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How can we prepare for the workforce of the future?

The world is changing faster than ever. How will the workforce of the future keep pace?

Hayley Sutton

by Hayley Sutton

Marketing Manager, Advisian Digital, Sydney

04 June 2019
Planning a workforce of the future

Think back 20 years to 1999. Much of what we rely on today quite simply wasn’t around. Smartphones and tablets hadn’t been launched and Wi-Fi barely existed. We were still looking at the encyclopedia for world facts and the only people who saw what you ate for lunch that day were the people sitting across the table from you.

Now consider the workforce. Many of the jobs we see today weren’t even considered. From social media managers and mobile app developers to data scientists and drone pilots, technology has changed things. A lot.

Today we have 3D printers that can print metal parts faster than ever, online industrial marketplaces that are connecting businesses across the globe, and robots that can significantly reduce risk to human life.

But with constant advances in technology and a world that is changing faster than ever before, what does the future look like for people as new and emerging technologies shake up our workforce? And how can we as an industry prepare for the pace of change in an increasingly automated and evolving world?

Three likely scenarios impacting our workforce

While process artificial intelligence, automation and robotics have the highest potential benefits for the energy and resources industry over the next five to 10 years, John Pillay, Digital Transformation Director at Worley says it is likely that there will be different speeds of adoption and maturity of these technologies.

“One thing that tends to happen when you have these discussions about what the future will look like, is that it can sound like it will be evenly spread – that won’t be the case,” says John. “There will be those at the most progressive edge, interacting with technology and working in the ways futurologists talk about. But there will also be different of levels of maturity and adoption of technology, and different takes on it as well.”

There will also be different of levels of maturity and adoption of technology, and different takes on it as well

According to a recent study by Worley, there are three pathways to consider.

The first envisages an organic evolution of the organization, with low investment and adoption in technology only when it is tried and tested. “Scenario one assumes that we will continue as we are with only limited adoption of technology, and not much in terms of innovation,” explains Marian McLean, Group Executive Director at Worley. “In scenario two, boundaries start to be pushed and there’s a mixed portfolio of technology and digital solutions within the organization.”

And scenario three? “Well that’s the other extreme,” explains says McLean. “This scenario sees a major change driven by high investment in innovation and becoming early adopters of technological advances.”

While there’s no right and wrong about which scenario companies sit in, there’s one key theme underpinning all scenarios and that’s life-long learning. Irrespective of which scenario you work in, the attitude that people go to university, get a job and they’ve got the skills to last them for the rest of their career must change. Given how fast technology is evolving and changing, people now have to keep learning, adapting to change and reinventing themselves.

This is not surprising. According to the World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report 2018, approximately 54 per cent of people will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022 because of technology advancements. Whatever we learn today will most likely be redundant in five years’ time.

Taking your place in the workforce of the future

With the threat of what we learn today being redundant in five years, how do we prepare for that future? The first step is to embrace that there is change. The next step is to learn more about new technologies and see what will be relevant to you and your career. While we can’t be sure what the next five to 10 years will look like, if you’re engaged in the process you’ll be able pinpoint where and how technology can add value to your career and what skills you’ll need in future.

Whatever we learn today will most likely be redundant in five years’ time

“I’d encourage everyone to get engaged with new and emerging technologies and trends and start to develop their skills and knowledge in the areas that they’re passionate about,” says Pillay. “It’s a reasonable bet that data and technology will play a massive part in the role of an engineer and that artificial intelligence and automation will become core to the engineering value proposition. But it is also reasonable to expect that we’ll require more ‘human skills’ such as requirements gathering, communicating ideas and critical thinking as we begin to do less repetitive and routine tasks.”

As such, it is likely that the engineering and project delivery workforce will shift with new roles and responsibilities emerging.

There’s going to be a bigger preference for data scientists, coders and programmers as there will be more of a need for technology to be developed, managed and maintained. But there will also be more of a need for people with creative and human-interaction skills such as change managers, project leaders and organizational psychologists as our workforce becomes more automated, agile and remote.

“But you can’t just say to an engineer ‘go and learn creativity’,” says Pillay. “Our organizations and institutions will need to adopt new systems and processes to foster a creative learning environment and enable innovation.”

Learning, but not as we know it

Education will be critical to upskilling our current workforce and preparing the next generation of engineers. But a recent study by Advisian Digital revealed that universities are starting to lose relevance when it comes to developing our industry’s future talent.

Our organizations and institutions will need to adopt new systems and processes to foster a creative learning environment and enable innovation

Organizations and some education institutions are starting to realize this. And it’s likely we’ll see more industry scholarships, industry-led short courses, online learning and organizational digital training. What’s more, it is likely there will be less reliance on university degrees as our focus shifts to developing and hiring people with the right skills and experience.

“What is new today will be old tomorrow,” says Paul Ebert, Global Technology Manager, New Energy at Worley. “But skills learnt in developing, delivering and operating technical solutions in the future will be really important and there’s no substitute for experience.”

An exciting future for engineers

Thankfully many of the skills required for the future workforce are already essential to be a successful engineer today. But their roles are likely to change.

“More and more, engineers will need a grasp of the digital environment and how to align this with a digitally-enabled operation,” says Ebert. “They’ll need to be able to determine how value is created from the identification, capture and analysis of data, and how to deal with real problems such as cybersecurity and cyber protection.”

As a result, Ebert sees the lines between technical and commercial engineering blurring, and that engineers will become multi-disciplined and not just put into a technical speciality box.

“The future is going to be a very exciting time to be an engineer,” he adds.

When innovation is just what we do

There’s no doubt that the world is changing. And given the pace of change and the need to scale quickly, we must become adaptable.

Digital transformation is essentially becoming comfortable with change

“Our willingness to adapt and change will be critical to how well prepared we are for the future,” says Pillay. “It might be disruptive and challenging for many, but it is already clear that change and innovation need to become part of what we do to be successful in the future.

“Digital transformation is essentially about becoming comfortable with change.”

Written with thanks to Worley and Advisian Digital staff, Sharmila Jugessur, Nuria Ruiperez and Martin Hickson.