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Insights

Work Analysis Realities in Digital Evolution Era

Monday, June 17, 2019
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The speed and intensity of business change is not comparable with past transformations. Advances in technology, automation, and the digitization of content have not only created new jobs, but they have changed the nature of many existing roles. In addition, structural changes of large monopolies into clusters of smaller firms and the growth of startups is intensifying this business evolution.

What’s more, just as the Industrial Revolution changed the nature of work and the definition of skilled labor, the increase in digital work is changing the way we think about jobs. For instance, the traditional sense of a job—permanent, full-time employment with a single employer, with specific wages and rights—is making way for more contingent and freelance workers.

One of the most important developments in the digital revolution is the increasing use of social media and algorithms. This phenomenon first appeared in distribution and retail. Case in point: Uber, which uses an algorithm to connect a traveler to the nearest driver. The Internet carrier has a million drivers around the world, without even owning a taxi. Other examples are Deliveroo, whereby customers can have food delivered from their favorite.

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Experts agree that this evolution requires a comprehensive work analysis. Ronald L. Jacobs, professor of human resource development at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, points out in his recent book, Work Analysis in the Knowledge Economy, that soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and problem solving have become essential capabilities for employability.

Bottom line: the digital revolution’s expanding role in production, distribution, and other business services is altering the concept of work. In this emerging digital talent era, employees should be more aware of their performance, and workplace training should be aligned with new types of work. Amid this backdrop, identifying and examining the evolving nature of work tasks and content is an essential role for talent development professionals.

  • Rely on comprehensive training systems. Employees should be encouraged to improve their digital skills through training. There needs to be an added focus on soft skills and metacognitive skills that are more difficult to automate, such as creativity, collaboration, interpersonal communication, entrepreneurship, and people management.
  • Elevate culture of learning in the workplace. Fast-paced changes in automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital technology require organizations to encourage a culture of learning to combat typical resistance to change. In this environment, coaching and mentoring will be major tools to facilitate knowledge and skills transfer and employee empowerment.
  • Ensure compliance regulations are impartial and transparent. The launch of AI and digital automation will likely need policy updates to minimize the potential of mounting compliance issues, such as privacy and cybersecurity protection.
  • Invest in soft skills development during onboarding. AI will remain weak in abstract tasks that require complex problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence, or in environments where little data is available. Instilling a growth mentality is vital to the success of an early career employee. Workers will need to be able to enter new situations, identify challenges, analyze possible outcomes, and create solutions.
  • Build high-performing teams to manage technology-based projects. We work in a project-based world. Employees must learn how to create value by managing complex, multi-stage tasks that can be carried out within their teams. The ability to cooperate, collaborate, and communicate will be essential. Even in a digital environment, identifying team dynamics and managing negotiations will be fundamental aspects of positive workplace outcomes.
  • Cultivate technical skills. The digital workplace demands new technical knowledge and skills, such as equipment maintenance, programming, and troubleshooting.

The new era of work has arrived. To succeed, organizations must not only understand the new nature of jobs and tasks, they will need to analyze how AI, automation, and other digital advancements in the workplace will impact their employees.

About the Author

Sahar Ahadi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Ted Rogers Leadership Center. She holds a MA in Adult Education and Professional Development from Shahid Beheshti Univeristy in Iran, and received her PhD in Human Resource Development from University Putra Malaysia. Before joining TRLC, she spent two years as a Postdoc Research Fellow at Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her primary research interests focus on design, implement, and evaluation of on-the-job training, with particular concentration on collaborative learning approaches in different work settings. Other research interests includesStaff empowerment and development, and entrepreneurship in SMEs.

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