The UK in 2021 feels like Manchester in 1780 or Detroit in 1890. A full-scale industrial revolution – a fourth – is underway, and it’s sweeping away old ways of working and ushering in new ones.
The changes have wide-ranging implications for government: both for how the work of government gets done, and for the policies needed to ensure the UK thrives in this new industrial era.
These are the headline findings of a new study from Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work (CFOW). The Work Ahead sheds light on how work is changing across the world, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift.
In a webinar for Digital Leaders on April 22, I presented some of the key findings from the survey, and put them into context for UK-based policymakers and civil servants.
The Work Ahead aimed to get a substantive view of how work is changing, and the impact of COVID-19 on those trends. It’s a follow-up to our first The Work Ahead survey in 2016, but with a much larger base of 4,000 C-level respondents.
Here are three key takeaways for public sector leaders:
#1 Data mastery is driving radically improved decision making
In 2016, executives weren’t sure what to do with their data. Now, they’ve made huge strides in implementing AI, analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Almost two-fifths (38%) of organisations are well advanced in AI and analytics, and 16% have IoT implementations.
Real-time insights into operations and customers mean decisions can be made faster and better. The European Super League is a good example: data from social media showed that fans were overwhelmingly against the idea, and it was disbanded after just a few days. Twenty years ago, that same decision might have taken months or years.
We’re also starting to see innovative uses of data and AI in government. Finland is using AI to predict when citizens might move to another city, to guide local service planning. Estonia’s government uses predictive analytics to identify which jobseekers are at risk of becoming long-term unemployed, so they can be offered appropriate training. To offset the risk of cyber-attack, it’s also setting up digital embassies: secure data centres in other countries to back up its confidential citizen data.
#2 Human-AI partnerships are the key to delivering good outcomes
With AI providing real-time insight and direction on the best decisions to take, forward-looking organisations are starting to make it an integral part of the workforce.
They’re partnering human workers with AI to work more efficiently and deliver better outcomes. Think of teaching, for example: if AI can provide insights into how each child learns and where they are on their learning path, the teacher can tailor lessons to each child’s needs.
This human-AI partnering means the nature of work will change rapidly over the coming months and years. The intense digitalisation we’ve seen over the past five years is nothing compared to what the pace of change will be like from this point on. But organisations that can harness it will be the ones that thrive and deliver the best outcomes for customers and society.
#3 New jobs are emerging and old ones fading
One significant effect of AI and automation will be the loss of some types of job and the transition of new ones. Oxford Economics and Deloitte predict that 47% of current jobs will disappear over the next 25 years, while our own research identified 21 Jobs of the Future – from data detective to human-machine teaming manager.
It’s an exciting prospect for some, and a source of anxiety for others. The Government will need to understand the shifts in the types of work people do, and the ways in which they do them. Interpret this data to design significant amounts of retraining and reskilling needed to help people adapt into new jobs, and the profound impact on infrastructure and services as more people work remotely.
There’s a lot for government to get to grips with, and COVID-19 has radically accelerated changes that were already taking place across business and society.
In my webinar for Digital Leaders, I pose three key questions for public sector decision makers to answer when considering how to respond to the changes. To learn what they are, and to dive deeper into the implications of The Work Ahead for government, watch the webinar here.