The Future of Work Is Learning, Part 3: How Automating Routine Tasks Will Redefine Work

Recently, I blogged about how work and learning are becoming more dependent on each other and the effect of the digital age on learning content.

In this post—the last in this series—I want to talk about another aspect of how the future of work is learning: how the automation of routine tasks will redefine our work.

The other evening, I was watching a segment on the national news about Zume, a new start-up in Mountain View, CA, that is using two robots—Marta and Bruno—to make pizzas. Marta spreads the sauce on the crust; Bruno places the pizza in the oven. In the middle of the process, humans add the toppings. The "kitchen" is right around the corner from Google headquarters, one of the companies developing self-driving cars. Clearly, automation is moving into areas of our daily lives that we never considered a few years ago.

I started thinking about automation of our work. It used to be that job automation was relegated to manufacturing. The automotive assembly line comes to mind. But today, automation is everywhere. In July, McKinsey & Company released findings about where they see automation replacing humans. Their researchers concluded that while very few occupations will be entirely automated in the near future, it is highly likely that certain activities—those that are predictable or routine—within an occupation will be automated.

For example, tasks such as collecting data, processing data and performing predictable physical work are more likely to become automated than activities such as managing others, applying expertise, interacting with stakeholders and performing unpredictable physical work. McKinsey noted that automation of work activities isn't confined to entry-level workers or low-wage clerks. People with annual incomes exceeding $200,000 spend more than 30% of their time doing routine tasks that likely will be replaced by automation.

So what does this mean to an individual or a company? How do we make ourselves relevant in tomorrow's business environment? The solution isn't to put our heads in the sand and hide from these predictions; the solution is to make sure that we equip ourselves and understand best practices for the next wave of change. It means we need to focus on developing a highly trained workforce that maximizes the power of the human brain.

I see this as an inspiring time for all of us. If automation can rid us of the boring, routine activities of our work, that gives us the opportunity to make our work more meaningful. It also means that we can have a deeper impact on the organization we work for because we'll be able to devote more of our energy to solving complex problems.

We face two key challenges, however. First, we need more people who are highly educated, highly skilled and able to think at higher levels and a higher frequency. This doesn't necessarily mean everyone needs a university education. The common denominator is learning. We all need to ask ourselves, "What do I need to do to increase my ability to understand the big picture? What do I need to do to evolve as an employee? In pursuing the answers to those questions, we inevitably become more valuable to our organizations.

The second challenge is to answer the question, "where do we go for our learning?" Like our work, learning has evolved. It's no longer only classroom based. It's informal. It's available 24/7 from anywhere we are. It's becoming more personalized; learners want more than their name inserted at the top of a welcome page.

But many organizations are struggling with how to manage the voluminous amount of learning content that is available.

Reach out to us to learn how your HR organization can equip learners with the power to keep their learning organized, share it with their colleagues, create playlists and drive learning beyond what any single learning department could do. It could happen sooner than you think.

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