Hired or fired? How data is helping to define the future of work

How will AI impact the enterprise -- who will actually lose their job and why and what will legislation do if anything?

Speaking at The Economist Innovation Summit in London last month, Morag Watson, vice president and chief digital innovation officer at BP said that "AI will revolutionize the future employment market, creating jobs we won't recognize and can't even conceive of today." This new breed of job, she continued, "risks creating its own form of skills shortage, with employees requiring retraining and upskilling."

It's the sort of view we have become accustomed to, ever since Oxford University researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne published their paper in 2013, on the most likely jobs to be lost to automation. There have been countless studies since, not least a recent OECD study, which diluted Frey and Osborne's predictions that 47 percent of US jobs and 35 percent of UK jobs were "high risk". The OECD put the US figure at 10 percent and the UK at 12 percent.

Clearly there is concern. This was exacerbated in the US recently when the Department of Labor released data showing that for the first time ever, US job openings exceeded US job seekers. It suggests something is very wrong with the skillset of the unemployed, despite US Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta saying that "this is a great time be a job seeker in the United States."

If this really is an indicator of a disconnect in skills, then it has come a little early. We don't really have AI and robots yet, so what is going on? Is this the impact of automation or is this a shortage in the necessary skills to build the foundations, the infrastructures on which automation is expected to flourish?

What is interesting is how technology companies, especially those concerned with infrastructure, are being drawn to the sector. Human Capital Management (HCM), not a particularly likeable term, is an example of this. On the surface it looks as though it just sanitizes individual workers into performance numbers. The ability to track employees through a wide range of data points, treating them as, well, assets, sums up the technology approach to the world of work issue. Technology, widely touted as the reaper of gainful employment also plans to be its savior.

So, we have a solution before the problem has even become a problem. It suggests that technology businesses are seeing an opportunity here, to help customers identify workforce issues, improve efficiencies and increase bang for buck.

It's interesting because a Gallup poll came out recently saying that for all the technology innovation we have experienced over the years, productivity has not improved for decades. It was a stat cited by Charles Phillips, the charismatic CEO of Infor, during his keynote at a recent Inforum event. His point was that the digital revolution has transformed consumers' lives but hasn't quite transferred across into the enterprise yet.

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