The Future of Work
Fabian Salum, INSEAD Visiting Scholar and Paulo Vicente dos Santos Alves, Fundação Dom Cabral
Professor of Strategy
A set of new technologies will change the way we work and the job market.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad”
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
The recent advances in robotization and artificial intelligence have raised eyebrows concerning a creative
disruption wave in the job market. Historically we have evidence that proves when new technologies have
developed they change the work capital interactions by destroying millions of jobs and later creating even more
But the truth is that robotization isn’t the only technological wave coming. Solar energy will disrupt the energy
market. Biotechnology and nanotechnology will increase longevity. New electric cars semi-autonomous and
the Hyperloop technology together with advances in telecommunications and informatics will further
To understand the future of work your relationship with the Human Resources and the role of education as a
preparation for work life we must beforehand try to forecast all those impacts separately on the categories that
will allow you to form a general view about our research.
Advanced Robots and artificial intelligence are a new wave in a long history of automatization that can be
linked all the way back to the first industrial revolution. They will substitute repetitive, dangerous and low
intellectual capital jobs. They will generate new jobs however in the fields of robotics knowledge, programming,
design, and fine mechanics. These jobs will be more sophisticated in intellectual capital forcing an increase in
educational level in general.
Some developments point to houses and small buildings being built by robots, or even 3D printed, in a few
years. Artificial intelligence will substitute drivers in taxis, buses, and trucks in areas where the logistical
infrastructure is good enough for them, that is, with smooth roads and good geolocation.
Robots will also replace retail and factory workers. Artificial intelligence will replace professor of standardized
content subjects and fund managers. Robots can copy the movements of cuisine chefs and replicate their
So humans will be needed only in the things that a robot can’t do, or can’t do as well as a human. Our
perception is that can be reduced to three types of jobs: dealing with other humans, solving problems and
creation. And even in those areas, the robot will penetrate to some extent.
What can we get off this? – We can think that we will have some signals of the new potential demands that
should be predictably offered for new providers of the services, new enterprises or until new ways of the
relationship with this new context. It is predictable to think thus when we look at the value chain of some
organization. As said, in may, in this same channel by Prof. Annel Aris … “the nature of work at all levels will
change dramatically.” We mean the same but with another point of view or in others words, these changes will
demand from the business leaders a new position for new strategic modeling for their organizations.
Human enhancement technologies (HET) are a combination of biotechnology, nanotechnology, advanced
medicine and neuro-ergonomy. Together they will solve many of our current health problems. This HET will
extend human longevity to at least 120 years, possibly more.
Telomerase therapy increases the length of telomeres retarding aging due to the effects of this enzyme
discovered in 1985 by Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider. Nanomechanisms are being researched to
devour fat cells in order to eliminate obesity and all its consequences. Gene therapy can alter the genetic
makeover of humans eliminating certain diseases, but also be changing the color of the hair, removing beard
growth and reversing baldness. Neuro-ergonomy can create human-machine interfaces that will border on
superpowers like telepathy and photographic memory. Physical modifications through surgery can alter the
body itself repairing damage, or enhancing capacity. Certain parts of the body can be 3D printed for substitution
using stem cells.
It means humans are on the verge of becoming something else; some call that trans-humanism, or humanity
2.0. The frontier between humans and machines can be no longer clear at some point.
When we consider this scenario of the evolution in the longevity context and its real benefits, our interest,
however, is focused on the effects of an extreme longevity, probably 120 years or more. The consequences
could be considered as unusual or not saw yet by anyone. For instance: The pension funds system will
collapse. Retirement will be after 100 years of age creating a blockage to the younger people entering the
market thus adolescence as a preparation for life will last until the 40’s. Bearing children will be postponed to
the 50’s. Life extension will be a blessing, but also a problem source.
In the 1740’s when statistics were has introduced in France, the life expectancy at birth was around 25 years
of age. It has more than tripled since then. If it triples again, life expectancy can reach more than 200 years
Hence it seems to be something unimaginable, but we can affirm that the search of the longevity is a real effort
that will afford the futures generations the right of the use of the HET secured. The question here is, when and
how this type of technologies will be available for everyone? Although it like obvious as a response, are these
that will lead the first decision regarding of the organization strategy.
Extreme geographical dispersion
Telecommunication and the search for new markets and resources have allowed organizations to become
worldwide spread. But human society is still concentrated in the major urban centers. The elevator and the
water and sewage system developed in the second industrial revolution allowed the cities to grow vertically
and concentrate even more the population.
This trend may be reversing due to the limits of urban traffic and pollution but also with new models of
transportation, like the Hyperloop, and the further advance of telecommunication and informatics. The public
awareness in this specifical matter is translating by the exploitation and use of mechanisms of telepresence
as it was viewed in the electoral commissions for the last presidential elections in France.
Virtual reality and holographic devices are changing retail, education and work meetings. The retail in the USA
is going through a significant change in which online stores are substituting traditional ones. Education will see
a major change soon as many lectures will occur in a virtual reality environment with artificial intelligence
professors and tutors helping the students. Augmented reality using wearables will allow for increased
productivity and distance work. A recent divulgation of a real case is the Home Agent (a scale up invested for
Algar Ventures Open). It is the first enterprise in the Brazil that offer attendance for the customer to 100% by
the home office. It is the new way to development call centers with qualified employees and empowered as an
outcome - More productivity without massive investments in assets.
This points to many opportunities and threats to technology markets and companies. Now let share with us
our interest and analysis. It's on the effects of extreme dispersion in work. It’s possible that mid-sized cities will
become preferred for living and working since they have better life quality than large urban concentrations. As
the organizations keep on becoming geographically dispersed in differents regions where is more attractive
for their cost composition and revenues. The skills of distance work like dealing with different cultures and
teamwork will be more important and relevant. The universal languages will become logic and algebra.
New energy sources
The traditional fossil fuel industry will be disrupted in the next twenty years. Shale gas was the first disruptor
but still can maintain this industry as an oligopoly due to the distribution networks. Wind power is evolving fast,
but since the big turbines represent an entry barrier, this will still preserve the oligopoly structure.
Solar energy may be the biggest game-changer. Current forecasts point to this form of energy becoming the
cheapest one before 2030, and also very important since it can be produced in small quantities on rooftops
and the sides of buildings it can create a perfect competition market in the generation, albeit not distribution.
This revolution will only be possible if new batteries match the requirement to store energy by day. To use it
by night, however, advances in battery technology point towards that too.
The important effect of this technology in the work market is that it’s workforce intensive and not capital
intensive. It means that this market may absorb jobs that are being replaced by robots through automation. A
few large companies will be substituted by a myriad of mid-sized and small businesses helping geographical
dispersion, but also changing the geopolitical map as oil and gas shrink in importance. As a current example,
we have Tesla Cia. Although small, it became a carmaker with the highest market value during the trading
session of that 10th april. Electric car specialist, a challenging automotive company. Became the # 1 automaker
on the New York Stock Exchange, beating General Motors. Regarding volume and billing, however, it is still a
small manufacturer of electric cars. But it is possible to see some Tesla models in Europa so far away from
California where is the factory.
The Competences of the Future
It’s now possible to make a tentative list of the skill of the future.
The Figure 1 shows our guess on which will be those.
Figure 1 – The critical competences of the future
We preferred to separate the
competencies by tendency and also
include competencies for the managers
that relate to the analysis decision
Of course, this is an interesting proposition
to generate debate. The important
question can arise from this figure like
which one is the more important or which
one we are worse at. Answering these
issues can help organizations think of their
future workforce design.
The future of education
Our final point is that education itself will change in the future. Not only because of technological advancement,
but also to adapt to changing needs of society and work market.
Figure 2 shows our current view based on some sources like the US labor department and advancements and
forecast in technology. The figure also raises many questions as which will be the role of the educator in the
future. It will probably be work more related to programming, gamification, artificial intelligence, instructional
design, researcher, and entertainer than the classic view of a professor. Millions of jobs will be destroyed in
education, but even more, will be created.
Figure 2 – The future of education
Fabian Salum is a Professor of Strategy and Innovation Management at Fundação Dom Cabral and Visiting
Scholar at INSEAD. Paulo Vicente dos Santos Alves is a Professor of Strategy at Fundação Dom Cabral.
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