Unless you had a rich uncle, you’re probably destined to spend about 45 years of your life working. For most of us, time on the job represents about one-third of our existence, so ideally, our work lives will prove both rewarding and enjoyable.
As technology advances, the kind of work we do changes. There’s not a lot of call now for blacksmiths or wainwrights. Today’s jobs use different technologies from those that engaged our ancestors. Likewise, the jobs of tomorrow will be different from those of today, with much of the change driven by technological advancements.
Ian Kahn is a technology writer and futurist, and the founder of a consultancy known as The Futuracy. His firm provides education about the future and emerging technologies, and helps companies determine how ready they are for the future and how disruption-proof their organizations are.
Kahn was recently a guest on DC Velocity’s “Logistics Matters” podcast, where he spoke with Group Editorial Director David Maloney. What follows are some excerpts from their conversation.
Q: Will work in general be different in the future than it is today?
A: There are so many different types of work. For many people, work is about doing things and accomplishing tasks. For others, it is creative work, thinking work. So there are many different types of work. Within the logistics industry and supply chain, there is a lot of work that’s manual—it’s about moving goods from one place to another. But there is also creative work, thinking work, such as back-office work.
What’s happening right now is that work across the board is changing. Automation is taking over some tasks, although there are still many roles that are not changing, that will stay the way they are.
We keep hearing about what technology is doing and the transformation it’s creating, but we also have to ask what parts of the jobs and roles are changing? Is it changing the repetitive tasks or the creative tasks? The physical tasks or some other type of task? Automation and robotics are here, and there are some exciting things coming down the pipeline.
Q: What are some of the most influential aspects of technology that will affect supply chain jobs?
A: Right now, we’re hearing a lot about artificial intelligence and how it will change the way repetitive tasks are done and eliminate the need for human intervention. Great. I love the idea, but let’s have proof of that by creating some use cases. Let’s actually make the lives of workers better and more efficient.
There’s also robotics, autonomous cars, and self-driving trucks. Now, that part of the industry is also exciting, and maybe the truck operators, the professionals who are on the road, can get some kind of a break. Maybe they can drive shorter routes or make use of different routing strategies. That’s a promising technology that can help the industry become more efficient. But that conversation is much bigger than just having self-driving vehicles on the roads. We need the right infrastructure. We need the right transportation systems and technologies in order for that to be successful.
Then you have blockchain technology, which can fundamentally alter the way payments are made, the way customers are paying their vendors. It could address the challenge of money being stuck in escrow, where it is waiting to be paid out to someone. Technology such as blockchain can change that, but we still need to have those initial use cases.
Q: You mentioned how jobs are going to change in the future and will obviously be influenced by technology. Are our high schools, colleges, and technical schools properly preparing students for the jobs of the future?
A: I think they are partially preparing students for the future, but the challenge also for schools, universities, colleges, and training institutes is that technology is changing more rapidly than curriculums can change. Unfortunately, universities and educational institutions cannot change their curriculum every six months. We have to pay close attention to identifying the bigger trends that are changing industry.
Right now, I think there’s a need for improvement with respect to education pertaining to emerging technologies, how these technologies work. And it’s not just about teaching people how jobs are changing; it’s also about how they can use these technologies to their benefit. How their jobs can be made easier. How their jobs can become more efficient, and how they can contribute more value to the economy, to the industry, and to their employers.
Q: Will the next generation of students have to acquire different kinds of skills to prepare for future work?
A: If you look at the past, we were living in a very manual, mechanized world, where initially technology—like steam engines and electricity—was used mainly to move things. We then went to automation, which enabled large factories to produce goods at a rapid pace.
We are now living in the era of cognitive technologies, where the emphasis is on how technology is able to eliminate human error. It enables faster processing, the production of more widgets per hour, and so on and so forth.
Technology to me is different in many ways from what it was, say, 20, 30, or 50 years ago. So, the definition of what it can do has changed. People who have been in the workforce for years have a completely different relationship with their work compared with kids who are in school right now and who will be in the workforce five or 10 years from now. Their skill sets are going to be different because the world they operate and work in is going to be driven by different parameters than in the past.
The future workforce has to be more in tune with technology. They already are, right? You see kids dealing with technology really well. I feel that the future jobs are going to be less hands-on and more creative, more cognitive.
Q: Are there other skills tomorrow’s workers will need beyond what you just talked about?
A: I believe at the end of the day, we all are human. We need the skills to communicate and to work with other people and understand complexity. Right now, we’re seeing high demand for data scientists, people who can make sense of the vast amount of data that technology generates. I believe that—the data side of the industry—will be a good place to look for positions within logistics.
Communication, public relations—any channel that makes that happen—is great. Sales is always a good place to be because salespeople will always be in demand.
We know the general direction we’re headed in is, of course, specialization, and people need to keep their skills up. Don’t assume that because you’ve had a lot of training, you’re done with that. You’ve got to constantly keep learning.
Q: How will AI shape the future of work?
A: As we stand on the precipice of the AI revolution, it’s evident that the jobs landscape will undergo significant transformation. Historically, technology has always been a catalyst for change in the workplace. Consider the accounting industry: Half a century ago, accountants relied on pen, paper, and ledgers. Today, the scene is vastly different, with technologies like Excel and advanced risk management software reshaping the industry’s operations. This evolution isn’t exclusive to accounting; sectors like manufacturing, retail, and agriculture are witnessing similar technological metamorphoses. Furthermore, as technology evolves, it’s not just about jobs changing or becoming obsolete; it’s also about the birth of new roles and opportunities.
Q: Which jobs will AI impact the most? And what about the supply chain industry?
A: Jobs characterized by repetitiveness and susceptibility to human error stand to be most influenced by AI. This encompasses roles in back-office operations, content review, copywriting, paralegal tasks, marketing content creation, and even certain aspects of sales, operations, and leadership. However, it’s crucial to view AI not as a threat, but as a tool. Instead of replacing humans, AI can be harnessed to enhance human capabilities, enabling professionals to make more informed decisions, leverage personal digital assistants, and drive superior business outcomes.
For instance, within the supply chain industry, AI can revolutionize human resource functions. Imagine HR professionals being able to sift through thousands of resumes in minutes, shortlisting candidates based on precise criteria set by AI algorithms. This not only streamlines the hiring process but also ensures a higher-quality pool of candidates.
Q: How should companies integrate AI into workforce planning and job structuring?A: AI is more than just a technological advancement; it’s a game-changer. Its unparalleled ability to automate tasks and analyze vast data sets in record time offers businesses a competitive edge. Companies should, therefore, view AI as a strategic partner. By integrating AI-driven systems, businesses can elevate their data analysis, enhancing automation and decision-making processes. As we move forward, it’s not about replacing the human touch but about augmenting it with AI’s precision and efficiency.