think that negative disruptions are inevitable, but that they won’t happen anytime soon.

“There isn’t enough confidence in labour,” says Korn Ferry Middle East senior client partner Danny Leinders. “Businesses think that it will be somebody else’s problem in the future. Part of it is because it is much easier to plan for technology and tangible assets than it is to plan for your people and culture.”

The fact is that, ready or not, these changes are happening at a pace that is difficult for many of us to fathom. If there is, in fact, a skills gap, then we need a collective attitude change. We need to be ready to accept change, adapt, and move forward. Individuals need to be willing to learn new skills to meet new realities, and companies need to be ready to help train people for drastically altered – or potentially completely new – jobs.

Make no mistake, for companies this process is very much about survival. As was noted during the forum, almost none of the top Fortune 500 companies of 1960 have survived to this day. Others, such as Nokia – which many may not know was founded in 1865 and, which is perhaps more widely known, refused one of the very first patents for a smartphone – struggled and barely survived, having been unprepared for the changes that suddenly came its way.

Getting with the programme

Fortunately, a look at the future of the workplace need not be all doom and gloom. Increasingly, companies are demonstrating innovative thinking and new ways of approaching the issue. One example, as Dell EMC Middle East, Africa and Turkey SVP Mohammed Amin noted at the forum, is that employers in the future will focus more on the “innovative” potential of job candidates, to determine the probability of them being able to adapt to new business models. This should be seen as a positive thing. As Amin says: “When machines are next to us, they will take all the jobs that take our time and they will allow us to unleash our ideas.”

Some have gone as far as to say that technology will lead to mass unemployment

The most important thing to remember going forward is that, as workers and as businesses, we are all works in progress. With technology advancing as rapidly as it is, there is quite simply no way we can ever be prepared for a future that we can’t fully understand.

The best we can do is to be prepared for a lifetime of learning. Be ready to adapt, be ready to be flexible and be ready to give yourself the fundamental skills that will allow you to “transcend” specific roles. In doing so we can be part of the transformation that companies around the world will have to go through over the next few decades.

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