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The changing face of work

The changing workforce - almost half of all current jobs will be automated in the next 20 years - but are business leaders prepared for this?
Pat Chapman-Pincher is studying the lead-up to an estimated 45% of jobs being automated in the next 20 years. Courtesy Pat Chapman-Pincher
Pat Chapman-Pincher is studying the lead-up to an estimated 45% of jobs being automated in the next 20 years. Courtesy Pat Chapman-Pincher

Pat Chapman-Pincher is studying how chief executives plan to incorporate technological changes into their businesses.

The research, due for publication this month, also examines what leaders perceive will be the effect of an automated workforce.

The technology guru has spent 35 years creating and growing major multinational companies in the internet, fixed and mobile telecoms sector. These days, the 68-year-old mentors leaders for Merryck & Co on how to understand global technology trends.

Why embark on this research?

When I went into board and strategy work with companies and mentoring executives, I had more time to look at the future. I’ve become very interested in the speed that technology is moving at, and the lack of understanding people have about it. The Oxford Martin programme on the Impacts of Future Technology (2013) estimates that 45 per cent of jobs will be automated in the next 20 years. Yet who is planning for this?

What’s in store then?

I liken what is happening now to the early days of the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom, when about two thirds of the businesses that would be taken out by the new technology had no idea what was going on and weren’t very interested anyway. Take the internal combustion engine. If you ran a coach company, or you were horse and cart carriers, did you worry what the madman was doing with his car? No, you didn’t. It’s similar to now in that the development of artificial intelligence and the application of that to the business world, which I call intelligent automation, is creating technology that will start to take out jobs. Ten years ago everybody said the driverless car was impossible; now it is very real, so you can see how fast technology is moving.

What does your research reveal?

The findings that jump out are that 48 per cent of businesses have not looked at the impact of automation on jobs. Only 17 per cent of respondents think managerial jobs will be hit by automation – and fewer still, just 3 per cent, think leadership positions will be lost. The business world is expecting automation to change the world in the same pattern as previous automation waves. The few who do think automation affects jobs at all believe that the blue-collar and clerical jobs will go while managers continue to sit pretty in their offices. But it’s mainly white-collar people who will lose their jobs. Some blue-collar workers will be affected, including anyone who makes a living driving a car – computers don’t get road rage when someone carves them up, they don’t get distracted, they don’t need coffee stops and they can go on applying those rules 24 hours a day. But people are used to blue- collar jobs going. They’re not used to professional jobs disappearing.

What white-collar jobs will be lost?

I think there will be two sorts of jobs left: the very senior knowledge workers – the senior IT people, senior lawyers, senior accountants, and senior judges – and then a range of service workers who provide personal services, because people will still want a human interface. An awful lot of the jobs in between that will go. Accountancy and junior lawyers positions will go, because those are jobs that can be done by intelligent machines. We now have very smart design machines doing the work of architects. They don’t have the creativity of a Norman Foster or a Frank Gehry, but they can do about 90 per cent of the work. We’re just beginning to see the hollowing out of the labour market. Last year, the employment rate for law school graduates in the United States fell for the sixth year in a row.

Surely economies have a natural way of creating alternative forms of employment?

The first industrial revolution created significant joblessness and appalling conditions for people in the early stages, but then there was a flight to cities, to a different sort of job. With this revolution, I can see the jobs disappearing, and I’m not sure what the new roles will be.

Are some businesses going to get a nasty shock?

Large corporates will start to see their business models transformed in the next three to five years, in the same way the internet has changed business forever. There are elements of artificial intelligence affecting businesses now, but leadership teams look at them in the same way as climate change – “It might or might not happen, and it is certainly not something I need to worry about today.”

Will the UAE rely on automation to fulfil expatriate jobs?

Yes, for some jobs. I think the UAE may have a real opportunity, because its leaders are looking for things to be part of the post-oil strategy. The UAE could become a global centre of excellence for what the effects of automation might be. The country has forward-thinking leadership, which many countries lack. And because it’s so new, it hasn’t got centuries of infrastructure so it can actually change much quicker.

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Published: August 31, 2015 04:00 AM

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