Those most likely to flourish and prosper, are those who equip themselves through learning, to adapt to the developments taking place around them.
Digital disruption is already having a profound impact on the labour market, creating new types of jobs and demands for different skills (obvious examples being app and web development, data analytics, cybersecurity and digital marketing), and at the same time contributing to the elimination of lots of existing jobs through increased automation. This trend seems certain to continue. Some have estimated that as the full potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is realised over the next 10 to 20 years around half of today’s jobs will disappear, because machines will do them better and more cheaply. Others argue that AI will liberate humans from many laborious and unfulfilling roles, whilst at the same time creating huge numbers of new AI related jobs.
Either way, there is no doubt that the nature of work is undergoing and will continue to undergo enormous change, which in turn has huge implications for individuals. This applies to everyone, regardless of their seniority or skillsets. As well as machines replacing unskilled roles and tasks, AI has the potential to replace many of the activities undertaken by ‘experts’ such as doctors or lawyers. And management and leadership in the digital age will be very different in form and style from what we are used to. Moreover, given the pace of technological advance, even those with ‘up-to-date’ digital expertise today are likely to find their knowledge out of date tomorrow. No-one is immune.
The question then for everyone is how best to respond to the magnitude of the changes taking place. Again, the answer appears to be through continuous learning, to keep up with these changes, and to develop the new skills which are relevant to the new social and economic circumstances which prevail at any point in time. Without ongoing learning, it is hard to see how individuals and employees will be able constantly to refresh and update their skills so they can continuously adapt in response to rapid change.
This requires everyone to make a personal commitment to, and take personal responsibility for, continued learning and development. Learning – in terms of both hard and soft skills – should become a core aspect of everybody’s work, rather than a luxury to be pursued as and when the inclination arises. In fact, learning becomes every bit as important as the job itself, as it provides the foundation for improving the activity in question by leveraging the insights about it that arise from that learning; whilst at the same time positioning people for the further change that we know is coming.
Of course, the corollary of this is that organizations need to provide the opportunity for their employees to learn. This said, those which do not encourage learning are unlikely to prosper in the digital age.
Equally, not all employees will find this to their liking – after all, not everyone enjoys school. Perhaps one of the tasks of formal education in the digital age should be to demonstrate the importance of learning, and to equip young people with the abilities they will need to become effective life-long learners. But the harsh reality is that in the context of rapid and continuous change, those most likely to flourish and prosper are those who equip themselves through learning to adapt to the developments taking place.