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Recently, my neighbour and future-enthusiast, Ashish Joshi, shared an example of how new technology like 3D printing could impact jobs. He quotes a scenario where you walk into a shoe store, put your feet on a scanner and the digital blueprint of your feet and data of bones and muscle structure is passed to a computing device which selects the material and design and using a 3D printer, prints a set of shoes! Such a scenario almost renders many aspects of manufacturing, brands, storage, logistics and supply chain redundant. 3D printing of houses is already a reality. Imagine a future where 3D printing of entire buildings is an affordable technology. What would happen to the construction business and the millions it employs?

It isn’t only 3D printing. Things are changing faster than ever before. Self-driven cars, internet via hot-air balloons, hyperloop and electric sports cars! We live in times many had never even imagined while growing up. I found myself dwelling upon how entirely different the future of employment may be by the year 2040. Here’s what it might look like:

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  1. Employee health checks via fitness trackers and other wearable technology. Data on sleep, blood pressure and exercise could be used by organisations (or health professionals) to check with employees why they haven’t been sleeping well of late… Is it a work issue or a personal one; and whether they could do anything do help? Big data meets healthcare meets HR!Privacy and legal implications could be potential roadblocks but it remains to be seen whether these will also change along with our world.
  1. Neural scans for hiring. We’re  already using psychometrics pretty effectively and in the future scans of the brain could suggest talent in certain areas. This could influence hiring, replace IQ tests, help us spot genius much earlier in schools, influence careers, reduce struggles occurring from unsuitable academic or career choices.
  1. Business travel could become entirely redundant. Technology that enables life-like video-conference environments may replace the need to travel. Remote teams may not feel that remote anymore. Think Telepresence or augmented reality meets social media!This would mean employees spend less time on the road and spend more time with family. Could this mean new things for the aviation and the hospitality industry and for those who are employed there?
  1. The above technology may impact classroom training as well. Current e-learning and MOOC technology offers poor alternatives to the human interaction that participants desire in workshops but this could be quite different in 2040. Once again, technologies such as Tele-presence, augmented reality and social media may blend together to provide a cogent answer to this challenge. My friend Jatin Panchal, a robotics and automation enthusiast, also points to the emergence of technologies such as Sixth Sense that could revolutionize education.
  1. Learning consultants in 2040 may get gigs only if they are globally acknowledged domain-experts as technology will shrink distances and costs, enabling greater access to bonafide experts.
  1. Large scale Job Disruption will have taken place: With automation and robotics set to replace many jobs, the fear that many people may find their old job extinct is real. Job disruption has happened before and it is going to happen again. See this excellent report from the World Economic Forum to understand what kind of job disruption has already taken place.

What could new jobs look like in 2040?

Some suggest that creative work (that computers cannot currently replicate) will be the jobs of the future. However, we already have software that can create music and write jokes. How quickly such software may compete with (if not replace) musicians and comedians remains to be seen.

Sustainability is already assuming very high importance for countries and businesses. In the future, it will be de rigueur. Legal / regulatory compliance advisers, environmentalists / carbon advisers could become essential roles for all companies.

Assuming that most things urban will be automated (think driverless cars, computerized flight, robot-run customer care, self-service kiosks) what will human beings occupy themselves with? Could it be art? Or will more and more humans shift to places where urbanization and automation still hasn’t reached? Will we see a sharper global divide between advanced, urban dwellers and relatively backward semi-urban dwellers?

Or will we see human beings move towards professions that robots may not be able to perform? Medical professionals, care givers, counsellors, artists and performers – could these be the careers of the future? Does this mean that our education must change from school upwards in order to prepare for a future like this? What does this mean for HR professionals of the future? These thoughts and the work of people like Brunello Cucinelli and Liz Ryan suggest that our school curricula may need to focus a lot more on the humanities than it does today.

Ashish points to the move away from full time to part time work and the imminent replacement of permanent employment with on-demand specialized workers / consultants. HR will need to build new models and new capabilities for engaging and paying the workforce of the future.

The aforesaid report from the WEF clearly states that governments, education and businesses have to “put talent development and future workforce strategy front and centre to their growth” in order to survive the coming disruption. This is great news for the HR and L&D fraternity. The CHRO will be as prized an asset as the CFO soon and many of the issues that they raise will get an eager hearing. We may see Chief Learning Officers and CHROs finally ascend to the CEO chair.

Alternatively, in a scenario where most jobs are done by robots and computers, could we see a future where the “Human Resource” department is a very small one? A highly specialised, much evolved one for sure, given the nature of the few workers who will still inhabit the workspace.

What other changes do you visualize in the 2040 workplace?

Whether you are an organisation or an individual, what are you doing to remain relevant in the workplace of the future? What steps must we take to prepare our kids for this future?

This is a discussion that will evolve. Do share your views in the comments section.